Hello from Hanoi

I’ve not posted for a while and it’s because I’ve been away, first in Singapore …

and now in Hanoi, Vietnam …

I’ll be back in Kuala Lumpur on the 14th and, before you know it, it’ll be Christmas! But I’ll try to squeeze in a post before that.


Like Lady Godiva

Bohemian Rhapsody is an entertaining film if you’re there for just the music and the spectacle. Don’t go for a revealing, thoughtful presentation of Freddie Mercury’s life. I would like to watch it again, just for the songs, and the comedy, yes the comedy — one of the things I appreciate the most about Freddy is how, like Davod Bowie, he never takes himself too seriously.

For better or for worse, Don’t Stop Me Now is my favourite Queen song — because of its energy, Freddie’s beautiful voice, and the lyrics that never fail to make me laugh. I mean, come on — ‘I’m burning through the sky: Two hundred degrees — that’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit!’ — if that doesn’t raise a smile (at very least) then you must truly be dead inside.

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I’ve been considering the possibility of illustrating my stories, but I don’t think I’m good enough. My drawings and collages are of doodle standard and I can just imagine my review of the book: ‘Lee’s pictures don’t do the stories justice. It’s a pity she isn’t as good an artist as she is a writer.’ Hah.

I have asked an artist I know if he will illustrate the book and sent him some stories so that he has an idea of what he’d be illustrating, if he agrees. I have not heard from him. My other idea is for each story to be illustrated by a different artist, but imagine if ten artists disappeared on me? Still, I imagine getting one artist to make one piece of art ought to be easier than getting one artist to make eleven pieces (counting the cover). Oh lordy, I wonder when the book will be ready. Will it ever?

This afternoon, I spent an hour looking at pictures on Pinterest, hoping to be inspired (to write or whatever) and I came across many tigers whom I could imagine walking through the pages of my book.

Stephanie Kwak


This one reminded me of Ahmed Ali, the tiger were in The Tiger Bridegroom. I can imagine him in a songkok and baju Melayu. Also, he looks as if he’s thinking of having some mutton rendang.


Fashion Valet Fail

‘breaking stereotypes and embracing your curves no matter what size you’re in’?

Do you know why that line from Fashion Valet’s Min Luna X page is so much bullshit? Because if Fashion Valet and the designer were really interested in ‘breaking stereotypes’ and ’embracing curves’, they would have …

1) used plus size models instead of the usual ‘regular’ sized one you see modelling the clothes.

How can FV and the designer talk about embracing curves when they’re not willing to embrace any in their campaign? And how are women with curves supposed to assess how these clothes look on themselves, i.e. women who have curves, when they are only shown on a model with next to none?

2) made the clothes available in sizes larger than just the current UK14 maximum. (There’s a limit to embracing one’s curves, I guess.)

3) not given the outfits insulting names like ‘Look Taller’ ‘Hide Your Flaws’, ‘Cover Up Jacket’, ‘Hide Your Bum’, ‘Slimmer Thighs’ and ‘Longer Legs’.

So, first they say women should ’embrace’ their ‘curves’ and are ‘all beautiful’ in ‘unique’ ways and then they suggest that
a) these unique curves should be covered and hidden;

b) that these curvy women who are beautifully unique should aspire to longer legs and slimmer thighs?

c) that these vertically-challenged women should try to look taller because … all heights are uniquely beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others?

d) that these same women should hide their ‘flaws’? What flaws? I thought everyone is beautiful in unique ways?

Perhaps Fashion Valet and Min Luna should think of firing their copywriter.

This fashion line is dodgy has hell, and stinks of insincerity and shallowness. FashionValet.com and Min Luna really need to do better. They need to STOP insulting women and STOP pretending to believe that women of all shapes and sizes are beautiful. It’s obvious that they don’t.

‘Beautiful no matter your size … as long as your size is UK14 and under.’


Fun Challenge

I saw this challenge over at Calmgrove, Chris Lovegrove’s fabulous book blog (his thoughtful posts always inspire admiration and happiness. Thanks, Chris!).

