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Archive for the ‘Film/Books’ Category

Royston Tan directing actress J.Rosmini in his film which was inspired by the sounds of his childhood.

Sound is a one of our most powerful senses. A small tinkle, a laugh can bring forth memories, associations and expectations.

Recently, Singapore’s filmmaker Royston Tan was in California to talk about his films and his career. One of the projects that he was involved in was 7 letters, an anthology of short films by Singaporean fimmakers. He shared with the audience his film in the anthology titled “Bunga Sayang”.

“Bunga Sayang” means “Flower of Love, or Flower of the Heart” in Malay. It refers to the title of a song that has a central role in the film.

Royston explained that the film was inspired by the sounds of his childhood.

One of them was the sounds of the traditional Chinese opera. The opera was often staged in a public area where everyone could come and see. (It was also a part of my childhood. Like most children, I was drawn to it when it was staged in my neighborhood. For me, what was most fascinating were the shiny, colorful costumes, especially those with the long, flowing sleeves.)

Another inspiration for the film was the sounds of a song.

The main protagonist in Royston’s film is a young boy, around 10 or so. A normal day, after school, brought a small crisis. The tap in his flat suddenly stopped when he was taking a shower.

The boy called his mother, who was away working, who then instructed him to go to his neighbour’s house and to request if he could finish his bath there. The neighbor, an older Malay woman, couldn’t speak English, and the boy spoke broken Malay, but somehow they communicated.

After the shower, he found himself drawn to the kitchen where the woman was preparing food, while her radio filled the flat with the song “Bunga Sayang”. The sounds and notes of that song formed a strong memory of that day for him. And soon a friendship developed between the two of them.

“Bunga Sayang” is a heartfelt film because, I believe, it was made from the heart. Watching it made me think of the sounds of my childhood. And what comes to my mind, without hesitation, is the sound of fish frying in my childhood home.

Our big extended family was run by my grandmother and grandaunt. They would start cooking around 10 or 11 am in the morning. I would often hang around in the kitchen, being in their company, or enjoying doing some coloring.

One dish that was often served in our home was deep-fried chunks of tongkol fish, which is a type of tuna fish. Oil was heated in the kuali, a deep frying pan. And when the first chunk of fish hit the hot oil, it created a pristine sizzle and hiss. So clear that one could visualize the hiss rising up, winding up, from the pan.

That sound, together with the fragrance of the turmeric spice coating the fish, leads me back to my young days, in our sunny, warm kitchen in the tropics.

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book Hamzah Hussin

My father’s passion was reading. Our favorite weekend activity as a family was to visit the newsstand to buy magazines.

 

hamzah hussin book

My father’s short stories will be republished soon by Fixi Retro.

I’m lucky to come from a family that loved books and writing.

My grandfather loved poetry and owned a small second hand bookshop in Singapore. My late father Hamzah Hussin, helped him in the shop as a young boy, and he grew up to become a figure in the Malay literary world.

My father became a journalist and writer, penning and publishing short stories and novels.  He then joined Cathay Keris Organisation, one of the pioneer studios that produced Malay films, as a scriptwriter/ public relations officer. He later went to live in Malaysia to continue to contribute to the film industry and also to teach at FINAS Film Academy.

He was always generous with his knowledge, and I knew that he cherished the opportunity to teach, and the interaction with the students and their ideas.

Most of the Malay films of his era are still widely viewed, and thus my father’s screenplays are still intact. However, some of his literary works are not so readily available.

The good news is that Amir Muhammad, Malaysia’s well-known author, filmmaker and publisher, has located three of my father’s published short stories and has compiled them into a book. Amir and his company Fixi Retro will launch the book on November 21 at Ilham’s Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.

I feel very grateful and pleased to share my father’s work with more people, and I’m sure he would be too.

If you’re in Malaysia or Singapore, I would like to invite you to the launch. Amir will also talk about Malay movies in the 60s at the event. More details on the event and the venue are at this page.

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 great expectations gift literature

Tea and a good read – timeless classics.

dickens book to film

David Lean’s “Great Expectations” said to be the most faithful and among the best adaptations of literature to film. ( Pic: moviemail.com )

 

How wonderful to get presents that reflect what you love.

One that I received recently was a bundle of Collector’s Library books, which included “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens.

The book was part of the syllabus of my English Literature class in high school.

Of course, we had to learn and memorize the book for the coming examinations. But with Dickens’ genius writing and the guidance of a wonderful teacher, we grew to love the characters and the story. And at the same time, though we might not know it then, we were learning a little about life and love as a young teenager from the stories of Pip, Estella, Miss Havisham, and the other characters.

At that time, my best friend in class was K. When we heard that the British Council was screening a film based on the book, we were so excited and decided to make an outing of the event.

I remember going to K’s house on that day. I met her sisters – all very smart and strong-willed like her. I remember, after that, we ran to the bus stop, hoping to make it in time for the screening.

In the darkened theater, when the movie started, it was quite amazing to see the characters that had lived in our imagination for most of the year come alive on the screen.

K and I went to different colleges. We kept in touch for a while. Then she got married; we started our careers, and we lost touch through all the busyness of young adulthood.

