Article from the Sun daily by Yeo Chia Hui (posted on 9th June 2015)
IT'S easy to get interested in something, but what's difficult is to keep this passion going strong when one faces life's relentless daily grind. Hence, while it may seem absurd that someone can still have the energy and motivation to run after a long day at work, Edan Syah proved that the notion may seem uncommon but it's not entirely impossible.
"I call myself a citizen runner because I have a job yet I still want to improve myself when it comes to running. I normally train at night after I finish my work or sometimes both before and after, and I only give myself one day off in a week," said the 27 year-old product specialist and head trainer at Athlete's Circle, adding that he has a different routine and training intensity for each day.
One of August Man Malaysia's Men of the Year in 2011, Edan qualified for the 42km Boston Marathon 2015 in which he achieved a ranking of 354 out of 26,610 runners. Not only that, he was also the youngest Malaysian to finish below 2'42. Due to harsh weather conditions in Boston, he clocked 2'41:55 which was three seconds off his personal best of 2'41:52. This however has only spurred him to try harder next time.
What is your proudest achievement?
After completing the Hong Kong marathon in February last year, I found out that I've been ranked as the third fastest marathon runner in the country by the Malaysia Athletic Federation (MAF). It was unexpected because my goal has always been just to improve and challenge myself, thus, to be ranked in the top five feels great.
Every time you cross the finish line, what is the first thing that you do?
Normally, I'd look at my watch during the last one kilometre so I sort of know how I'm faring. To me, the finish line does not signify the end but rather how I know I can do better than this. For some people when they finish one marathon they might think that they've had enough, whereas I personally believe that the finish line only signifies the beginning of another journey. I don't know what my future path is but I know that when I cross the finish line, there's something more for me to achieve and I always have faith in this.
Having participated in so many marathons, which was the most memorable one?
It has to be the Boston Marathon because of the adrenaline rush and marathon fever there. A week before the race and you could already see that the environment was very different because of the crowd support. The people there are very supportive of running and everyone would go into the town to support the race – even in the rain, they'd support you along the road for the whole 42km. And I think this is why people always say that, ''There are other races around but there's only one Boston Marathon."
When the going gets tough, what keeps you motivated?
I'll think about how I have prepared for the race, the journey that I've started and also everyone who has been together with me to achieve my dream. Their support gives me the strength to go on.
Can you give some advice to those who are keen to take up running?
Always come back to your mission and vision on why you run. It's easy to get lost along the way, but if you can focus on your goal then you will know what it is that you want to achieve. It's also a lot to do with training smart. We are not full-time athletes so we have our own jobs and social life to attend to, so what's important is to train smart and always listen to your body when you train.
Hip to be square
Article from the Sun daily by Yeo Chia Hui (posted on 6th Oct 2015)
TWENTY two-year-old Trisha Toh started out as a regular user of Instagram.
However, what started out as a platform for her to document her food adventure has now propelled her into a very accomplished photographer, photo and food stylist.
Her Instagram feed is comprised of pictures so aesthetically pleasing that it more than explains her fan base of 67, 000 followers.
"Since I was young, my mother would bring me and my brother out to explore new places to eat. It was like a treat; so after I graduated from high school I decided to continue doing this on my own. This was back in 2012 when the local food scene began to pick up. Then a while ago, a close friend, who is also a talented "Instagrammer", introduced me to her client who was looking for someone to shoot their new products. Despite the doubts I had, I went ahead with it and it turned out that they liked my work. Now people are starting to recognise me although it's mostly through Instagram recommendations," said the freelance creative.
A soon-to-be tourism and event management graduate, Toh said that this passion of hers remains a hobby as what she studied is completely different. Even then, her résumé is quite impressive as it contains names such as DoubleTree by Hilton, Chatime Malaysia, Tino's Pizza, and The Spice Peninsula Co.
She also coorganised #ChasingSquares last year, a mobile photography exhibition which raised funds for underprivileged Malaysian youths.
What exactly does a photo stylist do?
There are many categories of photo styling, but since I work with food a lot I'd say I'm a food stylist. Food stylists assist the photographers in making the food look good for the camera. Sometimes, we have to get manipulative with the food because we need to show the best angle. And you know how food looks good in some pictures? Yeah, sometimes they aren't edible because you do not know the things that we may have done with it (chuckles).
