Sunday, December 31, 2006

Someone out there doesn't want me to die

I am the typical absolutely pathetic author who has to google her name every so often to see what people are saying about her books.

Serves me right, of course.

Over on Blogpulse, up pops a blog entry by someone saying they loved Heart of the Mirage, and they are so worried - because of my venerable old age, you see - that I might die before I finish the series.

I am tickled to death (oops, now that's an unfortunate metaphor) and will do my very best to stay alive, I promise. I cannot think of a lovelier comment from a reader. Thank you!

Roll on 2007 and may I still be alive at the end of it! Happy New Year everyone.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

How does the spam do it?

We in Malaysia are suffering internet problems at the moment because of the
Taiwanese earthquake doing something or other to an undersea cable. So emails often don't arrive or can't be sent, googling is as slow as a sleepy loris if it works at all.

Yet the spam still arrives by the bucketload (inboxload?), no problem. I have had about 20 versions of the Nigerian scam in the past 2 days for a start...

I hope there is a special place in hell for spammers quite frankly. A place where they have to delete individually every single spam message they ever sent, over and over again.

Another photo from the family's Oz trip. Like father, like son?

Friday, December 29, 2006

When you lose the page number

Here's my grandson contemplating the anguish of responsibility that goes with acknowledging the existential nature of Humankind.

Or maybe he is just looking at the Indian Ocean and wondering how he can cross that wall and get in all that lovely water...

And then there's me, with loads of comments from my agent suggesting changes to The Song of the Shiver Barrens, each comment linked to the page of the manuscript.

Unfortunately, although I haven't changed the actual text since I sent her a copy, my page numbering no longer matches that on her copy...


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nice vibes, thanks!

Feeling miles better, and the family is back, so all is right with the world. Because I have a death wish, I am going to post a couple of photos they took in Western Australia while they were there. Expect to hear of a case of matricide in a day or two...
Do I have a couple of beautiful daughters, or what?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Of floods and reasons and humanity.

Malaysia has just suffered some awful floods down in the south of the Malay Peninsula, caused by a massive rainfall combined with storm surge up the rivers. The funny thing is that Singapore doesn't seemed to have suffered. (For you geographically challenged other-side-of-the-worlders, Singapore hangs off the bottom of the Peninsula, hooked on by a couple of bridges, and yes, it is another country).

When I was working down in the mangroves of the south back in the nineties, we came across a couple of things that raised our environmentalist eyebrows. Both were as a result of projects by the state government.

One was a large road being driven across a mangrove area in order to connect, ultimately, the east of the state to the state capital by a more direct route. The road was raised above the water level, like a bund or levee. We approached it by a small boat up a small river and suddenly there was the road ahead of us - and there were no culverts underneath to allow the passage of water.

That's right. The engineers had cut the river in two with a road. Upstream there were more mangroves, now cut off from the tide and doomed to die - and villages, now doomed at a guess to flooding.

The second project we saw was a failed attempt to farm a coastal area. Mangroves had been cleared and the land parcelled out to grow coconuts or pineapples. A bund had been built to keep the sea out. And it was breached during a storm, flooding the whole area and devastating the farms, which were then abandoned. Mile upon mile of wasteland, desert in the tropics.

I guess those flooded Malaysians are suffering the effects of past government policy which encouraged development without a thought for environmental cost. Now, of course, they are having to rethink, and I believe they are replanting mangroves in parta of Malaysia. It would have been cheaper to listen to us.

When NGOs complained in the 1990s about the development of rivers right up to the water's edge in spite of an old colonial law that stated that riverbanks were sacrosanct for, I think, 50 yards on either side (I could be wrong about the actual figure), the government of the time said airily that that was not really what the law said. It was just advice.

Advice they were apparently happy to ignore.

Well, a lot of Malaysians have suffered this holiday season. I wonder why.

There's a photograph here, which is actually from a previous flood this time last year, but which I think sums up a lot. It shows a man saving his cat. This is an elderly man in the process, one guesses, of losing all his worldly wealth - which may not have been much to begin with. Yes, he's a Muslim Malaysian, in the midst of personal suffering, but I wonder if he is any different from anyone of heart anywhere else. In this coming year, if you feel tempted to make a sweeping statement about another group of people, think of this picture.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas past, Christmas present...

