Friday, April 30, 2010

Repost Friday: Sofa Wars

This repost is from 27th March 2007.  Feels like it was yesterday!

Sofa Wars

The undeclared battle between Au and I over the office chair continues. And we’ve taken the fight downstairs.

We have the standard suite: a single, 2 seater and 3 seater set. Usually, Tom has the long sofa while I lounge on the 2 seater (It’s closer to the idiot box and I’m blind as a bat).

Scoop and Au claim the end of the long sofa whenever they like, hang out on their rug, or sit on the stairs, peering down on us like little fuzzy gods. Scoop sometimes sits on us and he also has his own circular stool by the door.

Au is often busy with his newspaper stack under the coffee table, so he’s mostly at toe level for the evening. If he wants a seat, he commands the single seater sofa chair or lies at the end of the long sofa. He's a cat who likes his space, so we don't expect him to sit on top of us.
posession is 9 
10th of the law
But for the last few nights, I have only to leave my seat for a second, and Au hops up and takes possession of my place. He lies slap bang in the middle, ears back, daring me to move him off. First come, first served, he says with his eyes. Shove off somewhere else.

I'm bigger but he's playing politics. Au has maneuvered himself into the position of the underdog. If I pick him up and shift him, I'm a big bully.

I’m telling you: the standoffs are tenser than those in the cold war.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review Thursday: Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology

Body 2 Body: A Malaysian Queer Anthology
Jerome Kugan (Author, Editor), Pang Khee Teik (Author, Editor)
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Matahari Books 2009
ISBN-10: 9834359691
ISBN-13: 978-9834359690
Price: RM34 (Malaysia)/ S$22 (Singapore)/ $20 (Amazon)

Usually I avoid story collections that promote a particular cause.  Generally speaking, I find activist writing dull, dreary and dogmatic.  I bought this book solely because I am appalled at the demonisation of gay people in Malaysia. 

Having made my protest buy, I chucked it in the back of the car, and tried to think of a friend who might enjoy reading it. 

Fate intervened (in rather a nasty way!) when Target, my little cat, dislocated his paw.  We rushed across to the other side of Peninsular Malaysia to see a specialist, and while Target was being treated, I sat and chewed my nails in a nearby coffee shop - and found that Body 2 Body was the only book in the car.

Let me say this: if you want to buy someone a present, this is a really good choice.  The writing is excellent.  There isn't a whiny, officious, or instructive story in it.  Body 2 Body is unusual in that all the stories are first class.  Having read it 5 months ago, I still remember each one in detail - and that's good writing.

My favourites are The Wives Story by Tan May Lee that peeks inside a polygamous Muslim marriage (not, it's NOT about abuse and male domination!) and Monsoon Massage by Paul GnanaSelvam (a story about absolutely nothing in the style of Somerset Maugham; in other words superb, classic, insightful) and What Do Gay People Eat? by Brian Gomez (because it made me laugh but it is also oh-so-true!).

Really, buy this book.  You're going to love it. It's available in various Malaysian bookshops like Kinokunya, Times and Silverfish and is also on   To read the first chapter free, visit What Do Gay People Eat? by Brian Gomez

I've been reading so many great books recently, that I've decided to start reviewing them on Thursdays. Reviews are personal; fell free to jump in with comments that disagree. If you want your book reviewed, email me at katztales AT, OK?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

COT: Target is Comfy

Target is in bed, having a blast. 

I want to live like Target does.  No responsibility, just fun and love and indulgence.

Don't you?

For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: How To Get Published

Bookaholic asked last week, "How do you approach a publisher to print your story? Before sending your stories (like what you mentioned), do you send a manuscript first? Next question, what exactly is a 'manuscript'? What should it include?"

I'll answer the first two questions today, and the other two next week.

First, publishers in the UK or USA usually only deal with agents.  If you want to talk to one of the few who do lower themselves to talk to scrubby authors, the best thing is to hit the Net.

Check the publisher's web pages and look for a tab that says Contact, Submissions, Manuscripts, Authors or similar to find a suitable email or postal address.

At this place you will also find information on how they want you to send in your manuscript.  Some want the whole thing via email, some want the first three chapters by snail mail, some want a mere outline first.  Just follow instructions.

NOTE: These people are busy!  If you don't submit your work just as they like it, they'll delete it without even looking at it.  There are millions of wanna-be writers, and a limited amount of publishers, so they hold the whip hand.  If you want to play, you have to follow their rules. 