How would you describe your photography style?
It changes over time but I focus a lot on the subject. It's about what I've done and where I've been, so it's always documenting what I'm experiencing. I'd say the mood of my pictures follows my own mood.
Would you also say that your style is minimalistic?
Minimalism is true as this theme omits everything that's not important, and focuses on what matters. I guess I do apply that a lotin my pictures because I always focus on the subject and the story more than anything else.
If a picture tells a thousand words, what do you want to convey through yours?
I guess it's about the present. What I'm ultimately aiming for in my pictures is that they're not styled – they're about living in the moment. I think it's important to forget about trends because that's not what photography is about. Photography is about capturing the moment and sharing it with people. There shouldn't be any competition about it, especially on Instagram.
Some people believe that Instagramphotography is not real photography. What do you think about this?
The beauty of photography is that it doesn't matter what platform you use because ultimately it's about the pictures that you take. For me especially, Instagram plays a huge role in what I do because it acts as a sort ofportfolio. By looking at your Instagram profile, clients are able to learn about you, your photography style and potential. It serves as a good platform.
• Find her at: @trishates.
• She uses: Canon EOS 600D.
• Her go-to editing apps: Snapseed and VSCO Cam.
• Photography tip: "Natural light is very important for a good picture."
• Portraits she wants to capture: Her grandmothers.
Planting the seeds of knowledge
Article from the Sun daily by Jessica Chua (posted on 22nd Oct 2015)
GROWING up in Kuching, Amanda Sura and her five younger sisters have always been encouraged by their grandmother to share their knowledge by donating books to the children in the village. Her humble upbringing and the wise words of her grandmother inspired the birth of The Reading Bus Club.
It happened during a study break when Amanda, together with her sister Natasha, volunteered to help their church pastor and his wife. One good thing led to another and soon, the Curtin University alumni co-founded The Reading Bus Club in hopes that “every child is given the opportunity to enjoy school and life through reading”.
At The Reading Bus Club, volunteers consisting of students and corporate bodies teach children to read, pronounce, spell, and use words correctly. The entire programme, which is conducted in English, also includes activities such as acting, colouring and singing to create a more enjoyable learning environment.
“Sometimes I get teary when I’m about to leave with my team and the children ask to come back with more books. I guess learning something in a different way always excites them,” shared the 27-year-old marketing executive.
Thanks to Amanda and other inspiring individuals, The Reading Bus Club is still going strong today since it was established seven years ago, with trips occurring almost every weekend. In Sarawak, the team goes into villages and churches to teach, whereas in West Malaysia, they focus on schools and orang asli villages.
What obstacles did the team face during the early days of The Reading Bus Club?
Physically, we faced challenges like carrying heavy cabinets up steep, uneven staircases to the teaching halls, and driving up dark, hilly roads with sharp corners to villages. Other challenges include people misusing our name for their personal interests and people being sceptical about us making a difference.
What inspires you to keep moving forward despite the obstacles?
Each time I hear a young reader use a word correctly or spell with ease, I get warm and fuzzy inside. Making a little difference like that keeps me going. As long as there is a chance, I will do my best to plant the seed of interest in these little hearts as well as encourage others to want to educate. There is enough darkness in this world as it is; I find it nice to be a glimmer of hope for those who want to reach out.
How has the experience been working with the volunteers in The Reading Bus Club?
The volunteers on board are amazing! I salute and appreciate them because they are always there to support the programme. I am always so touched when I see teenagers and young adults teach the little ones with sincerity and compassion. It reminds me that we’re human and the way we approach people are different. It is kind of magical, especially when you see 17-year-olds teaching 12-year-olds. They’re not that much further ahead in life, but the way they teach is like a friend teaching a friend.
Personally, how did school and education help you become the person you are today?
I think it had a big impact in my life not just academically but also in building my character. I sharpened my life skills in school learning how to be compassionate, and the importance of respect, diligence, discipline, and acceptance. I wasn’t an A-star student but I liked going to school because of my thirst for self-improvement. I think it also allowed me to be creative and imaginative.