Memories of being a child on the farm in Western Australia. Waking up very early Christmas morning to find Santa had been and inevitably left a book, among other things - my mother's way of making darn sure she didn't get disturbed too early by a kid wanting to open presents. Christmas inextricably mixed up with the dry dusty smells of summer, the somnolent sound of cicadas, the beginning of the long summer holiday, the knowledge that we'd soon leave for two weeks living in a caravan at the beach.

The presents - books, books, books - those are what I liked best and what I remember most. Oh, and the mysterious parcels that arrived from an aunt working for the UN in Japan, then Korea, and finally New York. I still remember the exquisiteness of a Korean doll and the Japanese laquer work jewellery book...they were a peep at a world far away that I knew nothing about.

My first white Christmas. Vienna. Going to the Kriskindelmarkt, all the lights sparkling, feet scrunching over the snow in the bitter cold, warming my hands on a packet of hot chestnuts. The kids building their first snowman in the back yard and making angels in the snow...

And then there was yesterday. Knocked flat with a very painful infection, and ending up having to send an SOS to my very lovely sister-in-law to come and take me to the hospital emergency room. AARGH.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Eve, and I am shouting at the ceiling. Literally.

Here I am, in my study, desperately trying to finish a project paper on avitourism potential in Malaysia so that I can return to my final(?) rewrite of The Song of the Shiver Barrens, and there's this darn scamper, scamper, scamper, squeak, squeak, squeak all the time over my head. The civets are having a ball. The female has another litter by the sound of it, but how can I work with that racket going on? I finally decide to drown them out with a spot of Bruckner, played very loudly...

BTW, there's an interesting discussion developing on yesterday's entry.

Merry Christmas everyone*

*change as appropriate to suit your religious beliefs/non-beliefs!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Peers or popular?

A fellow writer once asked me, what would you prefer? To be acclaimed by your peers or by the reading public? By peers, he meant fellow writers, editors, reviewers, people somehow involved in the industry or the critiquing of it.

He caught me off balance because I actually hadn't thought much about it. I can't remember what I replied; doubtless it was something glib about wanting it all. Rich, famous AND loved - hey, why not?

But I have given a lot of thought to it since. And I am still not sure. At one time I think I would have replied, 'Oh, my peers.' There is a wonderful feeling about being nominated for an Aurealis. Even though your common sense tells you it's only the decision of three judges, and people who have judged these things often say the actual winner is a compromise because no one could agree on the "best". But hey, these are people who KNOW books, my kind of books. Who read widely, can recognise a plot hole or a cliche when they see one. They know enough to recognise the something special. And they like MY work. That's a pretty good feeling.

But that reply contains a certain amount of arrogance too.

What is a writer if he or she is not read?
I was a secret writer for many years.
And no matter how much you enjoy the creative process, there is something missing if no one ever reads it. There is an incompleteness to that process. That's not to say it is wasted, or not worth it. Just that it's not quite...complete.
A writer needs an audience to go from being a shade self-indulgent to being an artist sharing a creation.

But that begs the question. How big does the audience have to be before the process is 'complete'? Is your mother and Great-uncle Bruce sufficient? Your 'peers'? Or does it have to be the average book reader who pops into the bookstore because Aunt Amy recommended your book as a great read?

I dunno. I guess I still want it all.

And there another tricky question here too. Just how much do you sacrifice to be a bestseller? Nothing - (if they like it, great, if they don't, that's their loss?)
Everything - (they liked my first vampire book so I am going to churn them out ad infinitum, all with variations of the same plot, and laugh all the way to the bank...)

[Of course, it's not so easy to decide what you have to do to be popular anyway. Think about a runaway bestseller by any relatively unknown author. If you had read it before its popularity, would you have predicted it?]

But writers all make choices of some sort, and it would be a pretty strange author who doesn't, on some visceral level, want to please the unknown reader, the person who just picks up a book in the local store. In fact, many of us agonise over it. Should we kill of the hero? Won't the fans be upset? I have made a decision not to write in the first person, even though I know I do it well, because so many people have told me they won't read books written in the first person.

