malaysian

EXCLUSIVE: 5 TOP TIPS on How to Write Asian or Non-White Characters and Smash the Stereotypes!

Without risk of cultural appropriation or misrepresentation or just being plain offensive.

Diversity is a buzzword we all may at some point encounter. I have written from white, mixed and Asian people’s viewpoints and can say I am fairly comfortable now. My published stories or novels have a mixture of different cultures and it is something that I grew up and am familiar with because I was born and raised trilingual in an urban environment in Johor Bahru, the industrial southern city of Malaysia. To me it is more normal and natural that everybody is unique and different than everybody looking and acting the same, eating the same food, going to the same places, speaking the same language. Writers, if you have not had the privilege of a diverse upbringing, I will give you the secret now on how to absolutely crack the code of writing your diverse characters.

1. Switch off your spell check.

This is very important. Do not proceed until you have done this. Do yourself a big favor and free yourself of all Judeo-Christian terminology, grammar, language, spelling. You will enter foreign now. Food, words, culture, syntax and they will not be underlined in red wavy lines and they will not be removed or changed by auto correct. Train yourself to always listen to real conversations, on the bus, in restaurants, on the streets, and write them down phonetically. I had listened to probably hundreds of Aunties (who are just women older than you by at least 16 years and not really aunts) which made writing the character of Auntie in my novel Heart of Glass a breeze.

‘Siu-cheh, if you wan’ lunch, I fix now.’
I stared at her. Threw my hands in the air. She knew everything.
‘What you wan’ eat?’
‘Anything.’

2. ALL culture is appropriation

We all learned it, right? Our families and our communities gave us our culture and traditions. Now find out what culture means to YOU as a writer and you do this by working with BIG themes. Jot down the themes in each culture that you know. The themes in Asian families, for example, are the 4 Fs: family, food, frugality, freedom. When you realize that many cultures including white cultures (eg Jewish, Italian, Arabic, African etc) have these very same themes, you will realize what we know and are close to is infinitely what is called the human condition, why we are here. It’s the cliched phrase which comforts writers that we are not as different as you think and that we should find the similarities in each other not the differences. Books bring people of the world together. Our job as writers is to bring the ideas which bring books together.

3. Embrace, don’t avoid stereotypes

It is the only way to challenge and smash them. For example, in Heart, I’m writing from the viewpoint of an American girl of Chinese origin, Li-an. At some point she was bound to eat Chicago hot dog, especially when Paolo suggests it to her.

‘Gimme a dog wid everythin’,’ he said. ‘Make dat two.’

At some point also, Li-an was bound to eat Chinese food. She was in Asia and she’s Asian, right? So why would that be a stereotype?

I hung up and put my feet back up again. I had jasmine rice, peppers
and fried monkfish with a coriander sauce for lunch. I played
guitar all afternoon. I wrote down melody lines and chord changes.
I wanted to be happy here, but I struggled to imagine just playing
the piano and living in a gilt cage called the pavilion.

Your reader is not interested in something ordinary or bland but the context of the detail, even if it’s a poor man’s meal like burger and chips or rice with soy sauce, it has to glitter. I especially like Crazy Poor and not Crazy Rich characters because the poor have so many more things to crave and die for. What keeps them craving for something? Your reader is interested in the finer detail of what it it means to be white, mixed, Asian or whatever, and what it means to be alive. All details will add to authenticity of the character and the voice. You can show they are poor or rich or mean or kind by the detail in the stereotype that you are challenging.

4. Practice writing a few characters

Some may work, some may not, and some may come to you easier than others. In Heart I had three main characters, Ben Mizrai, a Jewish DJ from NY, Paolo, an Italian businessman from Chicago (Chi-town, Windy City etc) and Li-an, the main character who is half Irish and half Singaporean Chinese. All have their own quirks and language. I made sure that I practiced a few times to make sure that everything that they said or did or ate was in character and not just because they were Jewish, Italian or Chinese. For your practicing, you could try a young Japanese soldier or an elderly Chinese lady. Or a pretty Chinese girl student looking for fun. These are all characters which you may find easy or hard to get into, depending on how it comes out in when you figure out what they say or do. Try on a few hats. It is just like being in a costume shop in front of a mirror.

5. Ready, SET, go

Use settings and movement between settings to inspire and arouse your imagination for the depth of your characters. For example, try a huge modern Japanese city, a tiny rural village in China, or in my case, Chicago’s Chinatown and Macau’s seedy casinos and Docklands area. Already you have a sense of the characters needs, conflicts and culture. This is because of the hybrid element in the cultures of diverse characters. As Li-an says, she is living in her fifth culture. Her first and second are Irish and Chinese as she is of mixed parentage, she has never been either countries of her parentage. She was born in Singapore – that would be her third culture, moved to Chicago – that would be her fourth, moved to Macau – that would be her fifth.

We as writers are all these places and all these things, we just turn them into stories. What all humans crave are stories, stories to inspire, to move, to teach, to entertain. If your stories work, you would also know that it would not matter what ethnicity the characters are. Bring them to life. Writing diverse Asian characters is just another way of writing an aspect of yourself, whoever you are.

