Friday, September 29, 2006

Wild mushroom soup

When we were on "Survivor Island" a couple of weeks back, one of our party had a problem ordering a gin and tonic. There was a bar - widely advertised in the hotel brochure - but alas, it didn't didn't live up to expectations... for a start, although they had several different types of gin, there was no tonic. The final insult was when the person concerned ordered a vodka and orange, he got just that. A shot of vodka in a glass, and an orange. Uncut, unpeeled, unsqueezed.

Last night, I sympathised.

Friend Donna is visiting from downunder which has been great. We talk nonstop, and tell lots of "do-you-remember stories" from Conflux and Worldcon and the Orkneys. Yesterday, I dragged her around Kuala Lumpur on foot - but that's another story. And then last night we had an incident with a bowl of mushroom soup. It went like this.

Waitress hands us menus, and hovers while we make choices. We order some garlic bread and the drinks; waitress continues to hover, so we turn out attention to the main dishes.

Me: Those little red things beside some of the items are chillies to tell you that dish is hot.
Waitresses: Spicy.
Donna: Oh, I see.
Waitress (to Donna): So you are having the mushroom soup?
Donna (who hasn't mentioned soup of any kind): I'll have the pan-fried dory.
Waitress: So you aren't having the mushroom soup?
Donna: No, I'll have the fish.
Waitress: Mushroom soup and fish...
Donna: Just the fish.
Waitress (disappointed): No mushroom soup?
Me: The wild mushroom soup here is actually very good. I've had it before.
Waitress (to Donna, hopefully): So you will have the mushroom soup?
Donna (desperate now): No, no soup.
Me to waitress: Never mind, I'll have the mushroom soup, and a mixed salad.
Waitress: Two mushroom soups?
Donna (totally puzzled): No. ONE mushroom soup.
Me: One soup and a salad. And the soup had better be good!
Waitress gives me look of non-comprehension and disappears with our orders.

A little while later waiter appears with garlic bread and drinks.
A remarkably short time later, Donna gets her fish. I tell her to start, as there is no sign of my soup.
Donna finishes her fish. We evidently have to take it in turns to eat.
My salad arrives, but no soup.
I shrug and have my salad. We talk and talk, and finally I realise I have finished my salad, and the soup still hasn't put in an appearance. I mention this to a passing waiter. He seems bemused and speaks to waitress. She comes over, and says to Donna, 'Oh, you want mushroom soup, too?'
By this time, Donna is convinced there is a conspiracy to poison her with the wild mushroom soup, and I'm convinced there is a conspiracy to keep me from having it.
'No! No,' she cries, 'No mushroom soup!'
At that point I gave up and cancelled the order. 'No mushoom soup,' I agree.

Waiters disappear and we start laughing so hard we can hardly talk.

After some coffee, we go to the counter to pay the bill. And there, on the list of items, is one mushroom soup. Donna says, 'We didn't get the mushroom soup.'
'Yes, cancelled,' says the cashier happily.
'No,' says Donna torn between tearing her hair out and disintegrating into a fit of giggles, 'It's on the bill...'
And finally, finally, we manage to lay the mushroom soup to rest.

By this time we needed a vodka and orange.

Memories: Worldcon Glasgow 2005 - when Donna and I last met just over a year ago.
(Trudi Canavan, self, Donna)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Want to know why maybe the US public doesn't know what's going on?

If you didn't know it before, you know now : Newsweek has different lead/cover stories for each region.
CNN also has different news coverage for each region. And I've sampled CNN all over the world. Which country has the worst most insular news? You guessed it. USA.

Thanks to this site for pointing this out, and to Making Light for the link.
And read my next post which should explain why I am posting this.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Prophet Glenda

No, I don't mean prophet in the Biblical/Quranic sense, I mean in the "telling the future" sense.

I knew they were not going to find any WMD in Iraq. (Of course, I might have had a head start there. My husband used to work for IAEA, and we knew all the experts. And we happened to believe them too. )

I knew - the moment I saw the US army ignoring the looters at the beginning of the occupation - that we were in for one helluva mess.

