Malaysian author begins his fantasy trilogy with an epic slice of “Amok”
Until recently, all secondary school students were faced with the big question: science or art?
For many, it was obvious. And often, not much of a choice.
Regardless of whether or not one intended to pursue a career in science, students who scored on the then RMP exam at the end of Form 3 were generally referred to the science stream, unless that they do not make a particular objection.
Anna tan makes a particular objection.
Growing up in Tanjung Bungah, Penang, the Methodist Girls’ School student wasn’t sure exactly what she was going to spend her life on, but science wasn’t that.
“I made the controversial decision that I didn’t want to go into science, even though (people said) it’s ‘where all the smart girls go.’
“I remember doing these career and personality tests and the question that arose was if you don’t go into science, what are you going to do? What career can you have if you are an arts student? It’s terribly biased, I know, ”recalls Tan, president and author of the Malaysian Writers Society (MYWriters).
A bookworm from a young age and a self-proclaimed homebody, Tan briefly considered jobs that had something to do with the English language.
“However, the main career choices mentioned were journalism or teaching – two really interesting careers, but people-centered jobs, which tend to stress me out. I thought I liked numbers and was pretty good with them, so how about accounting?
“Maybe there was a parental boost since my father was also an accountant. So the consensus was that accounting was a safe and stable career and that writing could be done on the side, ”she says.
Thus, Tan entered the world of hearing.
First at KPMG, then in internal audit at Atmel, the semiconductor manufacturing company, Tan has spent nearly a decade working in auditing, which she says involves a lot of staff. people.
“I’ve learned that means dealing with lots and lots of people too, but they don’t tell you at first!”
“Anyway, almost a decade after starting the audit, I got to the point where I couldn’t see my career path anymore. I loved the job, but when the question “where do you see yourself in five years” came up in performance reviews, I didn’t see myself in a senior management role, ”says Tan.
With a healthy savings account as well as some editing and publishing credits already under his belt, Tan decided to take a leap of faith in 2015.
Whether it’s Carrie Bradshaw quietly typing next to an open window or Oscar Wilde savoring the freedoms of Paris, there is often a fictionalized image of those who write and create books.
Tan, 37, based in Penang, says nothing could be different from the reality.
In fact, even if her Teaspoon Publishing turns four this year, she would hardly qualify as a full-time writer.
“(Being a writer is) stressful! I don’t know if I technically count as a “full time writer”. I do more editing and formatting with Teaspoon Publishing than sitting down and writing my own novels.
“Unless you have already built a huge waiting list that brings you a stable and sustainable income or have other sources of passive income or funding, you cannot be a fiction writer on time.” full in Malaysia. You will always be looking for additional jobs to cover your expenses, ”she says.
Tan, who lists Terry Pratchett, Robin Hobb, CS Lewis, and Zen Cho as his favorite authors, currently has two short stories (short novels) on the market, along with a fair number of short stories and even a booklet (text in a comedy musical or vocal work) which was his first major writing project.
“I wrote a booklet entitled Persian Star in 2003 for a musical produced by FGA Center.
“I’ve been writing since school, so I put out a lot of stuff!
My first published work was probably a short story in Steps, a Bible League youth magazine in the late 1990s.
“But my first professional sale would probably be Codes at Fixi Novo Cyberpunk: Malaysia in 2015, ”she says.
A participant in NaNoWriMo (the US-based National Novel Writing Month initiative) throughout college, Tan recalls a breakthrough in 2013 when she got the post of editor for the Love in Penang anthology published by Fixi Novo.
After a few years of self-employment, Tan heard about a former classmate who had received a Chevening scholarship and also decided to throw her hat in the ring.
This took her to Brunel University in London where she spent a year completing an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel, submitting the first 15 chapters of Amok to win the thesis prize.
The “Absolution” trilogy
A royal line bestowed with superhuman power, a stunning queen from an ancient rival kingdom, and predictions of doom and priesthood destruction fulfill Amok, Tan’s first full novel, which is available now.
Set in a fantasy world that is loosely based on the Sultanate of Melaka, Malaysian readers will recognize distinct and local elements sewn into the imaginary kingdom of Tan, including ranks of the nobility, religious gatherings, and the use of keris as weapons.
“When I sent out a first version to beta readers, Malaysian readers found the most shocking words and terms!
As fantasy readers are used to conlang (constructed or fictional languages), my American and British friends had very few issues with the terms, although I eventually decided to add a glossary to help with that.
“When discussing my difficulty in choosing how to use certain terms based on their real meaning, my editor said to me: I didn’t know these were real words! I thought you made them up! Tan laughs.
She adds that despite the familiar references, the world created in her young adult novel is entirely imaginary.
“As much as I am using a historic Melaka Sultanate as a starting point, it is not meant to be anywhere on earth.
“One of the things that MA really got me into was the setting of my stories. Why did I go by default for a Eurocentric World and Fantastic Terms? What could I do to get out of it? What does being Malaysian really mean?
Tan recognizes that international publishers are starting to celebrate and lobby for diverse voices, seeking writing from cultures around the world.
“What was I doing recreating white countries?” she asks.
Amok, who follows the young Putera Mikal on his journey to fulfill a prophecy, will be followed by The tale of the hostage prince, scheduled for release in December, and Absolution, which interestingly enough, was the first novel in the series that Tan wrote.
“I presented it to several agents and publishers, even in some competitions. I had full applications and this was one of the finalists for The future library project (by the Hachette Book Group publishing house) in 2018, but it never really found its place.
“At the time, a friend of mine was telling the story of Moses … in space. And I was like, well, this whole supernatural force thing that I brought up had a relationship with Samson and Delilah, what can I do with that? This is how the first outlines of Amok was born, ”says Tan, adding that to adapt to the new context of the book series, she spent two months completely rewriting the original Absolution during a residency at the Rimbun Dahan Arts Center during the year. last.
The remaining two books in the trilogy are in the editing phase and the entire series will be self-published by Tan’s Teaspoon Publishing.
“Self-publishing was a very deliberate choice from the start, although I have wavered in the meantime.
“Part of it is the control, but it’s mostly the fact that there aren’t any publishers in Malaysia who specialize in the fantasy genre in English.
“The local English market tends to be pulp, horror, or historical fiction from WWII. I have considered publishing traditionally overseas, but it’s a very long and arduous, ”she adds.
On the future, Tan, who runs the MYWriters group and is the lead editor of the local branch MYWriters Penang annual zine NutMag, says expanding the local fantasy genre across the country is one of its long-term goals.
“I keep complaining that there is no fantasy publisher in Malaysia and it’s on the to-do list so I can possibly do it with Teaspoon Publishing,” Tan says.