Wednesday 7 December 2022

#bookreview: Ripples and Other Stories | Shih-Li Kow

Ripples and Other StoriesRipples and Other Stories by Shih-Li Kow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's hard to say what I really think of this.

On one hand, I'm not a huge fan of this kind of writing. By themselves, each short story seems to be a rather banal slice of life that doesn't quite lead anywhere. There's some drama in a few of them, but in a majority of the stories, it's just a thing that happened, something that's being told; there's no inherent conflict, no quick emotional hit that we tend to look for in a short story. This thing happened, so-and-so said something, the end.

And yet, there is a certain something about the way Kow weaves the compilation together, centred around a few key characters and their families. Each person's actions, each person's story creates ripples that affect the next. The POVs shift, identities are sometimes unclear. Despite the utter normalcy and banality, there's a lingering mystery that draws the reader to want to go back and read it again to figure out where the interconnections are made, where the ripples were formed and how far they stretched. Did this thing referenced in this story really...? Is this the same person that...?

The language is fluid and beautiful; it's not the stiltedly polished English we tend to get in Malaysian literature (can you tell I'm jaded yet?). Instead, it's a true reflection of our tongues and inflections, the mix of languages that make up our everyday lives.

Ripples and Other Stories is unapologetically Malaysian in setting and in tone and definitely deserves a closer read.

View all my reviews


Ripples doesn't seem to be in print anymore, but you can get it as an ebook via Pakka English/Silverfish Books

Thursday 1 December 2022

#AbsolutionNovel ebook launch tour: Round up

A HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who helped in our online launch of Absolution! 

Here's an updated roundup of all the stops over the past ten days.

21 November

22 November

23 November

24 November

26 November

27 November

28 November

29 November

  • Sales booth at Karnival Oren @ Level 3, Komtar
30 November

Purchase direct from TeaspoonPublishing:

Ebooks: Amok | The Tale of the Hostage Prince | Absolution

Paperbacks: Amok | The Tale of the Hostage Prince | Absolution (pre-order)

p/s we have good news coming about the Malaysian print run. 

Sunday 27 November 2022

#AbsolutionNovel excerpt

CHAPTER 8 (excerpt)

Story note: Tulen (POV) is living as a servant in the Impian Palace under the name Sabit. Tengku Nawal has discovered that her father is trying to marry her off to Sultan Mikal and is trying to find a way to get out of it. Magda, her childhood nanny, has been out all morning and has just returned to the palace.

Tengku Nawal is delighted to see Magda. 

“Magda, oh Magda, you have to help me!” she says, almost prancing.

“What is it, sayang?” Magda guides her to sit at the table where I’m laying out the various dishes the kitchen has prepared.

“I’ve been thinking all morning, and Sabit has been a great help,” Magda’s eyebrows shoot up, “but she’s not you, Magda, she doesn’t know anything!” 

“Anything about what?” 

“About how to deal with Ayahanda. You know how to deal with him, don’t you?” she wheedles.

“I don’t—”

“He listens to you. I just need to know what to say to him so that he won’t make me marry the Sultan!”

I have to bite my cheek to prevent myself from laughing at Magda’s incredulous expression.

“But sayang…”

“No, Magda, no buts! I’ve already thought about it all night and all morning and I’ve come to my conclusion. You cannot take Ayahanda’s side in this. He has no right to send me into a marriage I do not want!”

“But it’s the Sultan!”

“I know!” she says, stamping her foot. “But it’s not the Sultan’s request, so it doesn’t matter. It’s Ayahanda’s request.” 

She’s beginning to get annoyed, so I quickly push her attention towards the food. She looks down at the steaming hot rice and the freshly fried fish. She makes a face at the fried kangkung belacan but pulls the bowl of cabbage soup nearer.

“Sayang, your father only wants what’s best for you. This is why he is asking. You will have to get married eventually, and all he wants is to find the best husband for you. One who has the power and ability to take care of you and provide for you.”

“Eventually, Magda, but not yet.” She looks up sharply. “I’m still too young for this and Ayahanda knows that!”

“Many women get married at seventeen. This is just an engagement—you won’t have to marry him immediately.”