Are you writing Asian characters and did you find it pretty easy or tough? As usual I would love to hear from you. All feedback and questions are welcome.

Ivy Ngeow was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She is of Malaysian Chinese origin and the author of two novels. Cry of the Flying Rhino (Proverse Hong Kong), winner of 2016 International Proverse Prize, is her debut set in Malaysia and Borneo. Her second novel Heart of Glass (Unbound UK) was set in Chicago and Macau. She is fond of margaritas, seafood tacos, Americana and all things vintage. She lives in London and is in her ‘third culture’.

#heartofglass #cryoftheflyingrhino Tweet me: @ivyngeow

 

 

 

 

Cry of the Flying Rhino: A new review!

This is a FaceBook review for which I was pleased to receive the “notification”. I was nervous as it is the first review by a Malaysian reader, about a Malaysian novel and naturally if anybody can spot errors, it would be a Malaysian!

What is the connection between a pretty tattooed Iban girl adopted by a Scot planter in Segamat who forced a local doctor to marry her because she became pregnant from an accidental one-night outing to an Iban guy who had to serve 10 years in prison in Kuching for murder?

Ms Ngeow certainly has a story to tell and it is quite a story. But more than just her story this book is also rich in information on the culture, custom and beliefs of the Iban community.

My only reservation about the book are on the chapters featuring the Iban characters – these chapters are written in Iban pidgin/creole English which made it quite difficult ( at least it was for me ) to decipher – for example GWAN for going, CHILES for Child etc etc.

Thank you to Dr Ngeow Man Fah, my classmate in medical school, who presented this copy to me as a gift. Ivy Ngeow is her niece. She grew up in JB and graduated from Middlesex University with an MA in Writing. This book won the Proverse Prize ( Hong Kong ) 2016.

GUEST POST: “Who will win when the lore of the Borneo jungle takes on the law of the white man?” by Bill Colegrave

A warm welcome to my guest, the legendary Bill Colegrave,

who has collected and been inspired by travel books for more than four decades. He was the owner and publisher of the Cadogan Guides travel series.
And now over to Bill…

 

The unforeseen complications of a one-night stand

are the foundations of this tale and the adventure that ensues. Benjie, a Chinese Malaysian Doctor is quickly diverted by his new assistant, a tattooed Iban, an indigenous Bornean; once hooked, he remains on the line. The more he discovers of her history, the deeper he becomes embroiled.

Children tattoo children to ensure the art never dies.

Debut novelist, Ivy Ngeow is Malaysian and international and she uses all her multicultural skills to explore the interaction of her character cast of Chinese, Malay, Scottish and Iban. The latter are the catalysts for the drama.

“A man or a woman without tattoos is invisible to the gods.” – Iban proverb

Elderly Sea Dayak woman of Borneo with thigh, feet and hands tattoo

Everyone has heard of Borneo, but most can’t place it on the map.

That is because Borneo is the name of an island, which is not a country; 75% of it is the Indonesian province of Kalimantan, the rest is the Malaysian outposts of Sabah and Sarawak plus the tiny but powerfully oil-rich Kingdom of Brunei. The Borneo of Cry is Sarawak, the home of the Iban.

The story engaged my attention but I was also learning about the Iban,

and learning to admire the Iban. Marriage, we learn, should be considered in practical terms:

“Every boy should look to marry a girl that is top class at weaving…..Boys want girls that are good at weaving, because it is a tough, tough life in the jungle. The girls, they weave to make clothes for war and for every day. They weave pua and the blankets make you dream well. In Iban, dreams are the most important gift from the Gods.”

Traditional Sarawak weaving of Pua Kumbu

A traditional Borneo longhouse

Central to the tale are the two Iban boys, Minos and Watan, who are taken under the wing of a English pastor, who has not understood that the 19th century ended a few years ago and that he is not helping anyone by trying to convert Iban to Christianity. But what he can offer is attractive to the eager Iban. Minos complains that there is no TV.

“Ingland says no. If plentymoney says No, it means No. But Pastor says Yes. Someone from the church give a TV. It is only the size of a chicken.”

I hope I remember to use that splendid simile when I am next buying a TV. Let me also remember Minos’ advice about mushroom gathering:

“….if all rotten and covered in worms, means OK to eat. If fresh and untouched, means poisonous.”

Ex-convicts pray.

Cry of the Flying Rhino is charming as well as compelling

as a story, partly because the author creates her own moral code, as a result of which almost all crimes committed by her characters can be forgiven, so long as they can be held to be avenging a greater wrong.

The charm of the book and its insights into the ways of the jungle people of Borneo have drawn me to the island.

When I get there I will be thanking Ivy and two other writers:

  1. My friend Robin Hanbury Tenison, whose Finding Eden – A Journey into the Heart of Borneo, has just been published. It tells the story of his time leading the Royal Geographical Society expedition to the same area in 1977 and starts with his chance meeting with Nayapun, a Penan tribesman:

“The Penan have a quality of stillness….They melt into the shadows and that is their life”.

2. and the American, CS Godshalk, whose novel Kalimantaan, brought back to vivid but fictional life the time of Rajah Brooke, the Briton who became an effective Rajah of Sarawak in the mid 19th Century.