I knew there would be massive civil disturbance in Iraq in the years after the invasion. That's what happens when you get rid of a military dictator who has been keeping diverse groups from strangling one another. (Yugoslavia anyone?)

I knew the coalition troops would find it hard to leave with dignity and without leaving a mess behind. (Vietnam anyone?)

I knew that the invasion/occupation would result in increased terrorists and terrorism, not less. (Geez, did they have no idea of how extremists think and how they manipulate the frustrations of the young or poor or ignorant or religiously naive? Where have our Western pro-US leaders been living for the past 20 years or so???)

I thought all these things were so self-evident, that it seemed both extraordinary and scary to me that other people - like the Bush administration and my own dear PM in Oz, and that strange Mr Blair over in UK - couldn't see it too.

What makes me so perspicacious and them so downright DUMB?

Is it because I have lived for long periods of time in other cultures besides my own (3 to date - European, Asian and African, including 2 Islamic ones)?
Is it because I have mixed with international communities over such a long period, counting my friends from places as diverse as the USA, Tunisia, Yugoslavia - and yes, Iraq and Iran?
Is it because I am more intelligent that the President of the USA? (Don't answer that.)
Is it because I have travelled widely? ( - and not cooped up in a tourist bus, either.)
Is it because I speak several languages?
Is it because I read widely?
Is it because I listen to people who know things instead of dismissing them because they don't have the same opinion as me?

I am truly puzzled because things which seem so self-evident to me are seen so differently by others, and I don't really think I am particularly brilliant.
Sometimes (mostly?) I wish I were wrong.

Oh, yes, there are some things I didn't predict.

I never dreamed that the USA would endorse kidnapping.
I never dreamed that the USA would think torture is ok.
I never dreamed that the USA would think torture is a reliable source of information.
I never dreamed that the USA would endorse imprisonment without trial and access to the law.
I never dreamed that the people of the USA would tolerate any of the above done in their name.
America, we used to look up to you as the champion of human rights; with an imperfect record, perhaps, but still a country to be proud of because you always strove to be better. I never dreamed there would come a time when I am proud to say, so heartfeltly, that I am not American.

Hmm, so maybe I am a lousy prophet after all.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

First lines: do they really have to make such an impact?

One thing that has been evolving over the past couple of hundred years is the pacing of novels. Go back to nineteenth century books, and the story tends to unfold at a delightfully leisurely pace. You can't read those tomes in a hurry.

We still have big fat books - especially in the fantasy genre - but mostly the pacing is much faster. To match the way we live, perhaps. And there are so many websites or blogs by agents/writers/editors telling us we've got to grab the attention of the reader/agent/editor in the first few lines - or fail to sell. Which is a shame in some ways. I actually prefer a leisurely start when I am reading. I like to get to know the characters before someone tries to kill them in the first paragraph.

Which doesn't mean I don't bow to modern taste in my own writing. Mostly. Sort of. Here are the beginnings of my published novels. Which one would you pick up to buy first??

the tainted cover

The Tainted:

It wasn't easy being a girl sometimes. Especially not when you were just sixteen, and hauling in wet fishing nets over a deck slippery with scales and slime.

The Aware, Glenda Larke

The Aware:

So you want to know what the Isles of Glory were like back then, eh? In the days before the Change, in the years before your people found us - and we found out that we weren't the only islands in the ocean.

gilfeather cover


I first met Blaze and Flame the day before I murdered my wife. The evening before, to be exact.

havenstar coveroDie Fährte des Blinden.


Piers Kaylen drew rein at the top of the rise and looked down on the halt. He sat unmoving in the saddle of his mount, and his emerald eyes missed nothing as he shifted his gaze away from the distant mountains and bordering roughs to the tree-spattered plain, and finally on to the stolid buildings of the halt below.

Heart of the Mirage:

When an emperor laughs about you behind your back, you know you are in trouble.