Tengku Nawal clicks her tongue in annoyance. “But I don’t want to get engaged! Not yet. I’m supposed to have time to enjoy myself and tour the Sultanate first!”

“Who says you cannot do that when you are engaged or after you are married? All you do is delay the inevitable, sayang. One day you will have to get married and leave home. It may not be to Sultan Mikal, but it will happen unless Kudus Himself wills it otherwise.” 

The hand reaching for the fish stills. 

Magda freezes where she sits. 

A look of glee spreads over Tengku Nawal’s face. “Kudus. That’s the answer.” 

“The answer?” Magda says, trying to recover her composure. “How?”

“A pilgrimage. I should seek the face of Kudus to find out if it is his will for me to marry Sultan Mikal. No matter what the Sultan’s reply is, he can’t stop me from doing that.” She starts stuffing her face with rice and fish, satisfied now that she’s found a solution.

Magda’s face darkens. “Do not take Kudus lightly, Tengku. A pilgrimage is not something you should embark on just on a whim.”

“But it’s the perfect excuse!” Tengku Nawal argues. “I will avail myself to the service of Kudus and by the time I return, whatever urgency Ayahanda has for this match will be over. Then we’ll see if he still wants me to marry the Sultan. Or if the Sultan even wants to marry me. I get to travel, and no silly engagement will be involved!” 

“And what if Kudus answers you?” Magda grips the edge of the table. “What if Kudus Maha Esa decides to call you into His service? What will you do then?” 

Tengku Nawal glares at Magda. I want to send her calming thoughts, but I don’t want to risk something that might change her behaviour too much—not while Magda is observing her so intently. Distracting her now is not going to work, anyway.

“What would Kudus want with me? Don’t be silly, Maggie. You know I don’t believe in your fairy tales. You may go now,” Tengku Nawal says curtly.

Jaw clenched, Magda gets up, gives the princess a deep curtsy, shoots me a warning look, then she backs out of the room.



I was going to post the excerpts yesterday, but it got a little too long, what with the photos and the video. So you get the excerpt today! 

Get Absolution now!

Get the other books in the series at USD2.99 each as part of our Launch Week Sales!

Looking for paperbacks?

We're currently working on getting the books printed, but you can pre-order a paperback directly from Teaspoon Publishing if you're based in Malaysia!

Living elsewhere? Ask for Absolution from your nearest independent bookstore!

Saturday 26 November 2022

Pictures from the #AbsolutionNovel launch at #GTLF2022

We had a great launch on Thursday! It was a dual launch, together with the launch of the Malaysian Writers Society's latest anthology, The Best of Malaysian Short Fiction in English 2010 - 2020, which I also had a hand in (mostly going crazy in the background). 

 Here are pictures by Celine Wu & Jac, PLUS a highlights video of the event! 

In conversation with Daphne Lee.

Close up photo

Side shot!

And a wide shot!

From left to right: Tina Ishak, May Chong, JY Tan (ed.), Terence Toh, Anis Rozalina Ramli, Sumitra Selvaraj

MYWriters Secretary, May Chong (left) and anthology co-editor. JY Tan (right)

The early morning crowd. Thanks for coming!

Crowd from the other angle! lol

Closer pic of the crowd

L-R: Tina Ishak, May Chong, JY Tan

L-R: Tina Ishak, May Chong, JY Tan, Terence Toh

Group photo. L-R: Me, Tina Ishak, May Chong, JY Tan, Terence Toh, Anis Rozalina Ramli, Daphne Lee, Sumitra Selvaraj

Jac in action

Thanks to all our supporters!

Live streaming, photos and video by Jac ReviewsStuff. Give his YouTube channel a like/subscribe!

Want to watch the full video? Head on over to the Malaysian Writers Society Facebook page for the live stream recording! 

P/S I mentioned posting an excerpt here today, but the post got really long, so you'll get the excerpt tomorrow! 


If cursed is the hand that kills, then it wouldn’t matter if that same hand stole, would it? 

Tulen feels doubly cursed, forced to serve the bratty princess of Impian as punishment for her crimes. When said princess embarks on a pilgrimage, Tulen grabs her only chance to offer a sacrifice at the holy city of Suci—and maybe, finally, feel clean again.

