Monday, 23 June 2014

For The Writer's Tower Facebook page: June's Theme is "Mirrors"

A 'Saloon' Full Of Mirrors

Image, Denise Jaunsen
Four million square feet of retail space in an Egyptian Pyramid-themed mall with an attached water park? Oh, yes, this must be Malaysia -- and I'm having my hair done in one minuscule corner of it.

The recently-remodeled 'A-Saloon' (no, not "A Salon") now feels like a carnival fun-house where things happen to both perceptions and hair. Mirrors, divider walls, designer angles, more mirrors, black floor tiles, walls of mirrors, silver countertops…all turned this way and that. It should be too small to get lost in, yet all the mirrors and angles make it feel cast. In fact, it's enough to challenge my ability to arrive at the shampoo station in the back without a guide and a trail of crumbs to follow back.

Image by Sinopaperart
I'm early, so I can practice taking deep aroma-therapeutic lemongrass-infused breaths whilst waiting for Desmond, who's Chinese Malaysian and has begun his day seated at the back counter. He is intent on moussing and fluffing his own voluminous red-blonde Liberace-meets-Lyle-Lovett hair. The mirrors replicate half a dozen confident roosters duded up in black and rhinestones.

A "Director-level stylist" with impeccable posture, Desmond speaks five languages with an endearing lisp. He's close to six feet tall with the addition of the upswept cockerel head-piece, and everything visible is pierced. When he flirts in the mirror, my chagrin is palpable. Did I mention I could be his grandmother?

I've struggled to keep a hairdresser since we moved to Malaysia nearly four years ago; they always seem to change salons. But Desmond says he'll always be here for me. "Cannot leave, my uncle own da' place."

By 10:15, Desmond has finished preening. He runs his fingers through my hair now, tsk tsks over the silver roots and says "Why so long you not come?", then leans close and communes with the offending split ends. He summons someone called Aziza, and a small brown woman in a white layer-ruffled tunic -- Carmen Miranda without the fruit -- shimmies toward us. 'Des' shares his conclusions and demonstrates his command of the Malay language, then disappears to work some "Caramel Mocha" magic with the tubes of hair dye. Aziza preps me with a towel around my neck, a black nylon cape with SHISIEDO in big white letters across the front, and Chinese tea in a oh-too-stylish square white cup with an also-square lid which doubles as a coaster.

Des raises the chair -- fwup, fwup, fwup -- with a hydraulic pedal. He and Aziza divide my head into right brain and left, then section off and paint the offending silver roots with broad, flat brushes coated with Caramel Mocha goo. For a while, I watch in the mirror through half-closed eyes, but the preparation is icy on my scalp -- and I succumb to the urge to doze. The world goes dark as Aziza's delicate apprentice fingers pull delicately on one side of my head, while Des's stronger, journeyman hands tug at the other. My head is pulled this way and that as they section and paint, section and paint.

Then, I feel only just one pair of hands, the soft ones. The energy around me is gentler. Aziza pats and massages, pats and massages, then stops. I hear the sound of cling film being ripped off an industrial-sized roll. One eye flies open and, there in the mirror, a scree, scree, crinkle, crinkle, Aziza wraps my head round three times, then twists it tight, front and back, and tucks the twists under. She pats me on the shoulder, "Twenny minit," she whispers, then nods and smiles at the me in the mirror, then disappears.

I go to sleep.

With thanks to Lee Yoong Shin for the invitation to "The Writer's Tower".

Friday, 25 October 2013

Launched this week...

The 2013 anthology from Writers Abroad:


Writers Abroad is a group of expat writers around the globe whose mission is to 'develop new and seasoned writers'. For the fourth year, they've published an anthology consisting of fiction, non-fiction and poetry by writers who are living, or who have lived as, expats. 

This year's publication "explores the relationship between people and the landscapes they live in" and "evokes the diversities, similarities, connections and misunderstandings of life in foreign places". Yup, that about covers the ever-amazing expat life.

I'm very pleased to have a non-fiction piece in this publication...especially because the proceeds from the sale of the anthology this year support Book Aid International, a charity working to support access to books, literacy, education and development in sub-Saharan Africa.