The only thing I do know is that I have to please myself first. There is no way I could write to please only other people, even if I knew the secret formula to being a runaway success.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Shortlisted for the Aurealis!!!

My third shortlisting for the Aurealis Award: Best Australian Fantasy Novel of the Year. This year it is for Heart of the Mirage. [See? Told you all, you should read it....]

Ok, I had better shut up before my head swells up. Or maybe I should remember that I haven't ever won the actual award yet...Third time lucky maybe?

I think I am dancing on the ceiling, or something. I don't seem to be making much sense even to myself... You know what actually tickles me? One of the other four shortlisted books is called Blaze of Glory. Anyone who has read my The Isles of Glory knows why I am laughing.

I am going to open a bottle of Lambrusco.

2003: for The Aware 2004: for The Tainted

Twin Towers for a two year old

So what do you do when you go to see the Petronas /Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur for the first time? Do you ooo and aaah over how high they are? Go shop for brand names that sell so much cheaper than in other cities? Reflect on those other Twin Towers that are no more?

Nope, not if you are two.

You stare at Bob the Builder. Or go sit on Thomas the Tank Engine.

You investigate the Teletubbies (and beg Mum to put more money in to make it move).
You stick your hand in every fountain you can find.
You make a beeline into the heart of the playground outside.
And then dash into the paddling pool, ignoring the towers soaring beyond it.

Oh, to be two, and have absolutely no idea what happened to the other Twin Towers, or the hell that incident led the whole world towards because our political leaders sought revenge and votes, not wisdom and vision...

Monday, December 18, 2006


The Shadow of Tyr hit the bestseller list of Galaxy, the specialist bookstore in Sydney, in its first week out in the big world. Big smile from me.

Don't forget - give books as Xmas pressies, everyone! Preferably novels.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

On the way to the airport....

Me: (as I drive the car out of our driveway) Got your passports? Tickets?
Him: Yes. (to wife, referring to their son) Have you got Dylan's passport?
Her: (checking) Yes. All here.
Me: (to him, because he is an American and they are on their way to Australia): Got your visa?
Him: (Long silence.) Um. Do I need one?
Me: Did you check?

Guess what? Americans need visas for Australia.


Fortunately we discovered that visas can be got online, even on Sunday evenings when you are already at the airport. But believe me, that 45 minute drive to the airport - wondering all the while if father and son would be able to go at all - was fuelled not by petrol, but by high octane stress levels.

P.S. This whole passport/visa/immigration/travel problem thingy is known as the Noramly Family Syndrome, or NFS for short. It is highly contagious between family members and can be dangerous. Anyone marrying into the family should take suitable precautions.

Related symptoms include:
  • luggage lag In this case both parties arrived in Malaysia without their bags even though they were travelling on different flights from different destinations. It was a fact, well-known to UN employees when Noramly was working for the IAEA, that if you accompanied him, you would arrive at your destination without your bags.
  • the triggering of airline strikes or airport chaos The BA strike of some years ago is still talked about as the Holiday to Hell by Noramly family members all arriving from different countries on British Airways. Never again. The recent terrorist-liquid chaos in UK caught up two members of the Noramly clan travelling in opposite directions who had arranged to meet at Heathrow, and instead spent the 4 hour layover queuing up at different Heathrow terminals and missed each other altogether.
  • the possibility of regime overthrow The past downfall of governments in Albania, Czechoslovakia and Poland, and the overturning of elections in Algeria, have all been connected to the presence of Noramly and wife (i.e. me) at the crucial time. The only governments they don't seem to have been able to topple despite repeated attempts (i.e.visits) are those of the Bush/Blair/Howard administrations.
If any member of the Noramly clan travels your way, watch out.

My younger daughter is at the moment travelling between Scotland UK and Perth Australia, via USA. So far she has only had her credit cards pick-pocketed in London.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

How readers differ....

One of those lovely readers who are kind enough to comment on said some nice things about The Aware, and then added: "There is not the depth like in some fantasy tales but you'll enjoy it nonetheless."