Sultan Mikal has set his face towards Suci—and certain death. Nothing about his Penance is clear, except the fact that if he fails, Terang will fall along with him.

When Tulen’s pilgrimage intersects with Sultan Mikal’s quest to fulfil the Covenant of Salt, Tulen faces a difficult dilemma: What is her absolution worth in the face of the sultanate’s very existence?



Amok | The Tale of the Hostage Prince | Absolution

Also check out The Best of Malaysian Short Fiction in English 2010 - 2020 in ebook or print!

Thursday 24 November 2022

Happy Release Day! #AbsolutionNovel

ABSOLUTION releases today!

Absolution (Absolution, #2) is the culmination of Anna Tan’s Absolution series, young adult fantasy books set in a magical Nusantara. Following events in Terang five years after the conclusion of AmokAbsolution is both a quest for absolution and a journey of faith as Sultan Mikal attempts to restore Kudus’ blessing on the kingdom of Terang and preserve their magical gifts.

If you're in Penang, join us at the soft launch at GTLF at 10:30AM today! Not able to make it? Tune in to the live stream on my facebook page:


Here’s what people have to say about Amok, the first book in the series:

“It really is an epic adventure of the imagination.”—Professor Benjamin Zephaniah

“Tan is a supremely talented storyteller.”—A Duck with a Book

“The language is lyrical, beautifully written, and immerses you into the world and characters with ease.”—Across My Shelves

“The world-building of this Nusantara-set novel is exemplary, seamlessly incorporating elements of all the cultures that meld and mingle in Malaysia and its neighbours to present a truly fascinating fantasy world.”—The Frumious Consortium

“If you enjoy reading fantasy that focuses on the growth of the main character, friendships that are put to test in terrible conditions, powerless princes and changed positions, then Amok is perfect for you!”—Mermaird

Here’s what people have to say about The Tale of the Hostage Prince, which follows Yosua’s travails in Bayangan:

“This book was such a lovely and captivating story of magic, religion, friendship, and the challenges of being a ‘third culture kid.’”—Jamie Edwards, NetGalley reviewer

“I love that this book also brings us to contemplate about the meaning of faith (in general).”—One Anjana

“Tan has created a rich world… What do you do if the path you thought was so clear is not so clear after all? What do you do if you are torn between duty and where your heart lies? There is substance to the storyline not just adventure, though that is there too.”—Juliane Silver, NetGalley Reviewer

“The Tale of the Hostage Prince is a fast-paced story that left me breathless…I absolutely enjoy Anna Tan’s writing style.”—Mermaird

Get all three ebooks for $2.99/RM12 each during our launch week sales until 30 November 2022!



If cursed is the hand that kills, then it wouldn’t matter if that same hand stole, would it?

Tulen feels doubly cursed, forced to serve the bratty princess of Impian as punishment for her crimes. When said princess embarks on a pilgrimage, Tulen grabs her only chance to offer a sacrifice at the holy city of Suci—and maybe, finally, feel clean again.

Sultan Mikal has set his face towards Suci—and certain death. Nothing about his Penance is clear, except the fact that if he fails, Terang will fall along with him.

When Tulen’s pilgrimage intersects with Sultan Mikal’s quest to fulfil the Covenant of Salt, Tulen faces a difficult dilemma: What is her absolution worth in the face of the sultanate’s very existence?

Add to Goodreads


Get Absolution now!

Get the other books in the series at USD2.99 each as part of our Launch Week Sales!

Looking for paperbacks?

We're currently working on getting the books printed, but you can pre-order a paperback directly from Teaspoon Publishing if you're based in Malaysia!

Living elsewhere? Ask for Absolution from your nearest independent bookstore!



Anna Tan grew up in Malaysia, the country that is not Singapore. She is interested in Malay/Nusantara and Chinese legends and folklore in exploring the intersection of language, culture, and faith.

Anna has an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel under a Chevening scholarship and is the President of the Malaysian Writers Society. She can be found tweeting as @natzers and forgetting to update



Jiwosophy is the body of work of aspiring Malaysian-based artist/illustrator, Shahril Majid, also known by his artist handle, Jiwo. His art is a potpourri of peculiar characters, whimsical colour combinations, organic abstract shapes and eccentric philosophies.

