Friday, July 21, 2017

“The Musical Tree” published in French!

“The Musical Tree” was just published in French, on editions GOPE website Editions GOPE is my French publisher for Trois Autres Malaisie, the French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited.  They are doing a series of short pieces by their authors on Southeast Asia, their specialty.

“The Musical Tree” is an excerpt from my short story, “Following the Cat” which was published in Thema in the USA and Off the Edge in Malaysia, which itself is an excerpt from my Penang novel, Taking the Expat Exit, a finalist in 2016 Faulkner-Wisdom Novel Awards I’m still waiting for the 2017 preliminary results, which should be out in August.  Winners won’t be announced until late November.

Here is the English version of “The Musical Tree”:

          We stopped at a shady area serviced by several hawker stalls and drank from coconuts. A dozen cats lay around in idle repose while wait­ing for their next meal.  A white cat climbed onto a chair vacated by two Malays and put its paws on the table to sur­vey the left­overs.  A mewing gray kitten waiting below asked it to hurry up.
          A strange looking tree caught my attention.  Then I realized it wasn’t a tree, but a com­posite of two trees.  The one on the inside was old with a dark knotted trunk, while wrapped around it was a younger tree with light, smooth bark.  The upper branches of the two trees were so inter­twined it was difficult to distin­guish one from the other. 
          I pointed it out to Jeya, who was eleven years old and had befriended me.  I asked her about it.
          “Oh that.  That is a musical tree,” replied Jeya.
          “A what?”
          “A musical tree.”  She finished her coconut and said, “Come!”  
          She led me to the tree and asked me to sit on the seawall beneath it. 
          “Now listen.”  She cupped her ear.  “Hear it?”
          Dozens, if not hundreds, of birds were singing all at once, a symphony in full swing.  I closed my eyes as I listened to the magic.
          “You can hear them, but you cannot see them, am I right or not?”
The foliage was so dark and dense, it was impossible to see anything.
          “It must drive all the cats crazy,” I said.
          “Cats are crazy,” replied Jeya, and laughed.  “Every day the musical tree comes alive.  Every day a free concert.”
          Two of Jeya’s classmates waved as they passed by.  She scampered off to join them.
          Already I was missing Jeya’s company….The longer I sat under the tree listening to the birds, the lonelier I became….A young Malay couple walked by holding hands.  The boy said some­thing to the girl and she boxed him on the arm.  He grabbed his arm and feigned pain.  Both of them laughed.  She hit him again.  They were young and in love, just starting out in life.  In com­pari­son, I felt old—not yet thirty but already facing divorce.
          A Chinese derelict reeking of alcohol and urine sauntered over, uninvited.  He sat down beside me and eyed the driftwood between us.  I tried to ignore him, expecting the dere­lict to hit me up for money.  Why were children so giving, and adults, demanding?
          “You like the birdies?”  He pointed up at the tree.  “The birdies sing for themselves, you know.  They sing ‘cause it makes them happy.  If only people could sing without needing some­­­­­­­­­­­one to hear them they might be happy, too.”
          A black cat stirred.  It paused in mid-stretch to look at me.  The cat began to walk away.  Again it paused as if to see if I were coming.  I excused myself from the derelict and fol­lowed the cat.  It seemed to know where it was going.  For now that was good enough for me.
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For those who read French:  Book orders for Trois autres Malaisie   E-book orders
Here's a link to the intro and excerpts, and to four reviews of Trois Autres Malaisie in,,, and Petit Futé mag.

Here’s also a link to my Maugham and Me series (in English)  that I wrote when asked to take part in a French documentary on Somerset Maugham which was recently aired on the Franco-German cultural channel Arte on 5 June 2017 and still can be viewed here for another week or so before Arte takes it down from their website...

          —Borneo Expat Writer

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Being Interviewed by author Ivy Ngeow

It’s always an honor to be interviewed, even more so when the writer doing the interviewing, is London-based author Ivy Ngeow, who will have her first two novels published in 2017!  Not bad for someone I met thirty years ago at a workshop in Kuala Lumpur when she was only 17!  

I met Ivy together with an aspiring poet, named Jeya, and the three of us hung out together that first day of the two-day workshop conducted by noted Malaysian author K.S. Maniam.  Jeya, by the way, featured in my short story, “Teh-O in K.L.” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited, which I blogged about in my story-behind-the-story series. So I have always associated the two names together, Ivy and Jeya, which I did 17 years later, when I happened to choose a story by Ivy for Silverfish 4 when I was the editor.

Having read the stories blind and then notifying the winners, I was surprised to learn that this writer from the UK named Ivy was the same Ivy from Johor that I had met all those years ago.  Ivy even mentioned Jeya’s name—both, of course, had read the story.

Having read the advanced copy of one of Ivy’s forthcoming novels, Cry of the Flying Rhino, winner of the 2016 Proverse Prize, for her Proverse Hong Kong publisher, I’ll soon be returning the favor by interviewing her, which should be a lot of fun getting reacquainted after all these years and learning about that other soon-to-be-published novel, Heart of Glass!

But for now, here is Ivy’s interview of me...

Being interviewed, I can’t help but think of being interviewed about Somerset Maugham for the Franco-German cultural channel Arte, which aired last month, that I blogged about in my five-part Maugham and Me series. 

Here’s to future interviews for both Ivy and me and all those writers, Malaysians and expats alike, who deserve to be read, published, and interviewed.

Congrats to Ivy for her two forthcoming novels!  Wishing her all the best!

—Borneo Expat Writer

Sunday, June 11, 2017

From Hari Raya to Somerset Maugham

Every year, around this time, I usually get an extra reminder that Hari Raya is coming up.  This year was someone’s Facebook posting of the opening pages to my short story “Home for Hari Raya” from Lovers and Strangers Revisited.  The story was adapted into a film by Ohio University’s School of Media Arts & Studies.

Led by Associate Professor Frederick Lewis, a team of students came to Malaysia for the filming and worked with Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), in Shah Alam.

Other than writing the original story (and the story behind the story), I helped to edit their screenplay.  I had hoped to meet the team at UiTM, but we had a scheduling conflict and I missed out…

But this year, I was thinking about "Home for Hari Raya" for another reason due to another filming project that I recently became involved with courtesy of Somerset Maugham.  The French translation of Lovers and Strangers Revisited, which became Trois autres Malaisie, had attracted the attention of Laure Michel who contacted me from France about her documentary Sensual Malaysia of Somerset Maugham for Arte, a Franco-German cultural channel, which aired on 5 June 2017.

In my five-part series, Maugham and Me, I blogged about the behind the scenes look at not one but three documentaries that she and Richard Cloue had filmed while in Sarawak. I then blogged about watching the films, adding links to all three projects.  (The links will remain online until early August 2017, so if you come upon this after that, the links may be gone.

So for all Malaysians who celebrate Hari Raya, Selamat Hari Raya!  And for the rest, enjoy the Open Houses and the holiday!

And if you have an interest in Somerset Maugham and/or Sarawak, here are the links (with some great photos) to the five parts of Maugham and Me: Part IPart II Part IIIPart IVPart V


For those who read French:  Book orders for Trois autres Malaisie   E-book orders
Here's a link to the intro and excerpts, and to four reviews of Trois Autres Malaisie in,,, and Petit Futé mag.