Another reader was so taken with the sub-text in the whole Isles of Glory trilogy, of which The Aware is the first volume, that she wrote her thesis paper for her media studies degree using the trilogy as an example (the thesis is about colonialisation and hybridity and other interesting stuff). I have just learned that she has been awarded a first class for the thesis.

I am so chuffed for her - and me! That someone should choose my books as a literary example for what she was discussing just blows my mind. Congratulations, Uthpala. It was wonderful for me on another level - it meant that someone totally "got it".

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On stress, on being cited, and on the illegal wildlife trade...

I won't even begin to describe the stress levels we hit today. Let's just say that it concerned a passport, belonging to someone booked on an overseas trip on the 17th December, which was suddenly discovered to be unusable even though it doesn't expire for another 3 years, which in turn led to another problem...

It all ended well, due to some wonderful people, but until it was all resolved - after an incredible amount of running around - stress levels were sufficient to power a reactor.

Probably didn't help that last night I went to a talk on the wildlife trade, which was unbelievably distressing. Why do people buy exotic pets? Don't they know that for every pet delivered to a doting owner, there are tens, or more probably hundreds, that die horribly, miserably, within the trade? Buyers of exotic pets fuel the trade with their money. Because they buy, wild animals are captured and caged and die shockingly in the most vile of conditions, millions upon millions of them, each year.
Pet owners - yes, especially in the USA which is one of the two largest consumers - are a major cause of the slaughter and this torture of the defenseless. And if they have a "certificate" showing that the pet is captive-bred or otherwise "legal", and we are not talking about say, budgerigars, then they are kidding themselves. They may as well have gone out into the wilds of the source country and blasted a few hundred animals of the same species, because their buying had the same effect.

Why are supposedly respectable, law-abiding agencies in countries that pride themselves on their Asian values of decency and compassion, turning a blind eye - even condoning the use of their international airport and and their international airline to "launder" and transport endangered species?

Why does Malaysian law enable a endangered species of reptile or tortoise/turtle - caught illegally in its country of origin and smuggled illegally into this country - to be openly and legally sold on the streets and in the pet shops? Why does that not seem to a cause for shame to Malaysia?

On a more pleasant note: I always get a kick out of having one of my non-fiction papers being cited, and this week both my husband and I had articles cited, in different papers, in the same scientific journal. Nice.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Stop the plane, I wanna get off!

Apparently, halfway between Chicago and Seoul, my grandson decided that he had had enough. "Time to get off," he announced, and set off down the aisle of the plane to find the way out. Then got most indignant when he couldn't find the door...

And how does one explain to a jet-lagged two-year-old that 11 p.m. is not the right time to wake up and start the day?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Forty years further on ....

Our house is twenty-five years old, and in the tropics, that means major overhaul time.

I have a large bucket under the leak in the dining room ceiling.
None of the huge sliding doors will slide any more; to open them requires the kind of muscles you only get after six months of weightlifting.
There are civets living in the roof.
Paint is pealing.
All the pipes to the bathrooms are partially blocked, and water is hard to come by.
The trees in the garden have grown so large that if it's cloudy at noon, you need the lights on. The kitchen cabinet doors have just disintegrated into sawdust.

With so many things to choose from, and so little money, I chose to have the kitchen cabinet doors replaced - the local workers did a good job, but do not accept credit cards. Which has left me broke.
Husband is somewhere in the heart of Borneo - Long Pasia to be exact, and incommunicado for a week.
The only credit card I have was declined when I tried to use it today, dunno why.
Last month I was supposed to receive the first payment for my project job - which I have been working on for almost two months - but nothing has arrived.
I have a payment arriving from via my agent from UK, but it takes 6 weeks to clear the cheque. Yep, that's right. In this day and age of electronic transfers, it still takes 6 weeks to clear a cheque.

So here I am, with a car that desparately needs servicing, a service centre that won't take Amex, grocery shopping that needs doing.