The idea is to ‘find a book that contains (either on the cover or in the title) an example for each category. There must be a separate book for each category, get as creative as you want!’

Sounds daunting, but, nevertheless, I have managed it:


1. Food

Fruit is food, isn’t it? Rather than choose an Elizabeth David book (again), I thought I would list Oranges by John McPhee. This is one of my favourite books, packed with fascinating, surprising information about oranges. For example: ‘Citrus does not come true from seed. What this means is: If you plant an orange seed, a grapefruit might come up. If you plant a seed of that grapefruit, you might get a bitter lemon. To get oranges, specifically, you have to graft the orange to the rootstock of some other citrus tree.’

2. Transport

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems

I’m happy that I have a picture book on this challenge list. Even better than it features a crazy pigeon.

3. Weapon

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. The title of the second book in the Imperial Radch Trilogy refers to a star ship, Sword of Atagaris. I don’t pay attention to labels and tend not to understand them, but the trilogy is supposedly a space opera and it was my introduction to the genre. I love it.

4. Animal

The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo. I have yet to read this book, but I love most of DiCamillo’s work and well, if there’s a tiger in it …!

Tigers are pretty amazing animals and they feature quite a bit in my collection of short stories, which I hope to publish this year.

5. Number

Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy by Rumer Godden.

It’s been years since I read this. Rumer Godden has some fine novels about nuns and faith. Black Narcissus and In This House of Brede are two others.

6. Something you read

I read and re-read Richard Scarry’s Storybook Dictionary as a child. My aunt/godmother gave it to me when I was two or three and I kept it all through, but my ex-mother-in-law gave it away without asking me. I have now got a very shabby replacement. It is filled with the most wonderful characters, including the three beggars Wolfson, Babooby and HaHaHa.

7. Body of water

From Heaven Lake by Vikram Seth. I couldn’t bring myself to finish A Suitable Boy, but I loved this account of Seth’s journey from Nanjing to New Delhi.

8. Product of fire

Ashes to Ashes by Lillian Stewart Carl. A corny and melodramatic love story with ghosts. I love it and the sequel Dust to Dust.

9. Royalty

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. The second book in The Queen’s Thief Series. This is my favourite of the lot, but they are all great reads.

10. Architecture

Towers in the Mist by Elizabeth Goudge was my introduction to the author. This is one of her three cathedral novels – the others are City of Bells and The Dean’s Watch. All three are favourite comfort reads.


11. Clothing

How to Read a Dress: A Guide to Changing Fashion from the 16th to the 20th Century by Lydia Edwards. It’s on my TBR list and I follow her on Instagram, which you should do too if you’re on IG and you love gorgeous clothes and are interested in the social and historical aspects of fashion.

12. Family member

Travels with My Aunt by Graham Greene. This has been on my TBR list for years. Maybe next year?

13. Time of day

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

An exciting, erotic and atmospheric book set variously during present day Malaysia, the Japanese occupation and the Emergency. I especially enjoyed the sections about the building of a Japanese garden in Cameron Highland.

14. Music

The Mozart Season by Virginia Euwer Woolf. Oh how I love this book and its lovely protagonist Allegra. Thanks to it, I started listening to Mozart, in particular his violin sonatas, which is now my favourite thing to play when I write.

15. Paranormal being

Will Storr Vs the Supernatural: One Man’s Search For the Truth About Ghosts by Will Storr

Journalist Will Storr doesn’t believe in ghosts and sets out to prove (mostly to himself) that his cynicism is justified. This is a seriously creepy book!

16. Occupation

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. Well, it’s a job, right?

17. Season

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live (and die) through that kind of weather. One of my favourites in the series.

18. Colour

This reminds me that I have not finished reading Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay. I bought the book in 2003, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York where, at the gift shop, I bought postcards, an Anubis figurine, and two books, one of which I left on the plane. I’m glad I still have this one!

19. Celestial body

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech. I love everything Sharon Creech has written, but this one is outstanding.

20. Something that grows

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Another book on my TBR list.