The Shadow of Tyr:

Temellin stood on the sea wall and watched the Platterfish manoeuvre through the moored fisher boats. In the windless waters of the harbour, four oars stroked in unison from the lower deck, while the sail hung like a rumpled blanket from the top spar. On the upper deck, a woman leaned at the railing, looking back at him.

Song of the Shiver Barrens:

When Kelven was twelve years old, he saw the harbinger of his death. He was fishing for his family’s dinner in the lake at the time, sitting on the bank with his feet dangling over the water, dreaming of nothing more than a good meal of spout-nosed trout.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Back in KL

Kota Kinabalu: breezy, pleasant, blue skies, blue sea, 20 mins to airport, small clean apartment.

Kuala Lumpur: Hot, muggy, hazy, no sea, no breeze, huge dusty and cobwebby house with huge number of house geckoes and corresponding amount of house gecko shit, 45 mins from airport.

Yep, I am back in the Klang Valley (I say it's Kuala Lumpur, but to be technically correct, it's actually in Selangor). And right now I am wondering why I left KK.... Here the house is a mess because in my absence, husband's KL office has been cleared out and all the things brought here. There are files everywhere. I can hardly get to the washing machine in the laundry, I tripped over a computer on my study floor, there are shelves lining the passage stuffed with documents, and I had no idea he had so many paintings and ornaments and family photos - where the heck and I am going to put them all?

Now I know why houses ought to have attics.


Tip of Borneo

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Here, catch an eyeball!

One phrase my first beta reader caught in passing is "He dropped his eyes." She hates anyone using the noun eye/eyes when they mean gaze or look. "Did they bounce?" she asked.

Now, I will admit that I used to have no problem with the phrase. I reckoned using "eyes" in this way had passed into legitimate usage. We do say, for example, "Catch his eye" or "Keep an eye on" or " Run your eyes over this" or "Cast his eye in this direction" without the reader immediately having visions of playing ball with eyeballs or using them as worry beads.

So, tell me, can a writer say "He dropped his eyes" or "His eyes followed her" without the reader cracking up?

(Of course, having pointed this out to all of you who have never thought about it before, I have ensured that none of you are going to be able to read the phrase in the future without going "Eeeewww".)

So, will my hero be dropping his eyes in my latest book?
Nope. He will drop his gaze, and keep his eyeballs firmly in their sockets.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Another break in

The tip of Borneo...

Our house back in the Peninsular has been broken into. Or rather the garden has, twice. Hopeful thieves indeed. (Are they crazy? I reckon ours would be the only house in Malaysia where thieves would enter, take a look around and then leave in disgust at the lack of disposable wealth...except for books. There are lots of books.)

Anyway, said thieves laboriously cut their way through our fence into our garden, twice, only to be foiled by the very loud alarm system on the house itself, plus our long suffering neighbours who have to go and see what's up.

Well, I actually suffer too. One day I received 102 calls on my mobile - my desperate house trying to tell me something was wrong ... and that time it was only a cat.

My mother lived from 1903 to 1997, in Australia. To the best of my knowledge she was never robbed, never had her house broken into. Our house there never had the back door locked during the day, even when we were out, and the yard had no fence. We left the milk money on the front porch when we went to bed. It was NEVER stolen. Not once. (Not sure when that practice stopped).

My daughter's house in the USA has doors made of glass. And no alarm system.
And no fence. And it's empty all day long. And they have never been robbed. Yeah, that's right, in crime-ridden US of A.

Our present house in KL has been burglarised, or has suffered attemped burglary, something like seven times in 20 years, and we live in a quiet suburban area with mostly academics or university staff in a country where we are repeatedly told Asian values are terrific.
And that's not counting the houses I lived in prior to this one. I have had my bag snatched while at a petrol station. The car has been broken into 3 or 4 times.

There have been 70 murders in the Klang Valley (that's Greater Kuala Lumpur) so far this year. Ye gods.
One in every 100 people is a drug addict.
(All these figures have been in the newspapers recently.)