Sunday 20 November 2022

The #BookLaunch Tour for #AbsolutionNovel starts tomorrow!

The Absolution launch tour starts tomorrow! Which means that sales also start tomorrow! Get ready to click those buy buttons! :D

I'll be updating these links to the actual posts throughout the entire tour, so do check back here every day! 

24 November

22 November

23 November

24 November

  • GTLF LAUNCH EVENT @ Digital Penang with Daphne Lee – Join us in person at the Digital Penang Event Hall at 10:30am! The Malaysian Writers Society will also have a book booth at the UAB building, where you'll be able to buy my books! (Plus books from other Malaysian writers)

25 November

28 November

29 November

  • Karnival Oren @ Level 3, Komtar. In conjunction with Penang Goes Orange, over 80 booths will be set up for this sales carnival – including one by Teaspoon Publishing! Catch us there from 9AM to 5PM. 

30 November


Don't forget our launch week sales starting tomorrow!

Find them on your favourite ebook store:

Purchase direct from TeaspoonPublishing:

Ebooks: Amok | The Tale of the Hostage Prince | Absolution

Paperbacks: Amok | The Tale of the Hostage Prince | Absolution (pre-order)

Wednesday 16 November 2022

#bookreview: Red Scholar's Wake | Aliette de Bodard

The Red Scholar's WakeThe Red Scholar's Wake by Aliette de Bodard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

SPACE PIRATES. That's all.


Xich Si's scavenger ship is taken by pirates in the wake of the Red Scholar's death, and you know how it goes: she can never go home again. But will she be pressed into service as a bondsperson? Or will she be tortured to death as her business partner had been? What she doesn't expect is to be offered a marriage contract by Rice Fish, the ship itself and also the Red Scholar's widow. It's a marriage of convenience, of business and protection, and you know how that usually goes as well.

And to put this right at the start, it's advertised as a sapphic romance, so if that's not what you can accept, then this story is not for you. No blindsiding in this one, it's obvious from the start that the two of them are going to, well... Anyway, there is at least one graphic scene, obviously right before the betrayal (or misunderstanding) though it's a strange stretch (for me) to think of a person and a mindship? An avatar? Relationships-wise at any rate, I do not think there is a single heterosexual relationship in this novel. If there was, it was just never really talked about at all.

The entire novel is layered in Vietnamese imagery, like a peek into a new world for me. One that seems faintly familiar in its Asianness and yet vastly different as well. There's that hierarchy of both age and status: the distance of the elder aunts and young child, the closeness of sisters. The descriptions - especially of their clothes and their overlays - are rich and detailed I sometimes wonder what's the significance of the phoenixes and the peaches and all the other stuff that appears on Tien's clothes that I've already forgotten.

The Red Scholar's Wake is a story full of open tropes and yet one full of hidden depths...skilfully engineered together to fulfil your every expectation--and beyond. It's Xich Si doing anything she can to keep her daughter alive and safe, and Rice Fish learning to love again from the ruins of her past. It's lawful space pirates against a corrupted legal society, the small people against the Big Powers, power plays and politics, a building and breaking of trust, family lost and family found. And all-too-perceptive children.

Come for the tropes, stay because it's a truly entertaining read.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the Orion Publishing Group via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Thursday 10 November 2022

14 days to the launch of #AbsolutionNovel!

I'm counting down the days until Absolution drops in your laps (e-readers)! 

While I was hoping for a stress-free, problem-free book launch for once (Amok faced delays because of Covid lockdowns; Hostage Prince was relatively drama-free but also extremely low-key), obviously that's not to be.

The hold-up this time is because, about a year ago, I applied for a literature grant...and we've been in the final stages of signing the agreement for about a month now! At any rate, we're working towards finalising this thing and approving it for print, which means physical paperbacks should probably drop sometime in December...


Ebooks and international paperbacks are releasing on 24 November and in line with that, we're having a book launch tour! 

Go check out these wonderful bloggers, Instagrammers, and YouTubers who've come together to help celebrate the release of Absolution!

