- GUEST AUTHOR
Today I am pleased to introduce my first guest author from Sarawak - Golda Mowe. I'm envious already because Sarawak is an enchanting place. Golda is a writer who loves making up stories from across all genres. Two generations ago, she would have had to travel dozens of miles between longhouses to get her muse heard, but now she is more than happy to write.
Welcome, Golda ...
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR WRITING JOURNEY.
I have always been fascinated with words. There was once a time when I would collect dictionaries because I enjoy reading words so much. When I was thirteen, a language teacher told the class about people who write for a living and I was captivated. Writing continued to be a huge struggle though, because even when I had a lot of stories to tell I didn’t like anything I wrote. It was only when I entered my mid thirties that I realised the problem was because I only knew how to write in the Subject-Verb structure. I had to reteach myself English to be where I am now.
WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A WRITER?
I have a wide range of interests – History, Chemistry, Economics, Mythology, Politics, Language – and the only way I could consolidate all these together was by writing stories. So somewhere in 2000 I started writing my first manuscript– Dust in the Sun (http://www.gmowe.ws/DustInTheSun_List.html) – which I put up for free on my website. Two years later I began Iban Dream, and then in 2004 I decided to leave my career for good so I can focus on writing.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
The freedom to explore different ideas and the opportunity of learning new things in the process of research. For example, the Ibans of Sarawak have a lot of taboos on hill rice planting. One of them is that if a deer feeds in your field while you are clearing the land, you will have a bad harvest for the year. Deer eat a type of weed called ‘lalang’ or cogon grass. This weed is extremely hardy and grows thick in areas where the soil is depleted of most nutrients (since it is the only thing that will grow there). This taboo caught my attention because it could be scientifically explained and it made me wonder if there were other taboos that could be linked to scientific observation, albeit a twisted one. Sure enough I found many more that are linked to the behaviour of birds and insects. The observation of animals that indicate a stable eco system is considered a good omen while the over population of a particular species is a bad one. Since ancient Ibans didn’t know Science, they explained these as messages from gods and spirits.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT BEING A WRITER?
Handling rejection, I guess. It took me years to find someone who would take time to read even the first chapter of Iban Dream, a novel about a Borneo head-hunter. In retrospect, I think a lot of people assumed that it was just another testosterone charged story when they read the synopsis.
WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A WRITER?
I was an administrator and a customer service officer. I enjoyed the work but hated the office politics. Stories helped me escape into a different, more rational world where good people stay good and bad people are downright awful.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST WRITING ACHIEVEMENT?
I would say it is my ebook, Iban Dream (http://www.gmowe.ws/IbanDream.html). While growing up, I loved listening to stories of the heroes and gods of the Ibans so I thought it was strange that so few people outside Sarawak knew about them. Iban Dream started as an experiment to see if I could write a story based on what I know about these characters. I started writing it around the year 2002, originally relying on my own childhood memory as well as the work of my favourite naturalist and anthropologist, Charles Hose. But as my journey deepened, I began to look for more materials and research work to either confirm or correct my memories. The journey was long and humbling, and, to my mind, well worth the sacrifice I’ve made.
WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON AT THE MOMENT?
I have started work on a sequel to Iban Dream because there are still some Dayak taboos and superstition that I couldn’t explore in the first book. This might be a slow one to finish since I am having problem finding materials to support what I remember from my childhood. I have also finished writing a book about a 7th century Javanese prince and am now editing it. I also update my story website and writing tip blog weekly.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
Myths, ancient beliefs and superstition are my favourite inspiration. I feel that many of these stories are honest metaphors of the social norms of a particular period. For example, in Asian cultures some of the most famous ghost stories are those of women or children. This may be because people want to believe that the spirits who could not get justice during life, could seek for it after death. During the Hungry Ghost Festival the Chinese community would set up all kinds of entertainment for these restless ghosts. It is quite surreal to watch a singer perform on stage in front of dozens of empty chairs. I think this is a wonderful way to remind us of the terrible injustices that had happened in the past.
WHAT GENRE DO YOU WRITE?
Iban Dream is categorised as a mythological fantasy. I use mythical elements because I want to present my story the way a traditional Iban bard would. No Iban hero worth his salt would achieve great things without help from the spirits. In fact, many Ibans in Skrang still believe that during the 3rd Sadok battle of 1861 between Charles Brooke and Libau Rentap, the goddess Kumang had appeared to Rentap in the form of a hill myna (a black bird) and told him that he could not win that battle, so he and his men had escaped before Brooke’s party took over their fort.
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Don’t let other people’s opinions get you down. Always keep in mind that there are two kind of criticism – toxic and compost. They both stink but one kills your dream and the other helps it grow. Know how to separate between the two, because good criticism will really help you become a better writer. That is why I always insist on honest reviews for my work. Nobody is perfect, but everybody has room for improvement.
Copyright Clancy Tucker (c)
DO YOU SUFFER FROM WRITER’S BLOCK?
Yes, I do, especially when I am writing articles. Sometimes it will take me a week just to write one paragraph. Maybe it is the way my mind works because I don’t have problems with short stories. I even use them to get out of blocks.
DO YOU HAVE A PREFERRED WRITING SCHEDULE?