2018 All Rights Reserved © Bill Colegrave

 

“When we affect to condemn savages, we should remember that by doing so we asperse our own progenitors; for they were savages also. Who can swear that among the naked British barbarians sent to Rome to be stared at more than 1500 years ago, the ancestor of Bacon might not have been found?–Why, among the very Thugs of India, or the bloody Dyaks of Borneo, exists the germ of all that is intellectually elevated and grand. We are all of us–Anglo-Saxons, Dyaks and Indians–sprung from one head and made in one image.” – Herman Melville

Have you been to Borneo and have you met an Iban before? If you have enjoyed this blog post, please share, join my mailing list or email me with your comments and feedback. We would love to hear from you.

Ivy Ngeow lives in London. Cry of the Flying Rhino is a debut award-winning novel set in Malaysia and Borneo. Her second novel Heart of Glass is published by Unbound in 2018. Find me at www.writengeow.com, tweet me @ivyngeow, or write to me here: ivy_ngeow at yahoo dot com

Bill Colegrave is a travel writer and explorer. He was publisher of Cadogan Guides, which he bought in 1989, and also a Director of Everyman’s Library. His book Halfway House to Heaven (Benefactum, 2011) tells the story of his expedition to find the source of the River Oxus in the Wakhan Corridor and Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan. He is also co-creator of Not The Times, a parody of The Times during its year-long strike. He has an extensive travel book library and has travelled to 110 countries and counting. He has three grown children and one grandchild, and lives in London. Scraps of Wool was published by Unbound on 16 November 2017. Write to him here: scrapsofwool at gmail dot com

 

 

 

 

 

PHOTO CREDITS:

Map of Borneo: drawn by © Ivy Ngeow 2018 All Rights Reserved 

Sarawak weaver: photo credit: papayatreelimited 7 Nancy Ngali at her loom, Rumah Garie, Sarawak via photopin (license)

Rainforest mushrooms: photo credit: The eclectic Oneironaut dry rainforests via photopin (license)

Desperate prayer: photo credit: mathieujarryphoto desperate.prayer via photopin (license)

Sarawak rainforest: photo credit: LukePricePhotography Jungle. Sarawak, Borneo. Malaysia via photopin (license)

6 Things I’ve Learned about Being a Published Author

My aim had always been to be a published author. I have achieved my aim. Now what? Writing a novel or two is the biggest time, energy and mental pressure you can undertake. In fact to write this blog post I had to take two Nurofen and a double espresso macchiato in order to steady myself. I have been writing for 40 years on and off, therefore I am not a new writer. But I still put wine, blood, paracetamol, sweat, caffeine, cortisol, endorphins and tears into it. Now I have learned that as a newly-published author, I still have more to learn.

 

1/ Sales of the book won’t make you a living.

Even bestseller authors have to work another job – usually related to writing such as journalism or teaching and lecturing in a related subject. The reason why writers write is because it is an incurable mental illness, an obsession, a love. It’s like asking the obsessive compulsive cleaner – “hey, why do you clean so much? It’s clean already.” Those who start out thinking this is a fun hobby will either quit or realise it is not a fun hobby, and then quit. If that obsession is there, the writer will carry on writing in spite of everything. That is how you know you have the bug.Therefore no writers can aim to do it as a means of livelihood, as they mostly earn less than the minimum wage. In the Guardian article ‘Most UK authors’ annual incomes still well below minimum wage on 9 Oct 2016,

…life is less than super for many authors in the UK, with average annual incomes for writers languishing at £12,500.

This figure is just 55% of average earnings in the UK, coming in below the minimum wage for a full-time job at £18,000 and well below the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s minimum income standard of £17,100.

In an industry that is becoming increasingly unequal, those at the bottom of the income distribution continue to struggle. Only half of the 317 UK authors who responded to the survey said writing was their main source of income, with respondents who offered a figure reporting total earnings from their latest book averaging at £7,000.

This is not a ‘new thing’. Writers we know and love from the past also had to hold day jobs:

Lewis Carroll, author of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and other “literary nonsense,” was also a mathematician, photographer and teacher.

Frank McCourt, author of the Pulitzer-winning memoir, “Angela’s Ashes,” taught in New York City high schools and colleges during his entire career.

Jorge Luis Borges Argentinian author of “Ficciones” worked as an assistant in the Buenos Aires Municipal Library, and eventually became the director of the National Library.

2/ What you wanted to publish will not be published and what you didn’t want to publish will be published

butchered

butchered

Caveat: Unless you self-published. No building is built exactly as the plans, unless you built it yourself. Publishing is a collaborative process. You are only one cog in the wheel and no doubt the most important cog but there are other cogs turning that wheel. There will be changes along the way, usually due to budget, darling-killing and changes of vision. This is down to the contract. The contract is the agreement between you and the publisher to create the book. Both you and the teams will work together and have a say in the end product. You can put your foot down but usually they are right. They are the professionals. My day job is being an architect. I tell my clients what they should do all the time and if they don’t do it, I will do it anyway. Otherwise you will have no overall cohesive design ethos and you will end up with substandard junk which you will get blamed for so you may as well get blamed for something great than some substandard junk caused by them.