Singapore's Book Council is useful because it has a list of local publishers, many of whom also work in Malaysia.

If there is no information, or no web site, for the people you want to talk to, you'll need to hit the books.

In Malaysia you can check the Media Planning Guide Malaysia from Perception Media. It sells at RM60 in big bookshops.

For international listings, you'll have to buy something like Writer's Market (from the US) or the Writer's Handbook (from the UK).  These are available in big bookshops and from and  I think I paid about RM200 for each.

There are other titles you might want to check out, especially for China and other markets but as I haven't used these, I can't comment.

Now, agents often don't bother to respond but in my experience publishers always do.  If you approach a publisher abroad, you should hear back within 6 to 8 months.  With local publishers you can expect an answer in 2 or 3 months tops.


Next week: top tips for top proposals and manuscripts.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Repost Friday: Office Chair Kitty

This post is from 22nd March 2007. NOTHING HAS CHANGED!

Office Chair Kitty

Au on the office 
Au and I are having a tussle over the office chair. When I go into the office to switch on the PC first thing in the morning, Au is firmly ensconced in his seat. Ears back, he'll glare at me as if to dare me to move him.

I leave him be and go downstairs to make coffee while the PC boots. While I'm gone Au rolls onto his back and hooks a claw into the fabric of the chair. By the time I get back upstairs he's lying there, pretending to be fast asleep.

Au usually gets his own way. If he wants a sofa spot, I’ll sit somewhere else. If he is in bed first, I'm willing to curl around him. But work is different. "Someone," I tell him sternly every day, "has to earn the cat biscuits. And unless you start typing, you’ll have to give way on the seat."

When I pick him up to move him to the bedroom, Au whimpers, sticks another claw into the chair, and pretends he's wounded to the core.

Cats! They're so histrionic!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Review Thursday: Myths And Legends Of Malaysia And Singapore

Myths And Legends Of Malaysia And Singapore
Compiled & Edited by Ralph Modder & Aeishah Ahmed
Paperback: 129 pages
Publisher: Horizon Books 2009
ISBN: 9789810831004
Price: SGD 15.00 (w/o GST) and RM35

I got hooked on myths and legends in kindergarten when our teacher, Mrs Schaap, read us Tales of Odysseus, a kiddy version of Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey. Having collected stories from all over the world ever since, I was delighted when Steve handed me this little book.

Malaysia and Singapore have some really good tales, but they tend to be relatively unknown abroad. It always amazes me that very few people outside the region have heard of the clever mousedeer, Sang Kancil, the trickster of Sarawakian tales. He should be a classic like the fox of European folk tales.

Anyhow, this selection of myths and legends of Sarawak, Sabah, West Malaysia and Singapore contains some great stories.  I have 3 favourites in this collection, but I can’t decide which I like best: the gloriously bloody Assassination of Sultan Mahmud Shah, the classic Ungrateful Crocodile or the tragic tale of Mashuri, the innocent princess who was accused of adultery and killed.

The one thing that’s a little disconcerting about this book is that there are abrupt changes of style. Some like Mashuri are told in the classic style of Scheherazade. I find these stories fantastic. Others like Melaka’s Magic Well and The Gawai Rice Festival summarise various legends in an academic style much like you might read on touristy backgrounder brochures. These bits don’t grip me.

All in all it’s an interesting little book. If you don’t know anything about legends from this part of the world, it’s worth a read.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

COT: Pills And Grubby Ears

Living in a tropical country like Malaysia means that even tiny cuts tend to fester.

Au had an infected cut (it was tiny!!!) a fortnight ago which became infected.  It retreated with medication. However, last week his lymph nodes were a bit swollen so we suspected lingering infection.  The vet prescribed a shot and a short course of pills.

Because we caught it early, it was no big deal.  The day after his trip to the vet, Au was fine again.  In fact, the pills seem to have stimulated his energy AND his appetite. 

He's been racing about, stuffing his face with "rost chikkun" and causing all sorts of trouble.  He trashed the boxes in the utility room, and turned over the laundry basket out of sheer devilry.  And he's asked for extra meals, extra treats and been super cuddly to boot.

Au's pills run out today so we're hoping that everything stays fine.  

Here he is, looking handsome - except for his ears which are grubby.  It's not mites or bugs.  It's either ear wax or he's sticking them into the storm drain.  I clean them regularly with a swipe of corn oil.  Au hates the feeling but oil is better than soap.

Anyone else have a cat with grubby ears?

For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: Hurt Me!