Book Aid International provided 543,280 new books to over 2,000 libraries in 2012 and has sent more than 30 million books to partner libraries since 1954.

Aren't those incredible statistics? I'm happy to be a part of the effort. A friend in North Carolina posted the above photo to my Facebook page while I eagerly anticipate my own copy. It was nice to have a first photo-preview--and this first review, too. Thank you, Leslie! 
Congratulations on a lovely piece in the anthology "Foreign and Far Away." I won't give too much away for other readers, but I especially loved your description of a *petite* Malaysian shower. I could feel it and hear it: "You know if you went out it would throw you to the ground and wash you away with the detritus rushing down the gutters and broad, concrete drains."

Won't you order a copy* and help the children of Sub-Saharan Africa and also assist Writers Abroad with the important work they do? Everyone, including the authors, volunteers their time and work so your purchase contribution is maximised. 

Awww, go on, start shopping. Here's how: 
CLICK HERE to purchase on or CLICK HERE to purchase on

Foreign and Far Away is presently available in paperback; a Kindle edition is planned for early in 2014.

* Or two of more? Pssst!...the holidays are just around the corner...why not give the gift of literature--and literacy?

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Hey! Dominica Malcolm's just about ready to release "ADRIFT"...and you can pre-order a copy now!

I met Dominica Malcolm at one of Sharon Bakar's "Readings@Seksan" events here in Kuala Lumpur. A fellow expat writer in Malaysia, I liked her energy, enthusiasm and determination to finish this not-strictly-a-romance but sorta lesbian, bi-sexual time-travelling, mermaid-mythology set in some cool places. Like Barbados. And Jamaica. And New York.

Dominica does a pretty fair pirate impersonation. Seriously. It's not like she doesn't know her stuff! That day, at 'Readings', she thankfully kept the pistol in its holster and only read to us about blunderbusses, did a lot of oh-ho-ho'ing and carried on like it was the 17th century. I sighed when the mermaid came out of the water. Some good stuff here.

I'm honoured and pleased to help Dominica with the launch of her new book, "ADRIFT". Read on and, if it's your cup of tea (or rum, matey!) then get in on the fun to win a copy or pre-order or support her Indiegogo efforts.

Well done, Dominica!

Title: Adrift 
Author: Dominica Malcolm 
Publisher: Solarwyrm Press 
Release date: September 19th, 2013 

The blurb It's the 21st century, and Jaclyn Rousseau is not where she should be. 1661 disappeared before her eyes, and there's no way home. That matters not to Jaclyn—she lost her lover, and everything else that meant anything to her, in the West Indies. In an adventure that crosses time and the Atlantic, a murderous pirate must find a place for herself in this new world. Can she escape her past, or will it catch up with her?

Other book details Adrift is an adult speculative fiction novel, sitting at approximately 104,000 words or 400 pages. Though the novel opens in the 21st century, with Jaclyn meeting a businessman, Dick, the chapters alternate time periods, so you can learn about her past as the story progresses.

With the exception of time travel and mermaid mythology, it is all set in the real world in the two different time periods, and includes locations such as London; New York City; Washington, DC; and various parts of the Caribbean like Barbados and Jamaica.

Though not strictly a romance novel, the main relationship in the book is a lesbian one. It was important to the author to write a story that represented someone different from the mainstream in the protagonist role. As someone who identifies as bisexual, seeing characters who fit her sexuality in media was rare, and sometimes when she did see it, it was used more for fantasies of men rather than representing the reality.

She believes people of all sexualities, colours, abilities, genders, and so forth, need to have better representation in the media—both in fiction and non-fiction—so they can find more acceptance in the world. Add the book on Goodreads.

Want to know more? Adrift is currently looking for crowdfunded support on Indiegogo, to help pay for marketing. You can pre-order the book and start reading it before the release date, as well as picking up some other exclusive items.

More information is provided on the Indiegogo page at From there, you can also download a preview of the entire first chapter.

Connect with the author Web site/blog:

Twitter: @dommalcolm

As part of the launch of the campaign, Dominica Malcolm, along with her partner at Solarwyrm Press, Jax Goss, are offering books in a rafflecopter giveaway! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

If I Had Gotten To The Letter "P"... the #AtoZ Blog Challenge, I would have had plenty to say.