When you hand over the manuscript, the multiple levels of editing begin.  At the moment I am coming out of editing hell, and this is why it is fresh in my mind and I am well-equipped to inform those who have not entered the seven gates of editing hell. Every sentence, punctuation marks and word will be examined. Every sentence has to flow logically into the next and there must not be a single discrepancy, inconsistency, continuity error or nonsensical or cop-out statement. You must not sound like a madman. Even books about madness are written by the sane, and has to appear compos mentis. The editing process is like ironing. You go back and forth and back and forth between the editorial department and you until the product is smooth. My first book has gone through 19 rounds of editing (not even accounting for the 12 years of editing before those rounds before I made any submissions). My second book is currently on 9 rounds (also excluding the years of my own editing). Sometimes you are blind to your own errors because you have seen them too many times and you don’t realise they are actual errors.

3/ You wrote the book and and now you do everything else

A big deal for little words

A big deal for little words

Nowadays publishers want to know how many followers you have before they even take you on.This is why anything that Jamie Oliver or Joe Wicks write will sell, will have a publisher. Their follower count is in the millions. If only 10% bought their books, that is still a substantial earner. I had to learn this while pitching my book. The Unbound pitch has questionnaire questions relating to your network, real or virtual. If the publisher likes your brilliant book, they also like, in the back of their minds, your follower count and your social media platforms.

Because of the competitive and declining market these days, in order to be successful, most writers have to work hard at promoting their own books much more than the publisher. This is because there are too many books, put simply. Because they are a business, they have to take on a lot of books in case a few become ‘hits’, the rest can die, no worries. One publisher has to handle between 10 to 40 books each, and though they are spread out through the year, they have to promote all of them. Naturally their focus is divided. If you had 36 children (at the rate of 3 being born a month) you will also not be able to give much attention to each. 

4/ You are your own Book and Blog Tour Organizer

Of course you can get on a plane. You will get what you pay for, and touring around the world is expensive and you may only sell twelve copies, if any. You might sell one. I have not much motivation in touring as I have been a musician with my band Satsuma and the gigs take an enormous amount of time loading and unloading, driving around, soundchecking, eating backstage, not to mention hair and makeup and the actual rehearsals, even when you have a cold and in all kinds of weather conditions – all for a 22 minute gig (if you are the headlining act) in which you are not sure if anybody will turn up if the weather is terrible. Therefore authors have to use effective internet marketing such as virtual book tours. There are very few real bookshop or real events being offered by publishers. I am now involved in a ‘blog tour’ with five of my fellow Unbound author whom I see as friends, colleagues and associates. It is a ‘tour’ where we move around and each write for each other’s site in a guest post on set dates. It’s very enjoyable and I am traveling the world from my armchair, involving no Bureaux de Change or visas queues. I have just completed writing my blog about Bill Colegrave’s Scraps of Wool, on the golden age of travel writing focusing on Central Asia, Indochina and the Maghreb (read the blog post here). Scraps of Wool was published recently by Unbound and shares the same publication date as my debut – 16 November 2017. Also completed is Carrie Jo Howe’s Island Life Sentence which is fiction set in Florida. You cannot get more destinations than these in four weeks, what more do you want from a tour?

5/ You are your own Launch Party Sponsor/Organizer/Host

front cover

front cover

Launch parties are for fun and they do not lead to sales. Only because people don’t want to carry a book while munching on greasy snacks with one hand and holding a drink in the other hand. There is no hand left for the book. Even successful authors have to throw their own parties, if they can be bothered. If they are successful they would have been to and done a lot of parties already so they may be partied out.

I put my own money into the London launch of my short story “Funny Mountain” in Hungry in Ipoh anthology held at my friend Sunita’s and Rufus’ art gallery Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton. If you are interested you can read the blow by blow account of how I did It, where I bought cheap drinks and so on. I even brought in the snacks and my friend Sunita kindly heated up the snacks in the vintage oven. Being a writer means there has to be family and friends who care about you being in fantasyland and living the writer life. You are not some banker. Even if you were, they will wonder why you need any help, but still help you. The party will be for them too. It is not for getting new people in, not for selling books, it is for thanking your own loved ones, your publisher. Without them, you would not be a writer. They may or may not buy your books, read your books but it does not matter. Most of all they know you want to be a writer, and they will want to celebrate with you. They will help you with the launch. You only need to ask.

View towards front of gallery

DIY wirestand

DIY wirestand

6/ Be grateful… the party has just begun

Being a published author means the party is not over…. the party has just begun! Long live writing and publishing. Do not get sucked in to what other writers are doing or not doing and feel you are not doing enough or you are doing too much. Your job as a writer is to write the best bloody book that you can. Your job is not to sell stuff, do ironing, be a bartender, organize events or do catering. Every writer is different and thank God for that. Know and recognize what you have achieved. Remember how hard it was to get published (camel, eye of needle etc)? For me to get my first novel out took 12 years, 89 rejections and an award. It is a feat and a celebration in itself. Every day I remind myself that I have earned my right to exist as an author, to tell the story that had to be told, in the way that I wanted it told, so that now it exists not just on my hard drive but in the world. It was what I fought hard for.