What is your advice to people today when it comes to teaching and education?
Teaching is not commanding power. Be equal. Don’t think that you’re more superior when you teach because you can also learn from the other person. At the same time, teach sincerely, not just for the sake of teaching. It will really open up your heart and your eyes.
» Amanda can't say no to durian, ikura (salmon roe) and fried chicken.
» As a child, she was afraid of her own toes
» She wears a lot of black, grey and white.
» The mass communication graduate cannot cycle.
» According to her mother, Amanda's first words were 'happy birthday'.
Strokes of genius
Article from the Sun daily by Ong Kah Shin (posted on 27th Oct 2015)
IN the four years she was studying biochemistry and molecular biology at Brown University in Rhode Island, United States, Charis Loke was occupying herself with many things on the side. Being an artist at heart, Loke was attending all the animation, illustration and comparative literature classes she could find. She also learnt German, computer programming, African dance, and took lessons at the Rhode Island School of Design. To top it off, Brown University funded her to teach art classes to science students.
"Even though my Malaysian scholarship required me to graduate with a science degree, I spent most of my time in university doing what I loved after all – and that's the beauty of the American education system," said Loke.
She returned to Malaysia upon graduating, and joined non-profit organisation Teach for Malaysia (TFM) in late 2013. Loke is still serving under the programme, teaching English and art in a local secondary school while continuing to freelance as an illustrator. Her dream is to illustrate full-time, and conduct art workshops for the public instead of only teaching her own students.
"The ultimate goal is to keep making work that makes people think about the world around them, and inspires them to make art in their own way. That's what artists like Datuk Mohammad Nor Khalid (Lat) and Shaun Tan did for me. I loved Lat's work when I was growing up and I still am a big fan now," said the 24-year-old.
What do you like about art?
I like how illustrators tend to be quite collaborative, and that the Internet means there is a lower entry barrier nowadays for people around the world who want to get into art, especially younger people who may not be extremely well off. When I was in secondary school about eight to nine years ago, I was trading art with online friends from many different countries, and that gave me the confidence to continue making art. It's so easy to put your work out there nowadays.
How is the American art scene different from ours?
In terms of art education, they do seem to have a more hands on approach compared to the theoretical one in our national art syllabus. And I suppose you get paid more for illustration jobs there. In both cases, there's the problem of people who think artists can work for free.
Which of your artwork are you most proud of, and why?
The Dinner comic that I made two years ago seems to resonate with a lot of people. It's an interactive comic about relatives who ask about your career choices. After I put it online, many complete strangers sent me emails about how they really identified with it. In terms of artwork, it's not great – the drawing quality is passable.
But it was about a topic that lots of Malaysians could identify with. So in terms of impact, I'd say that was something quite substantial and more rewarding than any awards.
What are some of the challenges that you face as an illustrator?
The same as other people, I think – trying to get better at capturing movement, using line and shape better, likenesses, perspective, and fluidity. All so that I can convey the ideas in my head better. You will never be 100% satisfied with your work, and that's part of being an artist.
Other than drawing and illustrating, what other aspects of art interest you?
Video games. I think video games are the future of art; I love playing them, and the relationship between storytelling and visual art that games encapsulate so well. I also did a bit of 3D modelling in university and would like to get into sculpting so that I can understand forms better.
Article from the Sun daily by Pam Kaur (posted on 5th Nov 2015)
HER name is Amira Sachie Amar Kenji Abdullah and when she sings, you will be well pleased.
Inspired by her mother who used to sing as hobby, Sachie developed a deep sense of passion for music as a child, and she couldn't picture herself doing anything else. At 18, she decided to pursue her dream with the stage name Sachié Amira, backed by many life's struggles that taught her to never give up in anything.
Sachie is a budding young talent who has no qualms taking on the challenge of singing different music genres. The singer-songwriter of Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Malaysian descent doesn't limit herself because she believes in continuous learning to hone her skills.
Sachie, which means happiness, was christened by her Japanese father. The name couldn't be more fitting as this bubbly 23-year-old has so much zest for life!
Who are your biggest encouragers?
They are none other my family – my mother, father and grandmother.