First, there would have been Photography, because I like that a lot. Then there would have been Publishing, because I'd like to be more of that, of course. But, really, what I might have keyed on would have been PLOT and PROMPT. Because the former is something I struggle with--and the latter is something that helps me deal with it.

Martha Alderson
So what happened to my #AtoZChallenge anyway? Months later, it's easy to answer because I'm not so annoyed about it. No sooner did I get past "M" for Malaysia but we nearly lost out Internet service completely! That's right, in 2013. *Poof* It was more than I could recover from. The Challenge moved on and by the time we had proper service restored, it was at "V". Never mind. I'm jumping back to "P" and taking deep breaths.

This post is about a book. A book about Plots and a book filled with Prompts related to plot. The author is Martha Alderson.

Do I recommend it? Heck, yes! That's why I'm here writing about it. This is my third Martha Alderson -- aka "The Plot Whisperer" -- book. First, I got The Plot Whisperer. It's reviewed on Amazon here. Next, I bought The Plot Whisperer Workbook. I reviewed that latter on and you can find it here.

And then? About two weeks ago I bought the Kindle version of The Plot Whisperer Book of Writing Prompts. I've been using said prompts daily since. The subtitle -- "Easy Exercises To Get You Writing" -- has been 100% true for me. I read a comment once on a review of an Alderson book and the commenter, who otherwise liked the book a lot, said there was "too much whispering". Frankly, that comment alone sold me, though I didn't need much selling since I'd been very pleased with the first two books in the series.

How does it work? The prompts are numbered. There's no date. There are simply 120 prompts related to plot. The first chapter is about setting writing goals, what the book's all about, how to use it. And then there is some basic Martha Alderson "Plot Planner" info to help you see how the prompts relate to plot.

Finally, there are the prompts themselves. Each of the 120 prompts consists of: 
  • An affirmation prompt (the whispery part, I suppose)
  • A plot prompt (something about your protagonist or goals and actions, for instance)
  • A writing prompt (an instruction/suggestion about what to write that day to address the plot prompt)
  • A record (a place to track the time, words, projected end date, energy level)
My result? From the beginning, I've found the prompts uncanny. If I was just starting a new book, this is what I would start with: a daily get-you-going semi-meditative exercise with some clearly defined, related things to think about. And a specific prompt to get your pen on paper. Mind you, I'm not just starting. I have well over 150,000 words in my current manuscript. But I also have plenty of holes, some glaring oopses, some really weak stuff, some backstory that's needed. You name it. I know it's there. Or not there.

This is helping me fix it. Each day, I repair something or rework something I know is weak, or missing. I am working through the prompts in order...1, 2, 3...though one day I skipped one and moved on. I might try jumping around soon. Whatever it is, there's something there I can work on each day.

How does it work? One day, for instance, it might be a prompt to write moment-by-moment action about something stands in my heroine's way and interferes with her getting what she wants. I do the affirmation first--each is different, they're very good and each one ends with "Today I write", which still makes me say "wow" every time I whisper it to myself (see? it's the whispering). Then Martha explains a bit and suggests what to write about--and why. And I think "Oh, yeah, that bit I never wrote about when Anna and Sergeant Roper fell off the cliff..." And then I note the time and take a whack at that in a notebook (with no lines!) and *poof*. When I stop later, guess what? I've usually got 700-1500 words that I needed and I trot off to Scrivener, do some typing and apply the patch.

What's next? My notion is that this practice will be great for the next book. Of course, I have to finish this one--but it's getting there. I'm aiming toward doing NaNoWriMo on November 1st and I sense that the plot work and daily writing to the prompts would be excellent daily starters. I might read through and pick out 30 prompts that address my greatest areas of need or weakness and go with it that way. Whatever it is, though, I know that beginning with the affirmation prompt (and repeating to myself  "Today I write.") is the way to go for me.

Interested in your own copy? Check it out on Amazon right here. Thanks, Martha!

p.s. You don't have to have the earlier books to get what you want out of this one. Martha makes a lot of information available via her blog, a very informative YouTube channel, and a newsletter filled with information. She is very generous with the free stuff; I noticed some prompts in her blog if you want to check them out. Oh, yes, Anna and Sergeant Roper didn't fall off a cliff.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

"M" is for Malaysia's Magnificent Mammals, Monkeys, Malamutes and Many More!