And Malaysian police get paid anything from around 1,200 Rm for a constable to approx 4000 Rm for a senior ASP a month (divide by vaguely 3 for the AUD and by 4 for USD). And the US film "Assault on Precinct 13" was banned for - wait for it - excessive violence? Nope. Because it showed police corruption.
To be fair, there are recent rumblings about "how we must pay our police more".

What am I trying to say? Dunno, really. You go figure.

Oh, and for those who asked, I still haven't found the jelly fish, I still haven't got shingles, and I still have that ultra sensitive patch on my skin. I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Censorship: An easy way to make yourself look ridiculous

The other day I had a post on books "restricted" in Malaysia. Today there is an article in the New Straits Times newspaper on film censorship. Here are some of the things that get snipped:

Copulating animals. (Oops. Should I take down that post on alien sex?)

Women sitting cross-legged. (Just as well arthritis has stopped my sitting cross-legged days. I had no idea I was being obscene.)

"Swinging an arm upwards and pointing a middle finger towards heaven". (Hmm. That's odd, I had no idea the gesture had anything at all to do with heaven.)

Scenes and dialogue with direct reference to sex. (Immaculate conception anyone?)

Native women with exposed breasts. (When I first came to Malaysia, it was easy enough to see such women - but alas, they have now been carefully taught that their "national costume" is obscene.)

Medical documentaries that expose private parts. (Are there really people that would find a medical documentary either obscene or titillating? Hmm. So you can't watch a TV documentary on how to feel for breast cancer.)

Close-up of a woman breastfeeding. (Now that's sick.)

Anything to do with homosexuality. (Brokeback Mountain was banned outright. "Homosexuality is not something we allow in films here" says the chairman of the board.)

Munich was also banned. Says the chairman: "(It) portrayed violence, terrorism and the Israelis." (Excuse me? Israelis?)

Words that mean masturbating, illegitimate child, bastard, son of a bitch, prostitute, private parts etc etc. (Not sure whether it's these actual words, or a more coarse substitute.)

The censorship boards consists of retired government servants (possibly all men?). I have told my husband he should apply for a job there when he finally does retire. I mean, what better way to spend one's day that watching movies and then debating all the naughty bits? And perhaps replaying them over and over, just to make sure you've got your decision right?

Monday, September 18, 2006

What the eye refused to acknowledge

I am constantly amazed at what escapes me when I re-read what I have written, to be picked up by someone else at beta reader level, or copyedit stage (or so I hope).

Here are some great ones from my latest, which had to be pointed out to me:

'I wouldn't be adverse to that solution.'

...and laid a hand around his shoulders.

peels of laughter (great visual image, that one)

the abode buildings (I meant adobe!)

'Then it would have have made any difference if you had been there.' (Huh?)

And banged some sense the chaff into your head! (Double huh?)

...born with a withered arm of a clubbed foot

Thanks, Karen, for wading through the dross...

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Help a charity without cost to yourself

My webmaster runs a company that provides free websites for UK charities - even websites that are suitable for people with various kinds of disabilities. See here for a bit about their enterprise, Usable Websites. As you can imagine, getting the funding to keep afloat is half the battle, and they are always running low on funds. The more assistance they get, the more websites they can build and the more charities they can help.

They have applied for funding from a group that doles out money according to the number of votes received from you, the if you have nothing better to do, go here and vote for Usable Websites. They won't even record your email address so you aren't going to be hassled by spam as a result of voting.

I know my webmaster well, and he's a great guy trying to help others.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The last bit of Borneo...

On hearing that I was sweating in a Kota Kinabalu power failure feeling miserable while he lived it up in the hotel, that man of mine hooked me up with someone joining the seminar late, and I got a lift from KK, a day late, to join him.

So this is me, waving to you from the northernmost tip of Borneo, where all these photos were taken.