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a published author? How do you think you have been transformed by the experience? If you are unpublished, what are your expectations of being published? If you have enjoyed this blog post, please share and do drop me a line. As usual I would love to hear from you.

2018 All Rights Reserved © Ivy Ngeow

Ivy Ngeow lives in London. Cry of the Flying Rhino is a debut award-winning novel set in Malaysia and Borneo. Her second novel Heart of Glass is published by Unbound in 2018.

SCRAPS OF WOOL by Bill Colegrave: On Memory and Experience in 5 Places

Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen. – Benjamin Disraeli

Memory decides our journeys long before we do. It is the narrative drive of our travels and forms the organisation of our experience.

Bill Colegrave has collected and been inspired by travel books for more than four decades. He was the owner and publisher of the Cadogan Guides travel series. I was fortunate to meet Bill at the bar in Charlotte Street Hotel in London a year ago with other fellow authors. 

All reading and writing helps us travel to somewhere else. The escape alone is part of what drives my memory, experience and curiosity. Scraps of Wool is about choices, about discovery, about life on the road, about dreams. Bill was 8 when he first crossed the Channel. A few years later, his father took him and his twin sister on a boat called Braemar Castle from London’s Tilbury Docks to Gibraltar, Genoa. He wrote:

I had fallen in love with abroad. I still am.

The 5 top places which inspired Scraps of Wool are:

1. The Oxus River, Afghanistan

fascinated Bill when he was a teenager inspired by the epic poem Sohrab and Rustum by Mathew Arnold written in 1853:

AND the first grey of morning fill’d the east,
And the fog rose out of the Oxus stream.
But all the Tartar camp along the stream
Was hush’d, and still the men were plunged in sleep;
Sohrab alone, he slept not; all night long
He had lain wakeful, tossing on his bed;
But when the grey dawn stole into his tent,
He rose, and clad himself, and girt his sword,
And took his horseman’s cloak, and left his tent,
And went abroad into the cold wet fog,
Through the dim camp to Peran-Wisa’s tent.

Oxus River and Pamir Mountains

Bill’s interest in Central Asia began when he read a copy of Wilfred Thesiger’s The Marsh Arabs, mentioned in his previous book Halfway House to Heaven (2011) which tells of his journey up the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan to find the source of the Oxus River in the High Pamirs. Bill first went to Afghanistan in 1990. He explored the Oxus and Pamirs in 2007 when he was 59. But aged 17, he was lying one evening in a bunk in a yacht club in Cowes, Isle of Wight, with “wind-blown rain on the porthole windows” when he read Chapter 16 of The Marsh Arabs.

I had left in the last week of July 1952 and it was not an early afternoon in February. Seven months later; it seemed longer. In that time I had crossed high passes through the snows of the Hindu Kush to the cold blue lake of Korombar where the Chitral river rises; I had looked out over Wakand from the Borogil Pass and seen in the distance a glint that was the Oxus; I had slept on the glaciers at the foot of Tirich Mir, and in dark, verminous houses among mulberry orchards, where the last of the Black Kafirs lived on the borders of Nuristan.

Marsh Arabs of the Euphrates

The Marsh Arabs AKA the Maʻdān or shroog (derogatory terms) – are inhabitants of the Tigris-Euphrates marshlands in the south and east of Iraq and along the Iranian border. During the years he spent among the Marsh Arabs of southern Iraq, Wilfred Thesiger came to understand, admire and share a way of life that had endured for many centuries. Bill at the time did not know of these places but he at once was bitten by the travel bug. His dream was to find these places.

2. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Jon Swain’s River of Time (1996) took Bill to Cambodia. Here it is all about love, love, love. The unforgettable experience, memory, the eternal quest, the eternal question of falling in love with Indo-China.

Colonial architecture of Phnom Penh

I felt I had entered a beautiful garden… I forgot about Paris and began a love affair with Indo-China, to which I have been faithful ever since… I stepped into an enchanting world of tropical scents, the evening silence broken only by a bevy of girls in the cyclos who crowded round offering to pass the night with us. ‘Indo-China is like a beautiful woman; she overwhelms you and you never quite understand why,’ his companion said with unashamed tenderness. ‘Sometimes a man can lose his heart to a place, one that lured him back again and again.’

It was also a place of memories… of opium:

In those hard-bitten days, a number of us smoked opium. It seemed natural to do so after a day at the front. Opium had been legal in Indo-China just a few years before, and while it was now officialy prohibited, was still widely smoked among the French colonels. The most famous fumerie in Phnom Penh was Madame Chum’s. Madame Chum, a one-time mistress of a former president oft he national assembly, was Cambodia’s Opium Queen. She ran the fumerie for more than thirty years until her death in September 1970, aged 67, and earned a small fortune from the pipe-dreams of others.

3. The Karakorums

Karakorum Mountain Range

The Heart of a Continent (1896) by Francis Younghusband crossing the Mustagh took Bill to the Karakorums. The Karakoram, or Karakorum is a large mountain range spanning the borders of Pakistan, India, and China, with the northwest extremity of the range extending to Afghanistan and Tajikistan. It is located in the regions of Gilgit–Baltistan(Pakistan), Ladakh (India), and southern Xinjiang (China), and reaches the Wakhan Corridor (Afghanistan).

This chapter is a gripping adventure story:

We reached the bottom of the cliff without accident, and then found ourselves at the head of a long ice-slope extending down to the glacier below. Protruding through the ice were three pieces of rock, which would serve us as successive halting-places, and we determined upon taking a line which led by them. We had brought with us every scrap of rope that could be spared from the ponies’ gear, and we tied these and all the men’s turbans and waist-clothes together into one long rope, by which we let a man down the ice-slope on to the first projecting rock. As he went down the steps, and when he had reached the rock we tied the upper end of the rope firmly onto rock above, and then one by one we can down the slope, hanging on to the rope and making use of the steps which had been cut.

4. The Maghreb

The citadel in Essaouira, Morocco, the Maghreb

I have fond memories of this word “Maghreb”. Before I knew anything of the world, as a child of 5, I had already heard of “Maghreb” because I had grown up in a Muslim country, Malaysia. In Arabic it means ‘the West’. Usually at tea time or my dinner time as a child in Segamat, Johor, I remember my favourite Merry Melodies or Hekyll and Jekyll cartoons on TV being interrupted by the Waktu Maghreb or Time of the West muezzin’s call to prayer. Incidentally, Segamat is also the setting for Cry of the Flying RhinoThe Maghrib prayer (Arabic: صلاة المغرب‎ ṣalāt al-maġrib, “West prayer“) is the prayer time which is prayed just after sunset. It is the fourth of five obligatory daily prayers (salat) performed by practicing Muslims. I was very interested in this cross-dressing aristocratic heiress Isabelle Eberhardt in Chapter 17 which took Bill to the Maghreb. The Maghreb is a region of northern Africa that consists primarily of the countries AlgeriaMorocco, Tunisia, Libya and Mauritania. It is considered the Western region of the Arabic world.

Isabelle Eberhardt cross dressed as a sailor boy while working in the docks of Marseille to earn enough money to escape

Isabelle Eberhardt, penniless author of The Oblivion Seekers (1906), was only 27 when she drowned in a flash flood at Ain Sefra Algeria in 1904. She was 22 years old when she left an unhappy “sedentary” life in Switzerland, became a Sufi Muslim, and dressed as the male Arab she saw herself as. She explored the kif smoking dens of Kenadsa, then part of Morocco, subsequently absorbed into Algeria. She was supposedly a writer, a spy, an agitator and a sexual libertine.

Born in Geneva to an aristocratic mother and the family tutor—an ex-priest turned anarchist named Alexandre Trofimovsky—Isabelle Eberhardt was fluent in six languages, including Arabic, as a 16-year old. By the age of 20 she had converted to Islam. In the late 1890s both her parents died suddenly. Despite her family’s wealth, Eberhardt was an illegitimate baby and therefore not eligible for an inheritance. She had to earn passage to Algeria using her wits.  Disguising herself as a boy—something she’d been doing from an early age with the encouragement of her father—she worked as a Marseille dockhand until she could afford the ferry crossing. 

The kif dens are places of shelters “for Moroccan vagabonds, for nomads, and for every sort of person of dubious intent and questionable appearance.” As I understand, kif is cannabis, smoked til it produced a drowsy effect:

The seekers of oblivion sing and clap their hand lazily; their dream-voices ring out late into the night, in the dim light of the mica-paned lantern. Then little by little the voices fall, grow muffled, the words are slower. Finally the smokers are quiet, and merely stare at the flowers in ecstasy.

5. The Hunza

Some facts: People are often surprised when they learn that the citizens of Hunza (also known as Burusho people) usually live up to the age 120. They can easily conceive even after 60 years and it is very rare for them to get tumors. They are also descendants of Alexander the Great. They bathe in glacier water. Cancer does not exist in the Hunza. Curious?

Batura Glacier in the Hunza

In George Curzon’s The Pamirs and the Source of the Oxus (1996), he claims that the “ice cave found there was the source of the river. It was there, almost exactly as he had described it, a river emerging in full flow from the confluence of three glaciers. No one who has had the good fortune to visit the astonishing Hunza Valley would quarrel with Curzon’s florid opening description.”

Bill’s last trip was to South America – the conjunction of Peru, Colombia and Brazil where the Amazon is already 5 km across. He is now working on Scraps 2

Scraps of Wool is an enjoyable read and an even more enjoyable blog post for me to write. It is a remarkable and moving compilation.Bill’s narrative is charming, tender and humorous and it never stops to examine the humanity in places, time and the characters Bill has encountered. It is also illuminating in that all our moments are to be treasured, each a jewel, a story. Each place is stunning in its own right. In fact, they are such fairytale fantasy settings, these places which beggar belief, still continue not only to exist but to shine like gems as they had always done, through the terrible world that we live in, with its despair, sad state of global destruction and political problems. Scraps of Wool gives hope that the world we live in is so ugly and yet so beautiful. 

Afghani mountains

 

Do you think travel has shaped your experiences or do you think your experiences have been shaped by travel? If you have enjoyed this blog post, please share, join my mailing list or email me with your comments and feedback. As usual I would love to hear from you.