I love animals and Malaysia has some incredibly wonderful (and often endangered) ones. Photography is another passion of mine; I often try to marry photography and writing but, when it comes to animals, I confess I am more into the photos than the words, preferring silence and simple awe in their m-m-m-magnificent presence.

Here are a few of the animal photos I've taken in Malaysia. A book of my photography--animal and otherwise--along with some poetry can be read here in its entirety.

The Orang Utan

The Kuala Lumpur butterfly park is amazing...

...and so is the bird park!

"Moaz" came to visit from the US and loved the
Silver Leaf Monkeys
of Bukit Melawati...

And so did big brother Omer
   Yes, it's a hornbill! 
 Love the cheeky babies...a lot. And the moms will share them.

...and the heart-shaped face!
Silver leaf monkeys are born bright orange, and change
colour with age.

An elephant at Kuala Gandah Sanctuary

Tiger, tiger...sadly, endangered tiger.

"Malamutes" qualify for wild beasties in Malaysia, too (Solo thinks).
 He prefers a swimming pool.

Rogue gets her feet wet in the South China sea.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

"L" is for Language, Which I Love And Am Endlessly Fascinated By...

One of the fascinating things about moving to a new country is the language. Or languages, in the case of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia. There's the Malay language (Bahasa Malayu) which is native to Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore as well. Malays comprise slightly over half the population. Then there are the Chinese, the second largest population group, who may well speak any or all of Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Malay, English and others. The smallest group here are the Indians, so let's add Hindu, Punjabi, Tamil and any of 17 others to the list.

Don't take my word about it: read about it here. Fortunately for us expats, many people in Malaysia speak excellent English (impressive English!). A very large number speak very passable English. This is one of those places where it's pretty darned easy to come as an English-speaking tourist and get around just fine.

There's a vibrant English writing community, too. Novels, anthologies, and books of poetry written by
Malaysian English language
literature, home-grown!
Malaysian authors and published by Malaysian publishers are to be found on the bookshelves--in English. There are public readings for aspiring writers in several locations regularly and it's sometimes difficult to get a space in one of Sharon Bakar's Word Works English language writing classes. Malaysia has it's own George Town Literary Festival (there's also one in Singapore as well), held in Penang each November. It's a happenin' place!

OK, so what's the catch? For me, the 'catch' has been coming to terms with speaking English whilst, at the same time, not speaking English. Some people use the term "Chinglish" (English influenced by Chinese) to describe it but I find it a broader, more interesting (and sometimes hopeless but always amusing when I look back at it in a later sane moment) situation. And, when you add the cultural context of "timeliness"--as if such existed here--it can be hilarious.

First, the key words you need to know: OK, OK-OK, Can, Can-Can, No-Can, No have, Finish*. I am convinced that, with the addition of some arm-waving and possibly a pencil and scrap of paper in the case of numerical negotiations or the need to exchange phone numbers, much service-related commerce in Malaysia can be completed. OK, so armed with that, let's call for service.

Enter the plumber. My working hypothesis is that, in Malaysia, there are only three possibilities for any appointment:   1) The person will be early;  2) The person will be late; 3) The person will not show up at all. That's it. There are no others.

So. I made an appointment with the plumber, Mr Woo, for one Thursday last year. It wasn't urgent. I settled in to spend the day writing on the Tuesday immediately preceding. A blissful morning and afternoon awaited me. The phone rang.

ME:          "Hello?"
WOO:      "Come now."
ME:          "Why? Have appointment for Thursday."
WOO:      "Thursday no can. Come now."
ME:          "OK-OK, what time?"
WOO:       "Come now." 
ME:           "OK-OK, come now."  

OUTCOME:  Mr Woo arrived on Thursday two hours before the originally scheduled time. All my time waiting for him on Tuesday (informing security, locking the dogs up, peering out the window while I didn't write) was wasted. He made no comment regarding what happened on Tuesday. I am certain that if I'd asked why he hadn't come on Tuesday, he would have said "No can."