24 November

22 November

23 November

24 November

25 November

28 November

29 November

  • Karnival Oren @ Komtar **

30 November

* This is an in-person event as part of the George Town Literary Festival! Check out the festival programme here.

** This is an in-person sales carnival in Komtar. Do swing by if you're in town, where you can check out stuff made and sold by women entrepreneurs in Penang! 

Ready for a great new read??????


ebook | paperback

Wednesday 9 November 2022

#bookreview: Amos the Amazing | Jorah Kai

Amos The AmazingAmos The Amazing by Jorah Kai
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Amos the Amazing follows the adventures of twelve-year-old Amos as he chases the huli jing, a fox-spirit trickster, into Dreamland in an effort to recover the missing half of his soul and find a way to cure his ailing grandfather.

Set both in a future solarpunk Chongqing and a fantasy world of Kai's device, Amos the Amazing, in a nutshell, is a strange juxtaposition of many things. It is both futuristic - with fancy tech, robots and trips to the moon - and yet ancient - a medieval-type fantasy world with dragons, forgotten ruins, artefacts, and myths from the past. It's a modern story filled with fantastical ideas and places, yet written in an old-school style: a story-within-a-story, with a mysterious Storyteller telling Alice and her friends about his book about a boy named Amos.

Is this Amos the same boy that Alice once knew? Who is the Storyteller and why is he telling this story to Alice? Will Alice ever find out what happened to her friend Amos and reconnect with Ruby? All that is part of the mystery leading on to the second book in the series. (A very cool preview
of a Harry-Potteresque book 2 is included at the end of this one.)

But before we get there, let's jump back to the juxtapositions because it felt like there was just a bit too much of it. There's a little dissonance between the text and the reader, a bit of unwieldiness in the reading. It's not exactly a hard read - and yet the text is heavy. Kai seems to favour long sentences (a pet peeve of mine) that merge a lot of thoughts together. There are wonderful descriptions of everything - to the point where it feels over-described and I can't quite see it anymore.

I can't quite pinpoint who his main audience is. It feels like it should be something between an MG or YA story, mostly because the main protagonists are an irresponsible 12YO boy and a coming-of-age 17YO girl. And yet the language and the rhythms he uses feel more adult literary, maybe because of all the in-text literary references and in-jokes.

Still, these are all just quibbles, mostly around reading tastes and/or preferences. Amos the Amazing was quite an interesting read full of unexpected events, major character growth, and lovely illustrations. I'd give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Get a copy now!

Tuesday 1 November 2022

#coverreveal: Absolution!

If cursed is the hand that kills, then it wouldn’t matter if that same hand stole, would it?

Tulen feels doubly cursed, forced to serve the bratty princess of Impian as punishment for her crimes. When said princess embarks on a pilgrimage, Tulen grabs her only chance to offer a sacrifice at the holy city of Suci—and maybe, finally, feel clean again.

Sultan Mikal has set his face towards Suci—and certain death. Nothing about his Penance is clear, except the fact that if he fails, Terang will fall along with him.

When Tulen’s pilgrimage intersects with Sultan Mikal’s quest to fulfil the Covenant of Salt, Tulen faces a difficult dilemma: What is her absolution worth in the face of the sultanate’s very existence?


At long, long last, we're entering the last stages of publishing Absolution. And today, we reveal our stunning cover, by the outstanding Jiwosopy!

Absolution launches online on 24 November 2022!

Here's where you can currently pre-order your copy!

Amazon | Other ebook retailers | Paperbacks (Malaysia)

Absolution (Absolution, #2)


Wednesday 26 October 2022

#NetGalley #bookreview: Single Just Because: A Pilgrimage into Holy Aloneness | Bridget Gee

Single, Just Because: A Pilgrimage Into Holy AlonenessSingle, Just Because: A Pilgrimage Into Holy Aloneness by Bridget Gee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most Christian books on being single end up talking about how to be married. Or you find out at the end of it that the author, while writing about being single, is actually married...or about to be. Which, I mean, isn't their fault, but it kind of leaves you feeling a little let down because...reasons.