2018 All Rights Reserved © Ivy Ngeow

Bill Colegrave is a travel writer and explorer. He was publisher of Cadogan Guides, which he bought in 1989, and also a Director of Everyman’s Library. His book Halfway House to Heaven (Benefactum, 2011) tells the story of his expedition to find the source of the River Oxus in the Wakhan Corridor and Pamir Mountains of Afghanistan. He is also co-creator of Not The Times, a parody of The Times during its year-long strike. He has an extensive travel book library and has travelled to 110 countries and counting. He has three grown children and one grandchild, and lives in London. Scraps of Wool was published recently by Unbound and shares the same publication date as my debut – 16 November 2017.

Ivy Ngeow is third generation Chinese and was born and raised in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. She is of mixed parentage of the nomadic Hakka tribe and Hokkien from the Fujian province. She lives in London. Cry of the Flying Rhino is a debut award-winning novel set in Malaysia and Borneo. Her second novel Heart of Glass is published by Unbound in 2018.

 

Photo credits:
OXUS RIVER AND PAMIR MOUNTAINS
photo credit: Ricardo’s Photography (Thanks to all the fans!!!) Afghanistan via photopin (license)
MARSH ARABS
photo credit: D-Stanley Marsh Arab Canoes via photopin (license)
KARAKORUMS
photo credit: 10b travelling / Carsten ten Brink Karakoram landscape via photopin (license)
GLACIER LAKE THE HUNZAS
photo credit: Fahad Murtaza Batura glacial lake via photopin (license)
PHNOM PENH ARCHITECTURE
photo credit: mariusz kluzniak colonial architecture of phnom penh via photopin (license)
OPIUM PIPE
photo credit: a-md via photopin (license)
MAGHREB PORT – ESSAOUIRA
photo credit: HerryB 1572 VILLA de l’Ô, Essaouira via photopin (license)
MAGHREB – CITADEL ESSAOUIRA
photo credit: HerryB 1590 via photopin (license)
AFGHANI MOUNTAINS
photo credit: mgilberg87 Afghan Mountains via photopin (license)

 

NEWSFLASH: I will reading @BRIXTON BOOK JAM, Monday 5 March 2018 @Hootananny, LONDON

bbj-Mar5th-a6-front copy

South London, are we ready? I am coming straight out of my garret to read from my new award-winning debut, CRY OF THE FLYING RHINO, at the Brixton Book Jam, on Monday 5 March 2018 7:30pm at The Hootananny. (95 Effra Road, London SW2 1DF) – a large pub with a performance space that can hold 600 people. It also provides cooked food. The closest tube station is Brixton (Victoria line) and buses 2, 3, 415, 432 and 196 will transport you very near to the venue. Guess what, it’s FREE to attend!

This will be the FIRST TIME that I am reading aloud from this book and answering any burning questions you may have about it or about me.

Check out the exciting line-up of authors:

Tony White,
Guy Gunaratne,
Stevyn Colgan,
Chris Chalmers,
Zelda Rhiando,
Mark Hill,
Julia Bell,
Sarah Robertson,
The Deserter
Noo Saro-Wiwa

and of course Yours Truly.

During the intervals, resident DJ Andy Carstairs will spin melodic stylings from his hard drive. Check out The Hootananny. See Brixton Book Jam for detailed biogs of each author and his/her book description.

A cartoon by @willmcphail4. Follow @newyorkercartoons for more #TNYcartoons.

A post shared by The New Yorker (@newyorkermag) on

ASIAN BOOKS BLOG: 500 words about Cry of the Flying Rhino

What were the inciting incidents which inspired Cry of the Rhino to become an award-winning novel? Asian Books Blog ran a 500 word article with answers and much more. I was also covered by the American author Robert Raymer in his insightful and entertaining blog, the Borneo Expat Writer. Robert and I interviewed each recently.

You can also read the article here below:

Cry of the Flying Rhino was written thirteen years ago after I made my one and only trip to Borneo with my mother. I was inspired by the dark, macabre and gothic nature of communal longhouse living and the tribal civilisation and culture which have been around for thousands of years. Two things triggered some ideas.

longhouse3 longhouse1 longhouse2

Firstly, during the trip, I saw a tattoo parlour called Headhunters. It piqued my interest in the traditional art and symbolism of Iban tattooing, performed manually with a hammer, steel pin and ink made from tree ash.
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Secondly, long after our trip, I dreamt of a girl in a longhouse with eyes as huge as the “hollows of the benuah tree”. Those words came to me in the dream. I wrote them down. She looked sad and haunted and there was also terror in her eyes. I did not know who she was or what the dream was about but something unpleasant and unusual had happened to her and I set about finding out about the Iban culture, which I later discovered, is based on dreams. That dreams were everything, our hopes, work, happiness and luck.