One of the hardest things to get as a writer is honest, constructive criticism.  People worry they'll hurt your feelings but I say, HURT ME!

Without criticism you can't grow.  And when it comes to trying to flog books, you need all the input you can get because rejection letters very seldom say why you are rejected.  It could be that the agent/publisher is not taking on new clients, or that they don't want to deal with someone who doesn't live in their country, or they aren't covering your kind of romance market, or half a dozen other reasons.  Maybe they think your book sucks.  The thing is, you don't know!  And in case it's your writing that's not up to speed, criticism is vital.

I'm now writing some fiction (romance! 2 finished, 1 almost).  I've contacted about 30 agents.  About 20 simply haven't replied.  A handful said they don't want new clients.  Two have asked to see my work.  One said she would take me if I lived in the USA (Grrr!!!).  So I know my stuff passes muster.  Now I need to know what I can do to make it good enough for people to take me on even though I live in Malaysia.

You'd think everyone would be happy to critique romance, right?  Unfortunately not.  Some friends who are romance addicts just raved over the two novels I showed them.  That's nice but it's not useful.

I'm pretty lucky in that my brother is forthright - and willing to read whatever I send over.  He gave me some useful tips and said he thought it was marketable but he is not really my target audience.  So I was really chuffed when my pal and ardent romance reader Ei-Leen volunteered and sent me a detailed email with comments for one of the books.

Bottom line: Ei-Leen thinks I need to nasty up my hero a little.  Also, she wants more conflict between him and the heroine.  It's do-able and I'm thinking of ways and means.  However, I have a problem.

I've finally got a UK publisher looking at both finished books and the unfinished one so this is not a good time to start messing about with the products.  Therefore, I'm going to wait until I hear back from her.

If the publisher is interested in the stories as is, that's cool.  (I'm kidding her.  It would be FANTASTIC!!!)  If she agrees with Ei-Leen and wants one or more of the books tweaked, then I'm in a good spot as I'm already considering how.

If the publisher says no, then I make changes and try someone else.

Any way you look at it, I'm moving forward.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Repost Friday: That's Purr-Fect!

This repost is from 26th May 2007. By the way, Dog Talk is out tomorrow in The Star Weekender section, print version only!

That's Purr-Fect!

Au is in the Star today, having the back of his neck rubbed.

At the moment the little fluff is flat out on the sofa, enjoying a light snooze before lunch.

But the clouds are gathering and if it's anything like yesterday, we're in for a spectacular thunder and lightening storm.

As Au is a bit of a coward about noise, that will send him straight under the bed.

Apparently lightening doesn't strike there!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Review Thursday: Malaysian Food by Norman Musa

I've been reading so many great books recently, that I've decided to start reviewing them on Thursdays. Reviews are personal; fell free to jump in with comments that disagree.

Malaysian Food
By Norman Musa
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Ning Limited; 1st edition (9 Oct 2009)
ISBN-10: 0956377203
ISBN-13: 978-0956377203
Price: RM69 or UK £19.95

This book is available in MPH, Times, Popular, Kino and other bookshops in Malaysia. I hear it is available in the UK.  It is also listed on

I don’t know anybody so in case you’re oblivious to the social pages too, you should know that Norman Musa is a Malaysian chef at the Ning Restaurant in Manchester, UK. He was nominated Manchester's Chef of the Year 2009, and he was also made chef to the Malaysian-owned Lotus Racing team.

Norman has now written his own cookbook, Malaysian Food.

First thing: it’s pretty! The paper is thick and glossy. The pictures are stunning. It’s one of those books you can just sit and touch and be happy about.

Second thing: the book assumes you don’t know that much about Malaysian cooking. Presumably that’s because the author works in the UK, but it also means it’s really handy for those locals who’ve been brought up by mummy and the maid and whose idea of haute cuisine is Maggie Mee Instant Noodles.

The recipes are easy to follow and comprehensive.  It's one of the few Malaysian cookbooks I've seen that tells you exactly how to pre-soak your fresh noodles and other stuff many cooks think  everybody already knows and that most people don't.

Also, each recipe has a little intro, some of which are family tales, and others that are filled with useful tips such as adding carrots and green beans to the Stir Fried Turmeric Prawns for colour.

Norman Musa also peppers the book with anecdotes and pictures of wet markets, pasar malams, and other icons of daily life in Malaysia.

In short, every cook will love this book. It’s also a great gift for people who want to learn to cook, for people who are leaving Malaysia, and for people you want to introduce to Malaysia.