Bridget Gee is still blessedly single at the end of this book. And in her thirties. Which makes this book very relatable, like we're all in this together! It's the story of Gee's life, the ups and downs of being single, and how the church fails the singles in their community. Which is great to read, but at the same time...not very useful. Maybe because it seems to meander a little halfway through. Yes, each chapter ends with a Pilgrimage Moment, a call to action to pause, reflect, pray. But getting to the end also leaves you with a big fat "So?"

Maybe I'm just expecting too much. But I'm also reading this after a camp for Christians in their 30s to 40s, where the session on "relationships" was still very much about how to find a spouse, rather than...what should you do/expect if you find yourself still single at this stage of life? (Bearing in mind that probably 90% of the campers were singles.) Should you start building your life on the expectation of remaining single? Or do you keep waiting and hoping to get married? It does emphasise Gee's point that the church is failing to see the bigger picture - and thus failing the singles in their community - by buying into the world's "sense of entitlement to marriage [that] turns singleness into a problem, a curse, or a burden." I think I just need something more concrete than what Gee is offering in this book.

She does point out the truth that:
...the journey of singleness leads deeper into God's presence, or what I like to call "holy aloneness" - the place where you are wholly known, wholly seen, and wholly loved by your Creator. That's the place we all belong.

affirms that:
It's okay to want something you don't know you will ever have.

and also acknowledges that:
At the core of our discomfort in being physically or relationally alone, we long for this affirmation. That we are whole, no matter what we're offering, no matter our limitations. We need to experience the freedom of simply existing, to not produce or strive or hustle for a bit. To be gentle with ourselves and treat ourselves with kindness.

In a world that centres romantic/sexual relationships above all else, Gee invites Christian singles to press into learning how to be alone with God. It may not offer practical life skills but is thought-provoking in how it offers suggestions on how to deal with your expectations and spiritual life.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from InterVarsity Press via NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Sign up for the Absolution Cover Reveal and Launch Tour!

Okayyyy so we're getting to part where Absolution is finally done!!! Things are coming together gradually!!!! And it's finished enough (I think) to start gathering people to help launch the book. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

If you loved Amok and The Tale of the Hostage Prince, or you haven't read any of them but you want to read the whole series now now now, here's where you can sign up to help me launch this big fat book!

(Link, if the embed is being wonky)

Wednesday 28 September 2022

#bookreview: Stranger Back Home | EL Haines

Stranger Back HomeStranger Back Home by E.L. Haines

I honestly don't know what to think of Stranger Back Home.

If Sparrow were a real person, he'd be the type of person that I'd actively start avoiding within an hour of meeting him: an arrogant, insufferable, know-it-all. But since he's a fictional character and there were many positive reviews, I figured I'd give him a chance and read his story in small doses.


Sparrow receives a text message from his half-brother, who lives in the magical world of Telleron which is populated by elves, gnomes, halflings, dragons, kobolds, and all sorts of other magical beings/races. He leaves America and goes back home to DragonsMouth to sort out his father's will and his inheritance. Between fighting off bandits and tax auditors, causing general mayhem, and attempting to solve the inheritance problem, Sparrow transplants American racial sensitivities based on skin colour into his interactions with Telleron society, confusing everyone, ignoring actual racial tensions between species, and making himself out to be a complete racist arse, when "really, he's not!"

Spoiler: really, he is. But oh hey, maybe he experienced character growth, or maybe it was all a con! Who knows?

On the whole, the story was quite entertaining, though the main narrative kept segueing into backstory narratives, infodumps, and side comments which is not something I'm particularly fond of, not to mention the use of footnotes which were in some ways rather Pratchett-esque.

Based on Haines' *wink wink nudge nudge* comments, it feels like he's trying to point out how some people can be oversensitive towards issues of race and the language surrounding it. Some of these still feel relevant, including using the terms "boy" and "Master", but others are over-the-top non-issues like the very general terms "black market" and "blacksmith" that Sparrow, for some obscure reason, completely misunderstood. And obviously, because Sparrow cannot read a room to save his life despite being a storyteller, he makes issues of things that no one else but him cares about, including assuming that the economic & power disparities in Telleron are the same as in America (i.e. based on skin colour instead of species).