In exploring the two triggers above, I found out that indigenous cultures are threatened and dying, because of loss of habitat due to logging and deforestation, and due to the conversion of the Ibans to other religions. As a result, orang asli (original people) like the Ibans are forced to leave their habitat for the city because their livelihood, dependent on being able to survive in the jungles on the fat of the land, is diminishing due to the jungles being cleared. Their way of life which is so rich in folklore, superstition and traditions will soon be lost. Ultimately the rapid destruction of the jungles will impact upon the rest of the world via climate change and so on. I also found out that children tattooed children which ensured that the art would never die. If adults were one day wiped out by an epidemic or a massacre, the surviving children would all have learned and mastered all survival and artistic skills including tattooing.

headhunters tattooing girls tattooing girls

Cry of the Flying Rhino is a modern novel set in the railway town of Segamat, which has already been deforested and turned into miles of plantation, and Borneo, whose jungles are under threat. The Chinese GP, Benjie, has been forced to marry Talisa, a mysterious and tattooed teenager, and the adopted daughter of wealthy crass Scottish landowner Ian. Benjie has to discover for himself his wife’s true identity, when Minos and Watan, two Ibans who leave the jungle and appear in Segamat one day, looking for Talisa.

Cry of the Flying Rhino raises uneasy themes of identity, poverty, religion, race, greed, colonialism and post-colonial struggles, and deculturalisation because I want to convey to readers the issues and conflicts which affect Asia today using the medium of fiction. I hope the story will take them to another world.

 

 

READ Cry of the Flying Rhino FOR FREE: Now at Southfields Library, South London

Calling SOUTHFIELDS or WANDSWORTH residents/library members/mums/friends/neighbours! What are you waiting for?!!! READ MY BOOK FOR FREE!!! Support local libraries and read for free. If you don’t, they will shut down. We don’t know how lucky we are. When I was growing up I had to read really torn, vandalised or simply extremely old and falling apart books in the Sultan Ismail Public Library in my home town of Johor Bahru. I frequently did not know the ending, the beginning or the middle because of the damage done to them. I moment I could read, I read, and I could not stop. I treasured each book more than anything in the world.
I am next to Helen Dunmore. That is all. My book is in #southfields #library. This is a little local library I have been going to for about 20 years or something like that. #wandsworth #wandsworthlibraries #southlondon #macabre #dark and #literary #crime #fiction #bookstagram. #tattoos#borneo #tribal #story #diy #author #writer #novel #plottwist #cryoftheflyingrhino #ivyngeow #writersofinstagram #onlocation #helendunmore @ Southfields Librarysouthfieldlibrary2Southfieldlibrary1

DEBRIEF: Publishing Two Books!

Bako KuchingThis is a view of Bako National Park in Kuching, Borneo, home to millions of flora and fauna many of which are still undiscovered and unknown to humans. It seems the opposite of the Hong Kong in the photo below, yet both of these places are where Cry of the Flying Rhino was born.IMG_9230

Publishing Cry of the Flying Rhino traditionally and publishing Heart of Glass through Crowdfunding:

Before my book launch in Hong Kong, Borneo-based US author of Lovers and Strangers, Robert Raymer, had talked to me about having two books out not quite but nearly at once after writing for so many decades. We discussed both traditional publishing and the crowdfunded system ofpublishing for Heart of Glass. I was very chuffed that Robert had written the advance commentary for my book Cry of the Flying Rhino. I had admired his writing from a very long time ago, in fact, 31 years to be exact, when I first met him. I was a 17 year old schoolgirl and I had just won my first “prize” in writing, which was a Writer’s Workshop in Kuala Lumpur. It was the second time I submitted a short story to the New Straits Times for a competition and the first time I won anything in my life or travelled to the capital city on my own. Therefore it was a rite of passage for me. I read Robert’s books when I was a young adult (in those days there was no such thing as YA fiction). You are either an adult or not an adult.

The magic of writing and the beauty of ideas all begin in the mind, in the imagination. One day it is somewhere else, in someone else’s mind and imagination. Read Robert’s post after the book launch, where a book about Borneo finally arrives in Borneo in the very place where the novel is set!

Check out my SHOP where you can purchase SIGNED FIRST LIMITED EDITIONS of Cry of the Flying Rhino. Find out why this book won outright for the first time in 9 years of the International Proverse Prize competition.

USEFUL LINKS

If you would like unsigned copies, please go to

Paperback: amazon.com
Paperback: amazon.co.uk
Kindle eBook: US

Kindle eBook UK 

NEW author pages! See below:
Amazon author’s page
Goodreads author’s page

Cry of the Flying Rhino paperback, eBook

If you missed my reading at Brixton Book Jam, The Hootananny, London SW2 1DF on Monday 3 March 2018, no worries. Watch it here now!

Cry of the Flying Rhino LIMITED EDITION, FIRST EDITION, SIGNED is now available! Find out why this book won outright for the first time in 9 years of the Proverse Prize competition. Go to my SHOP for a LIMITED EDITION, FIRST EDITION, SIGNED COPY of Cry of the Flying Rhino and other books.

UK £16.75 including first class postage
Rest of world £22.50 / USD29.81 / SGD40.34

 

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FOR UNSIGNED COPIES, GO TO:

Amazon UK

Amazon UK Kindle eBook

Amazon USA 

Amazon USA Kindle eBook 

 

“Anyone impressed, anyone imprinted upon and inspired by Lalwani, Roy, Chatterjee, Burgess, Lowry or Orwell, will be correspondingly affected by Ngeow.” – Professor Jason S. Polley, Department of English, Hong Kong Baptist University

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