My husband is a little deaf, has a bit of a paunch and is thinning on top - and I wouldn't swap him for any of those cute film stars.
Anyway, he still looks pretty good in silhouette with the light behind him...

And while he was at the seminar, I managed to get half way through my first line edit of Song of the Shiver Barrens.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Please, please, let there be a jellyfish somewhere in the bed

I'm serious. Almost.

What a day. I drove my man to work this morning. Well, that's what he calls it - actually he was going to stay in a many-starred hotel-cum-marina-cum-golfcourse-on-the-beach somewhere up north. Some seminar or something, so he says....hmph. I couldn't go because I had already committed to give a talk on birds and migration at the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Centre (Bird Park) for the Malaysian Nature Society tonight. AsI say, hmph.

Anyway, we buy a newspaper on the way, and the first thing I read is how Tenaga (the local mostly govt owned power company) has "made money hand over fist", record profits this year, etc. Good on them. Praise all round.

I come home, sit down and do an hour's work on the power point presentation - and then, wham, no electricity. And I didn't have the batteries in the laptop cos my Toshiba has such pathetic batteries that if you leave them in, they are useless in 3 months. AARGH. I go to put the battery in, but shove it in around the wrong way and it jams. (OK, yes, this is the woman who just wrote a whole blog about her husband and his washing machine illiteracy....)

Ten minutes later I manage to get the battery out and put in right way up. Only to find it was dead. AARGH again.

Ok, I do have some of the Song of the Shiver Barrens printed out for line edit. I work on that. And work on that and work on that... Sweat drips (no fan). I cook lunch and manage to burn it (no lights in a rather dark kitchen). 3 p.m., still no electricity. What happened to the plans implemented by Tan Sri Tajuddin Ali when he headed Tenaga? About always having the power back on in 2 hours by using portable generators if necessary? Ah, but then they kicked him out when he reached retirement age (56 in Malaysia- with maybe a grace year or two for special cases). Can't have senile old men running the country. Oh, unless they are politicians, of course. All right, all right, I digress. I'm hot and mad by then, and my powerpoint presentation is still not done.

Husband rings to tell me how wonderful the hotel is. And the beach. And the pool. And the food.
My cell phone dies and I can't recharge it (no electricity). I look around the house hunting for torches. I find six. Not one works.

Have a cold shower and wash hair. Forget that my hairdryer works on electricity...

In the end, I drive to the Bird Park (hair damply lank) and use the outlet in their resource room to power up the computer and finish preparing the presentation. On the way back there's a traffic traffic lights working, you see. AARGH again. I buy new torch batteries (in a very dark unventilated shop), just in case.

Walk up the stairs (no electricity for the lift), feeling my way in the pitch dark because although I now have batteries, I hadn't brought the torch with me.

And the jellyfish? Well, it's like this. Two nights ago, I woke up with an excruciating pain across the skin of my back, almost into my armpit. About 3" in a line, as if a jellyfish had trailed its tentacle along... and the pain is still there if my skin is touched lightly. There's not the slightest sign of a rash. My skin is as smooth and unmarked as the baby's bottom in between bouts of nappy rash. So what is making it hurt?

The only thing I can think of is that it is the forerunner of a dose of shingles, which as you might know is a truly horrible, horrible, horrible thing to get. I haven't been to the doctor yet as I have nothing to show... but frankly, I am hoping that I have a jellyfish somewhere in the bedclothes, and I just haven't found it yet.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ruminations on a man and a washing machine

My husband is a much more intelligent person than I am. Not only does he have a string of letters after his name, but he has also been, at differing times, a University Vice-Chancellor/Rector, the head of two large research establishments, and – for over 6 years - the Deputy-Director of the International Atomic Energy Agency of the UN. Yeah, that’s right, the place that told Bush – quite correctly - that there were no WMD in Iraq. (Why didn’t you ask me, Mr President? I could have told you. I told everyone else who would listen until I was hoarse.…)

Anyway, you don’t get to do any of those things if you aren’t an intelligent fellow. More intelligent than Mr Bush, anyway. So what is it about my husband and washing machines? Every time I went away in years gone by, I’d return to find all his white underwear now either pink, which for some odd reason he found embarrassing, or the most revolting shade of mangrove mud, which I found disgusting. And no amount of conversation about how to wash clothes ever seemed to make much difference.
With the genius of a lateral thinker, he finally gave up buying white underwear.