But I believed that, for both of us, the year that we studied “Great Expectations” was an enjoyable time in our growing up years.

 

 

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JB Book Festival

Danga Bay – the scenic setting of the JB Writers and Readers Festival.

I had an enjoyable time at the JB Writers and Readers Festival held recently in Johor Bahru, Malaysia.

The setting was the beautiful Danga Bay, where the water and its fluidity seemed to throw its reflection on the event. In addition, as many of the festival’s participating writers, musicians and publishers were indie folks, the vibe was friendly and casual.

The audience had interesting questions at my session where I discussed my book “Kampung Memories”, which revolves around the Malay kampungs (villages) that are now gone from Singapore’s high-rise landscape. An audience member pointed out that several kampungs have had to make way for development in Johor, and we discussed the need for documenting the social history of these places.

After that, a duo came on stage, and they rendered a Singapore Malay folk song “DiTanjong Katong”. I was very touched by this gesture.

On the whole, the organizer Tok Rimau, his team and the volunteers did a great job, and I look forward to see what they have in store next year.

Sharifah Hamzah

The host Widda (right) and members of the audience had several insightful questions for me to discuss.

JB Writers and Readers Festival

Nam Ron, one of Malaysia’s most interesting playwrights and film makers, with his books at the festival.

JB Writers and Readers Festival 2013

The duo performed a lovely rendition of a Singapore Malay folk song.

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Asia book festival
The JB Writers & Readers Festival 2013 celebrates literature and the community of writers and bloggers in Johor Bahru,  the main city in the southern part of Malaysia.
There will be sessions and talks by publishers and writers, music and book sales. One of the objectives of the festival is to focus on new and self published authors in Malaysia and in the Archipelago.
It will be held on 14 and 15 September (Saturday and Sunday) at Danga Bay Marina Club.
I’m happy to be included in the festival. I will appearing on 15 September, Sunday, at 11 am. And I will be discussing my book “Kampung Memories – A Life’s Journey Revisited”.
If you are in Singapore or Malaysia, I hope you can come down and support the community of writers.
Links: program schedule
Festival Facebook Page

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kampung memories SingaporeI’m pleased to giveway three signed copies of my book Kampung Memories – A Life’s Journey, Revisited.

Kampung means “village” in Malay, and my book is part social history and part memoir of life in the kampungs of Singapore before they gave way for urban redevelopment.

It combines interviews with the residents, explanation of Malay customs, and my own memories and reflections. Artistic sketches by Malaysian artist Fausin MdIsa and old family photos add to the experience of the book.  More about it at the book website .

Please email me your name at hsharifah@hotmail.com, by September 28, to participate in the draw. Thanks and good luck.

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Fiction tips

Keating: Dickens and Graham Greene were masters at crafting setting. (pic: wordriot.org)

Setting, the time and place in which a work of fiction occurs, is a crucial element in a novel.

In the words of Eudora Welty : “Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else… Fiction depends for its life on place.”

Have you read a novel where a few pages into the book, you feel that you have forgotten where the story takes place, and you have to go back to the first few pages? On the other extreme, I had read books where the description of the place was so detailed and long I started to get bored.

The trick, I suppose, is to get it just right so that the setting is described sufficiently, and inserted seamlessly into the story. I attended a talk on “Setting and Story “ at the recent Los Angeles Book Fair where a panel of writers shared their experiences and perspectives on setting.

Kevin Keating has just released his debut novel The Natural Order of Things. It comprises 15 interconnected stories set in a decaying Midwestern urban landscape. He said that he learned and has been influenced by the works of writers such as Charles Dickens and Graham Greene who were masters at creating a sense of place. Dickens, in particular, was a master of describing the setting of the working class and one of urban decay.

Jami Attenberg, author of three novels including The Middlesteins said that she was interested to find one wonderful detail in the setting, one thing that is thematically right.

Michael Lavigne, the author of Not Me and The Wanting said that he was greatly influenced by E.M. Forster’s Passage to India, in which the setting was critical to the story.

setting in fiction

(pic:penguin.com.au )

(I studied “Passage to India” as part of our English Literature syllabus. Guided by a superb teacher, Miss Tan, Forster’s setting became memorable. And the scene that somehow made the deepest mark was the courtroom scene with the punka wallah, a worker who manually operates the fan, and its symbolism.)

Lavigne also said that he prefers to set his story in a time setting of about 10 to 20 years back, as he would have a better sense and understanding of  the background and events.

This point came up in my mind when I recently read a contemporary crime thriller.

The cell phone played a big role in the story. The detectives were calling each other and emailing data from the phone from various locations. In some parts of the story, the narrative was greatly impacted by a missed call, or a cell phone flung out of reach. It wasn’t so long ago that the mobile phone had no role in the flow or narrative of thrillers.

The panel left a few pointers for the writer who has decided on the setting for his or her novel.

The authors felt that it was necessary to visit the place or location where one’s novel would be set. Take photos too, if that would help. Talk to the people, and get to know them really well, added Keating. That would also enable you to pick up nuances and particularities of their speech.

Lavigne added: “When you use setting from your experience and memory, you will know when it is authentic on the page.

“In good writing, the setting reveals itself, the way the characters do, at the right place.”

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