Where do you draw inspirations to write songs?
I'm inspired by many different experiences in life. Some of the experiences I incorporate into my songs are based on relationships, public affairs such as political issues, which I share in a metaphor of love. My creative outlet is my room. I like to collect my thoughts in my room because it is where I most feel myself.
Who are some of the local artistes you have sung with?
I've yet to sing alongside a local artiste but I've been blessed to be able to do the opening show for Girls' Generation. Aside from that, I've sung backups for Ning Baizura and Datuk Siti Nurhaliza.
Given the chance, who would you do a duet with, and why?
Undoubtedly, it would be Beyoncé. I am a big fan of Beyoncé because I am inspired by how she manages her life and juggles her many roles as a woman. I'm also captivated by her strong vocals. To me, Beyoncé is perfect.
What are some of your views about today's music industry here in Malaysia?
I am really proud of it. The growth is constant I'm proud to see that there are many new elements to music, even though a lot of it are filtered. The local musicians are changing the course of our industry.There are many talented people here.
What are your hopes for the industry?
I hope that there would be more freedom and support. Local talents lack respect here. We are undervalued because of the mindset that foreign artistes are better than us, when actually we are quite good ourselves.
Could you share with us the dreams that you wish to achieve through music?
I wish to be recognised and respected here in Malaysia, to begin with. I do hope that I'd also be an internationally recognised artiste, and go on a world tour spreading love through my music.
Beauty with a heart
Article from the Sun daily by Jessica Chua (posted on 18th Nov 2015)
DESPITE completing her foundation in communication, Brynn Lovett had to sacrifice her tertiary education due to financial difficulties, to allow her twin sister Tracey to finish her diploma. Lovett, who hails from a singleparent household, recalled that "really tough" season.
"I was left with nothing to work with. It was very hard to get jobs, so I did what I could which was dancing. My father also trained my sister and I to swim, so I was able to teach at an academy in Bukit Jalil," shared the 22 year-old Sabahan.
Hence, Aug 29 is a day that she will never forget. With her new-found title as Miss Malaysia World 2015, Lovett has been devoting herself to the upcoming Miss World 2015 stage, and her Beauty With A Purpose project for the competition, Dance for Hope.
A tribute to her father who succumbed to cancer when she was 15, Dance for Hope is a charity competition that raises treatment funds for child cancer patients, in collaboration with the National Cancer Council Malaysia (MAKNA). "I'm going to teach and train a group of orphans for the dance competition. Dancing was one of the things that helped me cope with my father's passing. So I hope dancing can help them too," said Lovett.
"Even if I don't win the crown, I hope to continue my Beauty with a Purpose project here," she added.
Lovett is representing Malaysia at the Miss World 2015 final in Sanya, China on Dec 19.
What inspired you to join the Miss Malaysia World 2015 pageant?
Firstly, I would like to thank the organiser of Miss Malaysia World, Datuk Anna Lim for this opportunity. When I was young I used to watch beauty pageants with my dad and sister, and we would always guess the winner. My sister participated last year and told me how this is a great opportunity to gain more exposure. She also introduced me to her friends and connections, which inspired me to join this year.
How was the pageant experience?
We only had one week in the pageant – one week to train for public speaking, get to know the girls, and build your fitness, but it was a great experience. In such a short time, I got to make new friends which I love. Now many of them are helping me prepare for the Miss World competition.
What is your strategy in preparing for the Miss World final?
The general misconception is that all you need to do is look beautiful and that you will have a professional team to groom you for the pageant. But for Miss World, you're on your own. I'm aiming for the crown, and not just winning each segment like most girls are doing. So my strategy is to manage my time really well in the remaining weeks, and prepare myself physically and mentally.
What do you hope to achieve during your current reign as Miss Malaysia World?
I hope to change the perspective that you must be perfect all the time. I want people to know that you don't have to be perfect – you just have to be yourself, think positive and be happy. When you do that, the perfection will shine.
Where do you see yourself after the pageant?
I want to be a role model to kids, not just as Miss Malaysia World but as a representative of the people, and to do charity work around the world.
How would you encourage the young generation today?