Then there's That Literal Thing. Recently I went with two friends to an upscale coffee house, Dr Cafe. I went to order three drinks and three different pastries. "JJ", an American friend, wanted the one lonely blueberry muffin in the display case. It was closest to the class and had a little sign next to it which said "BLUEBERRY MUFFIN RM7" (RM7 is the price).

Here's how it went. (HELP = Counter Help)

HELP:    “Can help you?”
ME:       "Yes, I’d like a blueberry muffin."
HELP:    "Blueberry muffin?"
ME         (pointing): "Yes, blueberry muffin." 
HELP:    "No have."
ME:        (pointing at muffin nearest the front of the display case and tapping on glass) "What’s that? That’s a blueberry muffin right there, with the round blue things on the top."
HELP:    "No have."
ME:        "Really? But what is that muffin right there, with the blue berries in it? (tapping on glass and pointing at sign next to muffin with round blue exposed blueberries)
ME:        "But it's still a BLUEBERRY muffin."

ME:        (biting tongue, smiling, caving in). OK, I’ll have the LOWFATBLUEBERRY muffin. (sigh)

* Finish: A word which means 1) we're out of what you want; 2) we're out of what you want and I have no idea when there will be any more so don't ask; 3) you should have asked me last week; it's too late now, foot; 4) you're too late and I'm not helping you; 5) I don't know what you're asking for so I'm just going to let you know you aren't getting any.

"K" is for KL, as in Kuala Lumpur, where I now live, and Ketupat, which is nice, too.

Two years and two months ago I moved from the UK, where I'd lived since 1999 and was quite content, to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia). Initially, we moved for eight or nine months with the "possibility" that we'd stay longer. We stayed longer.

Until I began scrambling for a "K" word for the blog, I hadn't realised just how common words beginning with the letter K now are in my life. Hmmmmph. How did I miss that? I'd already eliminated Knowledge (too broad), Kindness (I was feeling grumpy) and King (couldn't think of a connection as there's no King in my novel--only a Queen, a Sultan and a Tsar or two.)

Kuala Lumpur Skyline, Wikipedia Commons file
So Kuala Lumpur it is! It turns out that there are many, many words in Malaysia which begin with the letter "K". It's far more Kommon, I'd wager, than "K" in the English language. Why? Because when the older Malay language was transliterated into English and simplified, things were spelled phonetically. Kinda Klever, if you ask me. It eliminated that old quandary for foreigners speaking English: is the "C"  pronounced like a C (as in cinnamon), an S (as in  , or a Ch or something else entirely (as in succinct)?

As a result, "K" became relatively common when the language was converted to English. As I understand it, the nice simple rule is this: If it's a hard "c" (as in car, for instance) it's changed to a "K". It it carries the sound of "ch", it's spelled (spelt) with a "c". Many words carried over from the English (the British were here, recall) and you can see it once you get used to them:

Examples of just a few (like 1/3 of the list I made) of my favourite beginner"K" words:

 Kelip-kelip at Kuala Selangor
  • Kacang is pronounced "ka-chang" (k = k) and (c - ch). It's a bean classification.
  • Kontrak is the word for Contract (spelled in Malay more or less as it is in English)
  • Kereta is the word for car  
  • Kepala is the word for head (could be related to Cephalo, Latin, from Kepalo, Greek?)
  • Keracik is a form of coconut used in cookin (pronounced ker-a-chik, of course)
  • Kari is the Malay word for Curry (couldn't call it churry, could we?)
  • Kiri and Kanan are the words for Left and Right (no, no origin comes to me!)
  • Kawan means 'friend'
  • Kecil means little (not ke-sill, of course, but ke-chil)
  • Kadang-kadang is one of the lovely Malay double words and it means 'sometime'
  • Kelip-kelip is another and it means 'firefly', something they do have here in Malaysia
  • And, finally, Ketupat is one of my absolutely favourite discoveries in Malaysia

Ketupat on sale in the market, above, and as served, right.
Woven leaves hold glutinous rice and coconut milk and are steamed to a wondrous perfection, 
particularly popular during Ramadan. I love it anytime I can get it, particularly served with chicken satay and peanut sauce. Yumm!

Photo, left:
Photo, right: