Little House in Segamat

I’ve been thinking of writing a personal memoir that has a house I lived in as a child as its centre. Although I lived in 281 Jalan Pawang for only eight years (from age three to eleven), this house had a huge impact on my life and my imagination, and it continues to be a source of inspiration in my writing.

This blog post describes the house in terms of it being haunted. It’s what comes up most frequently when my sisters and I reminisce about living there, but of course it was much more than that. Those years I lived at 281 were definitely the happiest of my childhood. My best friend lived across the street; we had a large beautiful garden filled with flowering shrubs and fruit trees; my mother’s siblings and their families, and my grandmother (before she died, when I was eight) and great-grand mother came to us for large, loud and merry reunions every Christmas and Chinese New Year; there was even one morning when I looked out the window and saw a pony in the garden.

I’m going to push myself to work on this. My tendency is to think about writing for a long time (years even) before even putting down a single word, but I don’t have time to wait. I would like this book to be written before I turn seventy. Is that too ambitious?

Retreating to Write

I planned a writing retreat for myself back in 2017. It was in George Town, Penang, and it pretty much failed. Or rather, I failed to do what I set out to do: write.

At the time, I was trying to complete a collection of short stories. I was hoping to write at least two stories while on this retreat, but I ended up completing just one.

I spent five nights in George Town, and I should have spent more time writing, but instead I wondered around a lot, exploring the city. The Airbnb I had booked was partly to blame. I hated the place the moment I checked it — long story, but basically, the owner was odd and I just felt uncomfortable the whole time I was there. There was no writing desk in my room so I had to use the communal tables, which weren’t comfortable or conducive to writing. The seats (wooden benches) were hard, without backrests; and the area was near the entrance and saw a lot of distracting foot traffic.

Still, I could have found a quiet cafe (I actually know several in George Town) and written there, but I didn’t. I preferred to wander the streets, taking pictures of temples and clan houses and Datuk Gong shrines. Perhaps what I really wanted to do (deep down) is have a solo holiday, doing exactly what I wanted without having to worry about other people’s expectations or desires. Perhaps I just wanted to escape my life. Perhaps I was looking for inspiration.

I don’t consider that retreat a waste. I enjoyed myself, despite not liking my accommodation and the unfriendly host. However, when I returned to George Town in 2018, for a four-nighter, I stayed at another place (Fhoya Fhoya on Gat Lebuh Melayu) that I was familiar with and liked.

The purpose of that visit was not to write, but just to be by myself. It was then that I decided that I would have a solo retreat every three or so months, whether to write or just have some ‘me’ time.

I am off to George Town again next week and will be staying (for three nights) at Fhoya Fhoya’s sister-property: Fhoya Fhoya di Chulia. This time, I intend to write. I wish to make a start on my two novels: Too ambitious? Perhaps, I will figure out which one I should work on in earnest. At the moment, I love both of them equally and don’t know which one I should focus on.

I shall have to be more disciplined. The temptation, when in GT, is to wander about semi-aimlessly and I can’t allow this to happen. So, my schedule is writing in the morning til mid-afternoon, with some wandering in the late afternoon, and ‘me’ time in the evenings.That’s the plan anyway. I will report back next week!

Wifely Duties

I finished reading The Wife by Meg Wolitzer and also watched the film, starring Glenn Close and Jonathan Pryce.

I didn’t expect to be, but I was disappointed by both.

I loved Glenn Close in the film — she was very good, but then I have not seen her falter in anything. Pryce was good too, his character was both pathetic and odious, and he portrayed him well. (He almost made me gag because he reminded me of a creepy someone in the lit scene here!)

However, I wasn’t convinced by the story. (No spoilers!)

In the film, I felt it was not developed sufficiently and so, I had trouble believing it. In the book, I didn’t think we got to know Joan well enough to understand why she did what she did. Intellectually it made sense, but not viscerally. We know Joan (a little) but we don’t feel her and so we don’t feelĀ for her either.

Wolitzer’s writing style did not appeal to me. I found her voice cold and distant. Perhaps Joan is those things because of what she’s been through, but the author doesn’t allow us to get under her skin. She doesn’t give us a sense that Joan is torn between love and hate; pride and shame; she doesn’t make us feel Joan’s desperation.

Glenn Close, in the film, is successful in bridging that gap between the character and the audience. Her portrayal of Joan allows us to experience (at least to some degree) the conflicting emotions that must engulf the character at every turn. Still, I didn’t feel much more than a fleeting pity for her. Perhaps the problem was ‘resolved’ too conveniently and quickly. Or seemed to be. I suppose Joan is left to live with the truth, and to decide how to deal with it. Perhaps Wolitzer needs to write a sequel!




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 inĀ 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.


Catching Up

My last three posts have all been Caturday ones, which means I have not blogged properly for about two weeks. I shall try to do better.

I was in Singapore from 6th to 10th September for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. And in George Town (Penang) from 8th to 12th October, for some badly needed ‘me’ time.

Don’t ask me what I was doing between getting back from Singapore and leaving for GT. I don’t know where the time goes these days. I do know that it takes forever for me to get back on track if my routine gets disrupted.

So, updates …Read More »