I write freestyle into a foolscap book, usually in the evening when the house is quiet. Then I will type in the details or even rewrite parts of the story the following morning. But when I am writing a book, I will spend large chunks of the day doing research. Sometimes I won’t be writing for weeks until I get all the details I need.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE WRITING PLACE?
Anywhere I can sit with my foolscap book on my lap or on a table. It doesn’t even have to be quiet or secluded because noise can sometimes help me ‘get into character’ as I write a story.
WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN WRITING?
Believe it or not – putting words together. It makes me feel like I am playing with LEGO blocks. Maybe it’s because my parents couldn’t afford to buy Lego blocks for me when I was a kid.
WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE AUTHOR AND WHY?
I can’t just give you one. Oscar Wilde and JRR Tolkien for their English, Charles Dickens for his exploration of the human condition, H.G. Wells and Michael Crichton for their Science and dozens of others I have managed to get my hands on over the years.
WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM A READER?
A reader commented that reading Iban Dream was like reading poetry from start to finish. I tried so hard to create that effect since traditional Iban storytelling is in verses and song but I never expected anyone to notice.
WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM A READER?
Most of my readers are Asian, and they are very polite, so I barely get any negative comments. In the beginning when I first started writing my short stories, I will get comments on bad story flow but I was lucky enough to get critiques that either came with good advice or ones that were so specific, they helped me fixed my problems.
WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU?
I was definitely influenced by my Iban great-aunt who loved telling me stories about animals and my father who hunted for wild boar or deer during his free time and then, on his return home, would tell oodles of tall tales for my benefit. My Iban grandparents also had a fruit orchard in the jungle and they often warned me not to go into the thickets because a bear, a reticulated python or a monster would eat me. Instead of scaring me, it made me curious about them. So one afternoon while my grandparents napped, I sneak off into the jungle and found a tiny pond (more like a big puddle) filled with tiny silver fish. I returned to the place every afternoon for the next few days to play with them. My grandfather found out and poured weedkiller (I think) into the pond. I guess, in his mind, a spirit from the pond had enchanted me. I don’t remember any spirit appearing, though I did like telling stories to the fish. Interestingly enough, the incident made me very curious about human behaviour.
OTHER THAN WRITING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I love to craft, especially with thread, wool or beads. I also paint in watercolour once in a while.
DID YOU HAVE YOUR BOOK / BOOKS PROFESSIONALLY EDITED BEFORE PUBLICATION?
Yes, I did for Iban Dream. The publisher at Monsoon Books had it done in-house for me. The experience was an eye-opener, for it made me aware of my writing ‘tics’.
DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
A day when I find exactly the right amount of information for a story, or when I figure out something that had been bothering me for a while.
IF YOU WERE STUCK ON A DESERT ISLAND WITH ONE PERSON, WHO WOULD IT BE? WHY?
Dead or alive? My Peranakan (Chinese-Native mix lineage) grandfather Dennis Mowe because while researching my family history, I learned that he had gone through a terrible family rejection, disdain by his peers on one hand and high expectations from others on the other. Yet the old man I knew was calm, collected and proud. It would be nice to have the veil of traditional Asian propriety between us torn, so I can get to really know him and to find out how he had coped.
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO SPEAK TO WORLD LEADERS?
I would ask them to please consider sustainable living seriously. Our culture is now so obsessed with growth that most important political decisions pivot around it. I don’t believe that this is realistic. Leaders should come up with a different form of measure. Since firms are already focused on capitalism and growth that can lead to the exploitation, pollution and uprooting of whole communities, government should be the counterbalance.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Write some more.
WHAT FIVE BOOKS WOULD YOU TAKE TO HEAVEN?
Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Charles Hose’s The Field-book of a Jungle Wallah, Ruth Bebe Hill’s Hanta Yo and Ken Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. All of these have been and still are my inspiration for writing.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF IN ANY OF YOUR CHARACTERS?
I definitely do. If I can’t dream, laugh, love, or cry with a character, I don’t write about them. I also believe that we are all the same at a certain level so, my hope is, my readers will also see themselves in my work.
DOES THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY FRUSTRATE YOU?
I am frustrated in general but not at the industry. After all, the industry is going through its own baptism of fire right now. I hear stories of authors who become millionaires and I also hear stories of authors who live in poverty. As with all things in life, I believe that there are more authors in the middle between these two extremes. It would be great though to make my living solely on writing.
DID YOU EVER THINK OF QUITTING?
Yes, I have and still do, especially on days when my confidence is low. But each time I try to figure what else I want to do instead, I come up with nothing. Storytelling is still my source of joy.
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVOURITE MANUSCRIPT TO WRITE? WHY?
Definitely Iban Dream because I get a chance to explore my own culture. It was challenging to write in the beginning because I had to figure out a way to keep the cultural integrity of the protagonist’s environment yet make it understood by the modern reader.
ANYTHING YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Many ideas and beliefs are becoming standardized in the world today, leading to the loss of large portions of our cultural history. If you feel that this is happening to your culture, at the very least journal about it. It does not matter if you plan to print it or not, just write it down for posterity. Don’t let knowledge that has held your people together and helped them survive for countless generations die. Your children may think it a waste of time, but your grandchildren may be enriched by it.
Clancy's comment: thanks, Golda. Don't give up. Keep writing. You have much to write.