A key to the plot also involves the use of blackface, where Sparrow has to confront the fact that while blackface is incredibly offensive in modern America, it's a cultural, normal way of life to a subgroup of gnomes in Telleron. And that maybe him donning a kobold disguise to gain information and the way he interacts with them may be more racist than he initially thought.

I suppose you can read Stranger Back Home as an allegory to how issues around race, skin colour, and culture vary around the world - and therefore cannot just be assumed without knowing the true history and tensions of that specific society. What offends some may not offend others. This holds true in real life as well. It does well in unmasking Sparrow's actual unwitting racism towards the other races in Telleron and makes him face up to the realities of hate based on your race (or in this case, species) and the way that he treats the kobolds.

Yet, at the same time, it also glosses over the complexity, breadth, and width of race relations (including disparate impact based on various factors) in real-world societies by "proving" how untrue it is in this fictional one. This undermines the realities of unconscious biases and systemic problems that people are still experiencing and trying to correct by implying that it's only racism if there is "real harm", which I suppose refers to physical and/or actual economic harm, as opposed to "perceived harm".

I can only conclude that as a white person, Haines has never experienced microaggressions and does not understand what it means and how it affects a person. Or he has a really thick skin and embodies the adage "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." He further disparages such "perceived harm" by having Colburn, the dark-skinned coach driver, deliver a long monologue about being "flattered that someone like [Sparrow] would want to imitate me" and how "everyone should share cultures" (no one is saying we shouldn't) and to not let people "who can't see beyond their petty insults and imaginary offenses dictate your life".

It really gives me the feel of "the lady doth protest too much, methinks".

As I said at the start, this is a confusing one. YMMV.

Note: I received a digital review copy of this book from the author. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

View all my reviews

Friday 23 September 2022

Dear Malaysian churches, here's how to pretend to be more creative than you really are

Look, the easiest way to be creative (when really, you're not), is to hire a creative. There are many hidden creatives in your church, most of them not doing anything because you do not ask them to. 

Ask them. Better still, pay them.

Whether you pay them or not, most Christian creatives will usually feel, uh, led enough to offer their time to you for free or at a severely discounted rate because, church, you know?

When that isn't an option for whatever vague reasons you tell yourselves, remind yourself that stealing is a sin. So, whatever you do, DO NOT STEAL. Even if your intention is to give credit and skate along on the safe side of the applicable laws.

However, as they say, "Good artists copy. Great artists steal.

What? But you just said don't steal! Go read the article. I'll wait.


You back? Well, okay. Here is a super handy-dandy cheat sheet on how YOU as a Malaysian church can ultimately pretend to be OH SO CREATIVE by being inspired by Christian shows from America. Because honestly, one come-to-Jesus youth summer camp romance is pretty much the same as another, and as the author of Ecclesiastes says, there is nothing new under the sun.

There IS nothing new under the sun. 

The idea itself (falling in love at summer camp and also finding Jesus) is not copyrighted, but the execution of it is. First of all, here are a few DO NOTS you should adhere to.

  1. DO NOT under any circumstances copy all the dialogue and present yourself as the scriptwriter. NO. That is copying, that is stealing, and that is LYING. 
  2. DO NOT use all the same songs (or 90% of the same songs) from the show because that is being really, really blatant. 
  3. DO NOT use the same names la. Even if you change the surname, it's pretty obvious ok. Can don't be so obvious or not?

Why? Really simple. Because if there are sufficient similarities, even if you credit the original inspiration, people are going to be like, "eh, copy only. So same wan." Very not creative!

But you have an edge here, okay? Because once you localise the show, and I mean seriously localise it, not just change a few words, you have the best opportunity to pretend to be WAH SO CREATIVE HOW YOU THINK OF THIS?!

Remember: the idea of it is not copyrighted, the execution of it is. So take the overall idea and run with it. 