Always chase your goals even when people say you can't do it or you've lost the battle. Do not believe what they say. Believe in yourself. Who knows? A miracle can happen at the very last minute.
Ethnicity: Murut and Australian
Subsidiary titles: Miss Fitness, Miss Talent and Miss Wacoal
Dance crews: La Bella Trio, Panic Crew, Chic Deluxe
Idols: Voices of the United Nations, Angelina Jolie, Emma Watson
Phobia: Public speaking
Article from the Sun daily by Pam Kaur (posted on 29th Oct 2015)
BEHIND the charming smile and athletic build is a man of many talents.
Throughout the week, Dinesh Gopalan Nair would hold haemostats and forceps, but he would switch them for make-up brushes when the weekends arrive. If he’s not busy dolling up clients, Dinesh can be found performing for events and television shows.
Dinesh’s exposure to make-up began 18 years ago when he was pursuing Bharatanatyam (classical Indian dance) professionally. Because performing often involves stage cosmetics, his talent in applying make-up developed simultaneously with his passion for dancing.
“The art of applying make-up came very naturally to me. I found the task very effortless and enjoyable,” said Dinesh.
With desires to hone his make-up skills, Dinesh signed up for short courses – after completing dental school – to gain an in-depth knowledge of make-up and its application techniques. In 2012, Dinesh decided to utilise his talents and founded bridal make-up service, BLUSH Beauty & Beyond with Hanujah Mageswaran, who’s also in the medical field.
Despite having deep fondness for make-up, he has no plans to ditch dentistry to pursue beauty full-time. “I love dentistry; it is a huge part of me. Right now, all three of my passions are rolled into one large ball because I like all three equally and I will keep them going,” Dinesh explained.
The 26-year-old shared that he is juggling his many passions with grace, and credited his ability to do so, to his family and Bharatanatyam tutor for being his greatest cheerleaders. “I owe it to (my tutor) Miss Sudha Sasikumar for it is because of her I began to admire a woman’s beauty. I must say, I was very much fascinatedby hers. She is simply elegant,” expressed Dinesh.
Dinesh dreams of having a nice, comfortable studio one day to better service his clients with different make-up looks.
What is your pet peeve when it comes to working with clients?
I have low tolerance towards facial hair, especially undone eyebrows because they are supposed to frame the eyes. I would ensure that the brides I work with at least get their eyebrows threaded. The beauty industry is very competitive.
How would you advise those who are passionate about make-up?
Firstly, it is very important to love what you do. Hanujah and I would often go the extra mile for our clients just to give them the best. I agree that there are many make-up artists out there but then, there are also many ladies who are getting hitched. You will never run out of business if you back passion with quality, persistence and building a good, memorable rapport with your client.
What is a good smile and how do you achieve it?
For a start, visit your dentist regularly. It will help to keep oral health in check, at least. However, a good smile comes from within. Make-up and teeth-fixing are superficial methods. It is how you feel inside that would earn you a flawless, genuine smile – something neither lipstick nor braces can fix.
Given a choice, which famous person would you like to work with?
Kim Kardashian because her eyes are perfect for the type of make-up I am known for. Aside from that, I think she has the ideal face to carry the glamorous look.
Any advice for everyday make-up users?
Pick make-up that would best suit the occasion you’re going to be attending. Always invest in good skincare, and please do not go to sleep with your make-up on.
Name five make-up essentials.
Lip balm, face mist, a good moisturiser, mascara and blotting powder or blotting papers.
Current read: The Magic by Rhonda Bryne
Make-up application playlist: R&B or Katy Perry
Go-to foundation brand: Chanel
Preferred java: Latte
Ready, set, action!!
Article from the Sun daily by Ong Kah Shin (posted on 13th Oct 2015)
JENVINE Ong was only 17 when she made her debut in a television commercial. The 25 year-old bagged the second runner-up title at the Miss Chinese Cosmos Southeast Asia pageant two years ago, and is now acting in local drama series and films.
Being a former state table tennis player who has a background in tae kwon do, Ong easily grasps martial art techniques, which explains her action-packed roles in films. "I go for Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) training for four hours, twice a week. I really enjoy learning new stunts," said Ong, who dreams of becoming a kung fu actress like Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh and starring in a Hollywood action film.