Now we are living in Sabah and I am flat out with a behind-schedule book, he has been doing his best to help by taking over the washing. And remember that this is an Asian male born aeons ago, whose mother was of a generation that thought (although she herself was much too polite to say so) that I was maltreating her son if I ever asked him to do anything remotely housewifely. Anyway, I have been puzzled as to why, when he does the washing, the laundry floor ends up awash and sometimes the clothes don’t appear to have been rinsed properly. Was there something wrong with the machine, I wondered?

Nope. I have cracked the code. Husband – with all his degrees and his scientific, analytical brain, never reads the labels on the knobs. Or the instructions on the liquid-soap container. He just stuffs in as many clothes as he has and turns the machine on. If it’s really full, he puts in two cups of liquid, even though the instructions call for a maximum of one. Result, the drainage – stuffed up with an excess of bubbles, overflows.

And the lack of rinsing? Well, I change the water levels according to the amount of washing that I do, so if I left it on low, that’s where it stays for him, even when the machine is full. It’s a miracle it hasn’t blown up trying to move bath towels and heavy jungle garb with a water level fixed at low.

And can anyone tell me why a man thinks that if he puts a neatly folded up bedsheet in the machine, and it comes out of the spin cycle still neatly folded, it has been adequately washed? Maybe he thinks the spin cycle also folds?

Hanging on the line right now (we don’t use dryers, but sunshine) are two bedsheets. They are striped blue, pink, green and purple. We have no such bedsheets. We have never had such bedsheets. (Are you crazy?)They suddenly appeared in the wash after we came back from the ranger station at Sayap-sayap, Kinabalu Park this last weekend. He brought back the sheets off the beds we were using in the staff quarters. Hello? Can’t a man with a Ph.D. remember what sheets we own? And it’s a three hour 4WD drive journey to return them where they belong…

Ah. Maybe that's it. It's all part of a plot to go back there.

Photo taken along the way to Sayap-sayap. Mt Kinabalu from the western aspect, with the infamous Low's Gully (remember the British Army row?) towards the righthand side of the massive.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Guess where I was this weekend...

Here. A remote valley inside Kinabalu Park, accessible only by 4WD or intrepid mini Kancil drivers with a death wish. 1000m up, no hot water and generator power only 6 hours, at night.

And this was the view from the verandah. Which makes it all worthwhile.

And here I finished the first complete rewrite of Song of the Shiver Barrens, and started on the line edit with the first 10,000 words done. You'd think after a thorough rewrite, there wouldn't be many mistakes, wouldn't you? Hah! The print out looks like it's been attacked by an army of red pens.

Friday, September 08, 2006

How to strangle a tree

On the entry for Sept 2nd, I wrote about people wanting to strangle one of my characters.

So today I thought I'd write about strangling a tree. (Ok, give me a good reason why not.)

If you look at the first photo, you will see that an enormous rainforest tree - with huge buttresses a la medieval cathedral, for exactly the same reason as a cathedral - so it doesn't fall down. It has something else clinging to it besides my daughter. A ficus tree - commonly called a strangler fig - is using it as a support. Not having to grow a thick trunk itself means the ficus can reach the sunlight quickly. Once there, it spreads out its canopy and puts down roots growing against the tree into the soil far below.

Eventually it surrounds the original tree, uses all its sunlight and nutrients from the soil and starves it to death. And you are left with a hollow ficus, and no "parent" tree - it has been killed. Starved, actually, rather than strangled.

A slow way to go. The forest is sometimes not a pleasant place in the survival game.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Branded by your street name?