So I was scrambling around the house looking for all the money I could find.
$US121 left over from my trip to see my daughter;
20 pounds sterling left over from trip to see other daughter;
20 Austrian schillings which no money changer here will look at;
a savings bankbook with rm 175 in it (that's 50 USD);
and a heap of coins...
I changed the money at the local cambio, but alas, he turned down the 10 Scottish pound note. Damn.
I send the car to servicing. He says it needs new brake linings and timing belts and names a sum that turns my face green. "Minor service only, please," says I, counting out some cash. (It's my husband's car; mine is in Kota Kinabalu.)
And there are people out there who think writers make money?

Forty years ago today I got married. We had no money - we were students after all. What's changed? Nothing much that I can see. Well, one thing, I guess, my husband did turn up forty years ago. Today for the anniversary he's in Borneo and I'm in Kuala Lumpur.

Sometime in the next week or two my sixth book hits the bookshop shelves. In just over an hour my daughter arrives from Virginia with my grandson.

Forty years further on, and life is good.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

True story, about 2 years back. Friend rings me one evening:
Friend: Glenda, I have a client I want to take birding up that mountain in Negeri Sembilan, the one with the radar station on top, but I don't know where the turn-off is. Can you give me directions?
Me: Sure. Easy. You just drive up the road from Seremban towards Jelebu until you come to the ten foot pineapple, and then you turn right...
Friend: Come to the what?
Me: The ten foot pineapple. Well, you might think it's an oversized orange-coloured hand-grenade, only it's next to some six foot mangosteens. There's also some bananas the size of a small sampan.
Friend: Ah, there are some statues?
Me: Got it. You'd have to be legally blind to miss them...
Why on earth do the powers-that-be think these hideous decorations that they foist on us - using OUR tax money - are in any way pleasant to look at? I thought I'd seen the worst Malaysia had to offer, until recently.

There's a roundabout in Sandakan that is decorated with proboscis monkeys - now that was an exercise in judicious placement of limbs. The male proboscis monkeys - real ones - are near-permanently in a situation that suggests they have taken way too much Viagra. Awkward when you are commissioned to make statues of them, and everyone knows about this prodigious feat of erection, (which also happens to be bright red), so you can't lie, but you don't dare portray the reality either for fear of offending little old ladies and children. [Someone will have to tell me why they think either of those two groups of people are easily offended. Kids? You gotta be kidding. And little old ladies like me have seen it all and are way past being offended, believe me.]

Anyway, here's some photos of some of Sandakan's beauteous statuary.

And I discovered, when my friend rang me VERY early the next morning, that you can't even rely on the monsters to stick around...
"Glenda," he roared, "there's NO BLOODY PINEAPPLE."
The road widening people had been through, and...

Friday, December 08, 2006

Colic, anyone?

Ok, now here's a film that's guaranteed to flop in the West.

That's right, it's called "Colic", and it's playing here in Kuala Lumpur.

Would you go to a movie that is advertised by a pix of a naked screaming very young infant and the question: "Ever wondered why a baby won't stop crying?" and then: "When he cries, someone dies..."

Apparently it's a Thai film. That's one I won't bother going to see.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In my own garden...

Sometimes it is nice to be home in one's own garden, after living in an apartment without as much as a pot plant.

Of course, this being the tropics, and with us away such a lot, the garden is more like a jungle to be explored at the moment. Still, the orchids are lovely...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Wicked Western Ways

The trouble with banning books is that, if you do it, you end up looking like a prize idiot.

And that is what has happened to Che Din Yusoh, who is the "secretary of the publications and Quranic texts control division" at the Internal Security Ministry here. After all, the moment you are quoted in a newspaper (see here) as saying "As the country's moral guardian, we cannot let these books in" and you are talking about books ranging from Spongebob to "Breastfeeding Your Baby: Revised Edition" to a book on collecting Chinese teapots, how can you not look a moron?

Che Din said most of these titles were offensive because of their sexual or violent content. Worse, he also said that some classics also had to be banned because they contained liberal Western ideas that were "not conducive" to Malaysian society. Huh. Just which liberal Western ideas is he thinking of? The one that says we should learn to think for ourselves?

