[UPDATED] ANNOUNCEMENT: Shortlisted for the Penang Monthly Book Prize 2017!

Congratulations to Bernice Chauly on winning the Book Prize! I look forward to reading her book as soon as I get the chance.

I had some thoughts on the writing process, which I'd like to share here.

First and foremost I owe a huge thank you to Amir Muhammad of Buku Fixi and Valisa Iskandar from Fixi London for taking a chance on Kings of Petaling Street. This thanks is also extended to the many editors who participated in the editing process, which includes Eeleen Lee, Lyana Khairuddin, and Richard Sheehan; the  Penang Monthly for providing this excellent opportunity; and to the George Town Literary Festival organizers for starting the festival and providing a space for literature when we need it the most.

I have a very personal connection to this book, not just because it is my first published novel, but also because the writing process was so personal. I wrote this during a particularly difficult period during my undergraduate years at the University of British Columbia in Canada, during which I wanted an escape. That escape came in the form of this novel, back when it had the working title ‘Maut’. Malaysia felt very far away and by writing this I was able to find a way to revisit the places I once knew while furnishing them with the lurid details of our collective memory. The winter and spring of 2014 were a strange period. Malaysia was fresh off the general elections half a year earlier, was dealing with the fallout from the twin Malaysia Airlines disasters, and was rocked by a wave of assassinations in Kuala Lumpur. There was a sense of uncertainty in the air and my book reflected that while drawing on the classic rivalry between the infamous gangster Botak Chin and the heroic Deputy Superintendent S. Kulasingam. Thus my book began to take shape, becoming not just a crime thriller, but also a reflective look at the cyclic nature of violence, corruption, and anger that still boils under the surface.

Four years have gone past since I first began work on the initial draft of the book. During this time I left town for a bit and took up exploring. The stories I wrote were now different and when editing began on the book it came as a shock to see my own words again. I couldn’t remember writing some of it, and it was hard take a second look. But after the hard work of the editors and publisher, something more concrete emerged and I am proud of it. While my writing has gone in a completely different direction, Kings of Petaling Street already contains the tone and personal reflections on Malaysia that I continue to work with today. It also serves as a touchstone. I have been out of Malaysia for some time now, which is the reason why I can’t be here in person. Flights are long and notices are too short. But this book brings back memories of another time, a childhood when it was so normal to do and experience things that I would find peculiar today.

One final thing I have to say is that the peninsula and North Borneo are full of stories. Dig just below the surface and you find stories about everything at all. I therefore inserted a lot of tributes to various works in my book. One huge influence is Tash Aw’s The Harmony Silk Factory. There are also references to Dain Iskandar Said’s film ‘Bunohan’, as well as Fixi’s repertoire of pulp fiction, which inspired me to take my writing more seriously when I first started writing seriously.

Writing is not easy. It takes time as well as support. So to everyone who had helped me along the way, who may appear in my stories in some form or another, I want to thank you for bearing with me and not giving up even when I got bogged down in writing and got carried away on flights of fancy. You have my deepest respect.

Original post: 

This news came out of nowhere. Kings of Petaling Street has been shortlisted for the Penang Monthly Book Prize! Judged by Muhammad Haji Salleh, Ooi Kee Beng, Pauline Fan, and Ismail Gareth Richards, my first novel is vying with Sreedhevi Iyer's anthology on identity and belonging, Jungle without Water and Other Stories, as well as Once We Were There, Bernice Chauly's novel on the confusion of the Reformasi Generation.

It is a real honour being shortlisted and certainly an exciting moment for my writing. While I am unfortunately unable to make it to the awards ceremony, I will be there in spirit and following events closely from an ocean away. Special thanks again to Amir Muhammad and Valisa Iskandar of Buku Fixi and Fixi London respectively for taking a chance on my novel, as well as to the many editors who worked tirelessly at it.

The ceremony will be held at Black Kettle, in old George Town, on Saturday November 25th. Visit the Eventbrite page for more information. It is also part of the amazing George Town Literary Festival, which is one of Southeast Asia's premier literary events. Do attend!

Here we go! Photo courtesy of Wee Nie Tham