Armed with sheer perseverance after her degree, Ong decided to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in May 2014 and has been scoring straight A's in every semester despite her busy schedule. "It has been quite difficult as I have to juggle between modelling, acting, studying and managing my beauty salon. Passion and determination brought me this far," Ong added.
Ong also noted that modelling and acting have influenced her life and her philosophy of it.
"In the past, my thoughts are constrained in a box but now I am quite open to ideas. I also like to take on things that challenge my ability," said Ong who has developed interests in music, snowboarding, dancing, archery and cycling.
How do you prepare for a drama or film role?
I do a lot of research beforehand. In order to present MMA stunts, I look for videos online. Many of my friends in the wushu sport scene also offer me some help. Our national wushu champion Michael Chin taught me a lot of wushu stunts, and how to look good and fight great on TV.
What about acting challenges you?
Crying for a scene is hard for me but I always choose to believe I can do it. Losing weight is also a big challenge as I gain weight easily and cannot say no to food. I exercise regularly and struggle with my diet so I would look fit on TV.
How is acting rewarding for you?
My experience of playing different roles such as a murderer, doctor, police and forensic investigator has trained me to be versatile. It trains my willpower to challenge myself and continue exploring my potentials. I also gain access to an extensive network of people from different backgrounds.
What's next in the pipeline?
I would probably pursue a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) after my MBA. Doing my MBA has been promoting my holistic growth especially in presenting and communicating, which enhances my onstage performance. However, it really depends on my schedule as DBA would require my full attention. Career-wise, I would like to explore the market in China. I recently came back from joining a reality show in Beijing.
How would you advise an aspiring actor or model?
If you have the passion, go for it without thinking too much. Every industry has its own difficulties. In the beginning, my parents didn't support me but slowly they changed their mind after seeing me work hard. I never thought I would join the Miss Chinese Cosmos Southeast Asia pageant or pursue a MBA; but winning third prize in the pageant motivated me to keep striving. Never give up on your dreams.
Special Female Force (Hong Kong, 2014) and Ge Mei Lia (Malaysia, 2013)
Mind Game (Singapore, 2015) and Turning Point (Malaysia, 2015)
Maxis (2015) and SEGi University (2015)
In a digital daze
Article from the Sun daily by Yee Jie Min (posted on 8th Oct 2015)
WHAT did it take for Fazil Fuad, 27, to be at the top? The managing director of creative technology enterprise Company27 (C27) came up through the ranks from his breakthrough photography gig with Nike, but most importantly, he learnt how powerful visual language can be.
Fazil started as a junior art director for an advertising agency, but his venture into creative technology began when he was headhunted by Rocket Internet which founded Zalora.
This was where he grasped the utilisation of art in technology – from something as pure as photography, it became a matter of user experience and user interface design.
"Essentially, what I am interested in is how human beings interact with visuals, whether it is a photograph or screen. Human being interfacing has made its way into, and crafted a whole vision in my life and career," he said.
What did you learn?
When I was with Zalora, what was interesting was how fast it grew. I was in charge of the front-facing aspects of the website. One of the bigger parts of my job was studying how people interact with visuals. We uncovered a lot of things. We managed to track that shooting clothes on different models would sell to different market segments.
Caucasian models work very well in Malaysia, and my theory is that Malaysian consumers are very aspirational. It is not so much of wanting to wear that dress – they want to be that person.
Images sell your product; you don't even read the description. But whether this person is happy, or will return (to purchase again) comes from the description. The purchasing behaviour of people in general is 90% very skewed towards visual interfacing.
How is it different being a creative director and a managing director?
The CD role demands one to be constantly thinking out of the box – most of the time, leveraging on ideals as opposed to logical or financial restrictions. Basically, being the craziest person in the room.
As MD, I had to adjust to a more wholesome approach, balancing what is best for the client, and C27's business objectives. We have a pack of very talented people and it gives me the ability to move the company into the directions that we want.
I have many mentors, which I fall back on in a lot of things. But why this company is here, and why I am managing director, is relevance – the passion to keep up with things.
Right now, it is still very daunting. I look at myself as a creator who works with equally minded people who want to do cool things.