Ok ok, but how? Here are some very simple pointers:

Change the main character backgrounds

The Boy is in his last-chance foster home? Foster system WHAT foster system. It kind of exists in name la, but in practice??? In Malaysia, the Boy is more likely to go to an orphanage or group home, or even, say CPS. Even where places mention "fostering programme" it's more towards child sponsorship (like World Vision-style) and not USA-style where the child goes to stay with another family. Also, the government portal talks about "Probation Hostel/Asrama Akhlak" not "juvie" and they seem to jump directly from shelter homes to adoption (though foster child is mentioned once or twice). Also, the Boy is in trouble for stealing a cop car. Do people steal police cars? IDK maybe they do. But that is a very recognisable plot point. So change it. Make him a Mat Rempit or something. 

Then the Girl is the daughter of the campsite owner? Look, no one in Malaysia owns a summer camp, ok. We all just rent a hotel or maybe a campsite owned by some big church or NGO. So "owner of the campsite and daughter" doesn't make sense. Change it to the youth pastor and his daughter. Wah tension already. You want more tension? Try senior pastor's daughter. Bwahahaha.

The rest are teens, everyone's in school, not much is said about them so it's fine to just not mention it.

Just changing these two key background stories would actually already make your story different enough that it's not immediately recognisable.

Localise the jokes & language

Look, the reason it was ridiculous/funny that the Boy lied that they were "cousins" was because the Boy is White and the Friend & Camp Mom are Black. It's an obvious LIE. Your casting has two Chinese guys, cousin ma cousin lor, your church is 90% Chinese, what's the big deal? Find another joke that makes it obvious they're not actually related. Or think of another joke altogether. 

Your localisation must be thorough. John Hughes who? If it doesn't make sense to you because it's too American or too old, find something else that people watch which has the same "makeover" impact. The Chinese-Ed/English-Ed divide is also big enough a barrier - and probably more relevant in a local context. If the final connection point between Friend and his Love Interest is a quote from some super obscure show from the USA that no one here knows, find some super obscure show from Malaysia (or Singapore) that they can be crazy about and quote from. (I like horrible, terrible, vegetable as an inside joke, but that's just me.)

Malaysia is very multilingual. We tend to call things by their original names, whether they're in BM or in Chinese or whatever. USE THOSE TERMS. Lean into stupid bilingual puns. It's what your audience is used to anyway.

You have your own version of church camps, each has its weird points and competitive aspects. At my youth camp, we used to have marks for how tidy our rooms were, so there was a guy who SLEPT ON THE FLOOR so he wouldn't have to make his bed the next morning. What dumb things have your own friends done in camp? Draw from your own experiences.

You can also draw inspiration from scouts/guides camps and their chants! 100% relatable because I was never a girl guide but I've heard them in school and from friends anyway. 

Choose new songs

Keeping one or two key songs might work, but if most of the songs are the same, there's no running from the fact that you're drawing very heavily from the original. You probably don't have time to write your own songs because duh, otherwise you'd have written your own script, but you can find songs with similar themes that may even fit your revised script better! Plus, if you consider local songs as well, you have a wider range to pull from. Or, well, yeah BTS will work. 

You have to pay for the music license anyway, no matter what songs you end up choosing.

Actually adapt it for stage

A screenplay and a stage play are very different things. There are many things you can do on screen that you can't do on stage, and vice versa. So the act of just adapting the script for stage will already change key scenes and how they play out, maybe even the sequence of events. You need to figure out entrances and exits because you can't tell people to only look at one part of the stage. You can't have a quick montage of days passing or camp games that involve the beach and diving, but you can't just remove the scenes either because then the heavy lifting of character development and establishing relationships would then disappear with those scenes. You'll have to find another way to do it on stage. 

The Boy has a fear of heights but brags about the Blob (a high dive) because he doesn't know what it is? That's not something you can do on stage. Find something else that he could possibly be afraid of but brags about anyway because the Camp calls it something else. I dunno, some food he just can't stomach? 

If you've changed the location, you can't have that special garden anymore. But you can still have a special hangout spot, especially if they always return to the same campsite. It just won't be a garden she's tended for eleven years.  


Just changing these four things would lead to vastly different dialogue, which would lead to a very, very different execution of the idea, which is still Boy meets Girl at Camp and finds both Jesus and love. 

Is it a lot of work? Yes. Will it take a lot of time? Yes. Will it make you seem more creative than you really are? Probably, yes, depending on how much you actually end up changing.

Now, wouldn't it have been more worth it to write your own script in the first place?