I love Sabahan names. People tend to be very creative in naming their children, for example. And they don't worry about whether they mix up languages one with another - and they have quite a few local tongues to call on, as well as English.

I've come across the following as personal names: Macdonald, Jacklon, Hedges, Liberia, Rhodes, Y-Physter, Rainy, Krist, Onnin, Joliwon, Bassilous, Jayrose, Yute, Pit, Folasia, Ramba, Romieo, Verlina, Malo, Faranica, Charles II, Erce, Fredoline - and so on. Want names for your fantasy novel? Check the electoral roles here!

And then there's place names.

"Jalan" means "street" or "road", comes before the name, and is abbreviated as Jln. And sometimes the name is in English, as in Jalan Coastal, Jalan Bank, Jalan Centre Point. Or this one in the picture, Jln Low Cost Housing in a place called Kuala Menggatal. Menggatal has several meanings, including the name of a tree, but the place name can also be translated as Itchy Rivermouth. Or in fact, itchy in the sense of horny, if you have that kind of mind. Lots of imaginative thinking went into that one.

But doesn't anyone give a thought to how people must feel living in a street called Low Cost Housing Road in a place called Horny Rivermouth?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bureaucratic book bunglers, Malaysian style information in today's blog (and the pix!) comes from here, (look at the index) - an excellent blog on literary matters by Sharon Bakar, with a heavy bias to things Malaysian. The opinions expressed here are mine, though I suspect Sharon would agree...

Malaysian government book censors have a lovely system going that makes no sense to anyone except themselves. They must be ashamed of what they do, I think, because they appear to try not to actually tell anyone what books they are banning, or why, and they apparently make it very hard for anyone to find out. They don't even call it censorship, books are just "restricted". Presumably because you can apply to import a copy for the purposes of research if you have sufficient reason? Aha, perhaps university professors are less inclined to be corrupted by what they read!

The way it often works is like this. A bookseller puts in an order, and then finds out he can't import the book when the consignment gets stopped at the border.

And what kind of books are they banning? Well, the one pictured above was stopped at the border just recently. Things Fall Apart by Achebe, about Nigeria just before independence in the 1950s. Why? Can anyone guess? I am a bit flummoxed, to be quite honest. Maybe because Christian missionaries are not drawn in a very flattering light?

But then, it is perfectly possible to buy Henry Ford's bigotted rant against a religious group which is not only much, much nastier but is also dishonest and misleading; The International Jew: the World's Foremost Problem is often prominently on display at KLIA airport, which surely gives intelligent visitors an unflattering message about Malaysian literary preferences.

The really, really weird thing, though, is that the Achebe work was a school exam textbook here in Malaysia for many many years, up to at least 2001. So five years ago it was considered a proper text for study by young Malaysians. Obviously we have been exposing a group of young Malaysians to damaging influences within our school system. Disgraceful!!

Other books that are restricted include The Malayan Trilogy by Burgess, and Karen Armstrong's classic scholarly and balanced text The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism,
Islam and Christianity. Oh, and Lady Chatterly's Lover too - but not, say the Booker Prize winner of a few years ago, The Line of Beauty, which had scenes in it which would have made Lawrence blush.

In fact, most of the banned books are on religious issues. Apparently we mustn't think about religious matters too much, it's corrupting. Or maybe the bureaucrats think religion itself is corrupting? Which brings me to the real problem with censorship, and it is this. The moment you start down the road to deciding what people can and cannot read, you end up looking like a right proper idiot. Especially in this day and age where people just order through the internet - or indeed download it.

Censorship? What a waste of taxpayers' money.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Nashii in Borneo

Here's a montage of photos of my daughter taken while in Sabah.

Ready to climb (at the entrance gate)

At the beach...

Dinner by the sea


Fresh coconut on the beach

Getting a massage after coming down from Mount Kinabalu

Monday, September 04, 2006

Death on a reef

We spent five days snorkelling last week on islands off the Sabah coast. The worst thing that happened was that we stung by the tiny jellyfish called stingers. More a nuisance than anything else. We did see one small shark and some stingrays.