How do you define a leader?
To me, a leader is a good communicator. In any relationship, 90% why things fall through is because of the lack of communication. It has the most destructive power when it comes to breaking an organisation.
What is the future?
Everyone says privacy is dead but I disagree; I think the definition of privacy is evolving as we strive to live more efficient lives. There is some information you can't give out, but our tolerance towards the invasion of privacy will evolve.
I believe products of the future, and their user experience will be extremely curated. In that sense, one day we will be totally fine with giving out certain amounts of information in order for us to live more efficiently.
For example, I don't want to click three times to get the leather shoes I want. The platform should already know what I like and should only show me things that I will actually buy.
How do you keep up?
You don't have to keep up – the world makes sure you keep up. Everyone is bombarded by content every single day. Information is pushed towards you and you need to filter it yourself. To keep up with trends takes a lot of reading and experiencing, not so much of going out and getting it anymore.
The art of being Zen
Article from the Sun daily by Hanna Alkaf (posted on 21st Sep 2015)
ZEN Cho is not your average lawyer. The 29-year-old Malaysian, who lives in the UK, also happens to be the best-selling author of Spirits Abroad and the editor of Cyberpunk: Malaysia, both anthologies of short stories from local publisher Fixi Novo. And September will see the release of the much anticipated Sorcerer to the Crown, the first book of her fantasy trilogy set in Victorian London, under Ace Books in the US and Pan Macmillan in the UK.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yes. I think my family was a bit puzzled by it when I was young and doing all these weird things such as spending hours reading in the bathroom, and covering the computer screen whenever they passed by – I didn't like anyone seeing my works in progress, then or now. But they've been delighted about Spirits Abroad, Cyberpunk: Malaysia and Sorcerer to the Crown. I am very lucky. They're hugely supportive about writing and everything else, practically and emotionally.
How did you find and hone that distinct writing voice and style?
I did it by reading and writing a lot. One thing I did as a teenager was write pastiches: I'd write short stories in the style of, say, Rudyard Kipling or P. G. Wodehouse, just for the fun of it, and to see if I could.
The greatest single change since those days is that, while I still love pastiche, I've developed the courage to abandon it and write in my own voice for the stories that need it. But obviously that's a voice that contains echoes of all the things I've read and that have influenced me.
What inspires you when it comes to your writing?
I write primarily in two modes. One is fantasy in a Malaysian setting, or with Malaysian characters. The other is what I jokingly call fluff for post-colonial book nerds.
For the first type of story I'm generally inspired by things that happen in my life – it saves on research, because you just take an incident that actually happened and add some magic. The second mode is my outlet for my pastiche habit. I draw inspiration from the books I loved as a kid and teenager, but add dragons or spaceships.
As a Malaysian Chinese living in the UK, how has this juxtaposition of cultures affected you as a writer?
Living in between cultures – being this dislocated person – has shaped my work in all sorts of ways. With my view of fantasy in particular, I call my stories that feature Malaysian hantu and Chinese vampires "fantasy" because that's the market niche they seem to fit, but actually it is so natural to write of hantu as real because that's how you talk about them at home. I don't believe in hantu myself, but I'm a bit worried they might not care whether I believe in them or not. Maybe my stories aren't fantasy, but a version of realism incorporating a level of reality that isn't generally accepted by modern, Westernised people.
The local English literary scene has evolved a lot in recent years. What are some of the improvements you've seen, and what do you think we can do better?
Improvements are in bulk and visibility. There seem to be more writers than ever before,and we can connect with each other now thanks to the Internet. I think we're doing a lot of the right things in building community, supporting one another, continuing to write and improve our craft. One thing I would like to see is people reducing the extent to which they look West, and figuring out different forms of validation and ways to get their stories out there, other than the standard US/UK publishing deal.
Would you ever give up being a lawyer to concentrate solely on writing?
Maybe. I can see circumstances in which it would not be possible to maintain the two careers anymore, and I'd have to choose one, though honestly writing might not even be the choice. (I'll always write, but publishing is an uncertain industry.) It would be a shame to give up law altogether, though. I take a lot of pride in my job and I think being a lawyer has actually made me a better author, and vice versa.