I am still trying to work out if breastfeeding is a liberal Western idea, or has sexual content (breasts, you know), or maybe it's violent. (Babies can bite. Ask any breastfeeding Mum.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Newsflash! Newsflash! Spongebob is Gay!

Spongebob has been finally been outed - his long-term relationship with a starfish called Patrick (obviously a lapsed Catholic of Irish origins) has finally been revealed...

You mean you didn't know? You should have asked the Ministry of Internal Security here in Malaysia. They could have told you. After all, they banned a Spongebob book. Apparently they haven't actually got around to banning him from TV yet - tut, tut. What about the moral safety of our kids, watching dangerous stuff like that? After all, everyone knows that not only is being gay immoral, but it's also contagious. Especially for four-year-olds.

I would love to tell you I am kidding. But I am not sure I can.

Read the comments section over on the Bibliobibuli blog. The question of Spongebob's sexuality is the serious concern of some church groups in Malaysia. And we already knew that Spongebob has aroused the ire of the "our moral guardians" (the Ministry's words, not mine). At least one Spongebob book was refused import at the border.

Oh, and the interesting thing is this : the Ministry suggests that any distributor who wants to appeal the banning of a book at the border can send a copy to the Ministry for reconsideration. See a news report here. Huh? Just how does one send to the Ministry a copy of book that you are not permitted to import in the first place?

I shudder to think that this is the Ministry bestowed with our security. This country is beset with problems like illegal logging, poaching, drug addiction, bag-snatching, cable theft, loan sharks, terrorist cells, global warming, diminishing fish stocks, stealing of metal from public and private property, violence against women, white slavery, child prostitution, illegal immigration, apostasy (there are actually people trying to CHANGE their religion, for crying out loud!) ....and they are devoting their resources to banning Spongebob?

P.S. the Ministry is incorrect anyway. Sponges aren't gay, they are hermaphodite and terribly promiscuous. In public too. And kids actually swim in the sea, you know! Worse, sponges start being sexual around three years of age. Disgusting, really. They should all be banned from the ocean and confined to our bathtubs.

Down with sponges!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Return to Sandakan

(Expedisi Kulamba, Universiti Malaysia Sabah)

A week ago, we packed everything up and headed back to Sandakan from Kulamba, dreaming of hot showers and a toilet with a seat...

But six hours or more on board a fishing boat can be terrible boring when you're on your way home. I work as long as the laptop battery lasts. Which is never long enough. Others sleep.

At the police base en route, they fish, so maybe with the lack of pirate attacks, they get bored too. This guy has caught an eel.
And then Sandakan finally appears – and we have to unload the boat. And wait for transport. Lavernita decides the wok is just the place to get comfortable while she guards the bags…

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Serpent in paradise

(Expedisi Kulamba, Universiti Malaysia Sabah)

Beautiful, isn't it? And remember, you can click on these photos if you want a better look.

The third photo shows the kind of village you will see in this area. And the photo after that shows the local shop in one village. The only shop.

When I first came to Malaysia, Borneo was forested from coast to coast. Now much of it is eroded wasteland, self-seeded with those rampant weeds, Australian acacias. It seems incredible that we have swapped the unique biodiversity granted us for imported rubbish!

And has Borneo benefitted from all that cutting down of forest? Not nearly as much as it should have. Spend a week with a boatman on the rivers of the Lower Kinabatangan and find out. The average family income is 250 MYR. That's about $USD 70. A month. Plus all the fish they can eat.

Most of the logged forest – perhaps more than 90% of the biomass, was burned or otherwise wasted in the grabbing of the commercial timber. We gave up clean water and clean air and pristine oceans for that. I guess the timber taukehs and others who grabbed their cut think it was a good deal.

I think it was a short-sighted waste of one of the world’s most valuable resources that could have benefitted the population for untold generations. Instead it made a handful rich in one generation and left behind a wasteland suitable only for monoculture –with no thought given to protecting water resources, connectivity of habitat, wildlife, medicinal plants, or in fact any kind of overall planning. Sure, oil palm plantations have there place. But this wasn’t the way to do it. We squandered the future of our children.

In effect:

Never has so much
been so wantonly destroyed
in so short a time
for the benefit
of so few.