When we were on Snake Island, someone made a remark about the place being the ideal sort of place for Steve Irwin - the TV "Crocodile Hunter", with all those snakes about for him to tackle. Not, I must admit, my ideal show as I always thought there was far too much harrassment of wild animals. I guess I just don't like seeing wild animals filmed in a way which indicates they are stressed. And now Irwin is dead, in Queensland, stung by a stingray that felt threatened by his too-close presence and lashed out with its tail to pierce his chest. Such a silly, tragic way to die.

It reminds me of an even more bizarre death that occurred back in the 1960s in the Straits of Melaka. The Malaysian coastguard or navy was towing an open boat with several Indonesian soldiers on board who had been caught trying to enter Malaysia. (Remember the so-called "Confrontation"? Such a ridiculous, small-scale business no one wanted to call it a war or an invasion, even though some soldiers were sent to "invade" Malaysia.)
Anyway, one of the soldiers keeled over, mysteriously dead. All that could be found was a small wound, on his neck, if I remember correctly.

It took an autopsy to discover what had happened. It seemed that a small flying fish with a pointed snout had hit the man as his boat was being towed - the snout had broken off and the rest of the fish disappeared overboard, leaving a dead man. Killed by a small flying fish.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Snakes on an island....

There's an island out there in the South China Sea. A tiny piece of land with a patch of rainforest that seems too small to survive a tropical storm. It's called Snake Island...

And there are snakes. Lots of them. They are, I believe, Yellow-lipped Sea-kraits.

Poisonous, lethargic and indifferent to people. They are everywhere you look, and some places you don't. If you think about it, there are some things snakes can't do very well in the sea. Like lay eggs. So they actually spend quite a bit of time on land.

A harmless looking log has an occupant. So does that tree that my daughter stands by. (Funny, she freaks out about leeches, which are totally harmless, yet she can stroke a highly poisonous snake without turning a hair.)

At night, the trees are laden with Frigatebirds, but alas - they are gone at daybreak, too early for us.

Little fish cling to the rocks - a case of fish happily out of the water.

There are times when you feel all is right with the world.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

How readers see a character

On another forum, there has been a discussion about characters you would like to strangle. And two people mentioned Ligea from my Heart of the Mirage.

I created Ligea as a tough woman of 28 who was deliberately raised to be an instrument of revenge. I don't want to give away too much of the plot here, but the idea for the character came from the tragedy of the Lost Generation of Australians, and the children of the Disappeared Ones of Argentina: in both cases, children were raised to reject their heritage - in fact, to despise their own origins in general, and in particular to be unaware of the specifics of it. As a mother myself, I found their fate utterly tragic.

One of my first readers made the comment that Ligea was not as bad as she thought she was, which was exactly what I was trying to achieve: someone who seems hard, uncaring, even brutal - and yet....
So I thought I had nailed it. I was heartened, too, when my UK editor remarked that he thought I did an excellent job with the evolution of Ligea. I thought I'd kept her sympathetic, by portraying a woman who had been dealt a tough hand by life.

And yet a couple of readers wanted to strangle her!

My point? Not everyone sees characters the same way as the author does, or as other readers do, any more than we all agree about real live people. Everyone brings their own preferences to the feast. I console myself with the thought that I wrote the character well enough to make readers exasperated enough to want to strangle her - in other words, she is real. No reader wants to strangle a cardboard character after all.

There is no "right" or "wrong" way to feel about a fictional character. Once the book is released into the world, a writer loses control. Ligea is out there on her own, and you are free to feel however you want about her.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Proofs proofed!

My changes to the proofs of The Shadow of Tyr have been sent off.

Now it's back to doing a line edit of Book 3, Song of the Shiver Barrens - that is, going through the manuscript line by line looking for cliches and typos and ways to improve it.

And here's another photo from Pulau Tiga, with our chalet in the background - and me with the proofs.