My only criticism: the recipes advocate too much sugar! I know it’s commonplace to drown everything from curry to satey in sugar in Malaysia but I favour a more oldfashioned (or maybe Indonesian?) style that’s less sweet. I’m going to use this book for years, but for me it’s kurang gula!

If you want your book reviewed, email me at katztales AT, OK?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

COT: Tough Kitty In The 'Hood

This is Target doing his best Sonny Corleone "What are YOU Looking at?" impression. 

Our little scaredy-cat is getting tough.  He's yelling at a stray cat that's trying to come into our garden, and blowing up like a puffer fish to show how big and tall he is.  

I'm reminding him of the value of peace and goodwill but I'm not sure it's getting through.  Here's hoping our little Target will regain his serenity soon.

Hey listen, since we've reworked the look, we've discovered the Follow button!  If you want to keep in touch with updates, please scroll down our menu on the right and click the Follow button.  We're adding everyone like mad but if we've missed you, drop us a note in the comment box, OK?

For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: What Sells In Malaysia?

Curious to know the state of the book market in Malaysia? Eric Forbes, Senior Editor at MPH, shares his thoughts...

Q: As a publisher, what sort of books do you think will sell well in Malaysia in the next few years?

A: There is obviously a bigger market for Malay and Chinese books compared to English books in Malaysia. So it really depends on how comfortable you are with the language you prefer to work with. Malay fiction sells rather well. Health, language and anecdotal stuff in general will always be relevant and sell well in the Malaysian market.

There's not much range in contemporary Malaysian writing. Malaysian writers tend to write the same stuff again and again: how to make a million bucks and live the good life, using feng shui to enrich one's coffers, self-improvement, biographies, etc.

Our current range is limited; though we have lots of cultural, historical, educational, lifestyle and anecdotal stuff, there's somehow still a shortfall in depth.

There's not much good local fiction simply because local writers lack the skill to write good fiction. There are also not enough good essay collections. Also, imported fiction is dime a dozen in Malaysian bookshops.

However, there's more money to be made in nonfiction than fiction in Malaysia. Malaysian writers therefore tend to write more nonfiction. Having said that, there's still a lack of depth in the kind of nonfiction that is being written by Malaysian writers; they need to do more in-depth research and articulate their opinions and thoughts more coherently and intelligently.

However, most of them tend to be rather good in anecdotal nonfiction. There's nothing wrong with that, though the reason for that is obvious: many of them cut their teeth by writing for the papers, either as contributors or columnists.

There are not many avenues for creative writing in English in Malaysia. I am talking about the English magazines and newspapers here. Fiction is not exactly encouraged. Off the Edge magazine does publish short stories once in a while-no fault of theirs, since there are not many good stories to choose from.

Nonfiction rules the day. Many of these writers hone their writing skills through writing nonfiction that is grounded in reality. We have been and are still at the budding stage in the writing of fiction despite the passage of years.

The Malaysian readership is skewed towards nonfiction and if you write nonfiction you will always have a small but consistent readership.

But then quality is entirely another matter. We must nurture good writers. Many of them have proved that they are capable of writing a full-length book. It is really up to them where they want to go next.

Eric also blogs. Visit Eric Forbes's Book Addict's Guide To Good Books

Friday, April 09, 2010

Repost Friday: Salty Language

This repost is from Thursday 24th May 2007. If you like it, you can check out more about my book Logomania that is on sale now. (talk about sneak advertising, huh?)

Logomania: Salty Language

The Star has published my latest Logomania column: Salty Language an article discussing origin and use of phrases such as To take something with a pinch of salt, To rub salt into the wound, To be worth one’s salt and more.
Comments, brickbats, comments on where to find better etymological sources etc welcome...

The guy on the far left is Ferdinand Magellan, the old salt who set off to sail around the world. He was the first person to lead an expedition sailing westward from Europe to Asia and to cross the Pacific Ocean but he died in the Philippines in 1521 but his crew made it back under the charge of Juan SebastiƔn Elcano, the man with the fancy feathery hat.

I like sailing but the idea of setting off across an unknown (and possibly unending!) ocean with just a packet of biscuits and a motley crew is not my cup of tea.

If you're interested in reading more than the Wikipedia articles linked to above, a good start is Eyewitness History.

PS The Magellan pic is an anonymous work of art from 16th or 17th century now part of The Mariner's Museum Collection, USA and the Elcano pic is a line drawing by J. Donon in 1854, now part of the Royal Spanish Navy collection (Historia de la Marina Real EspaƱola).

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

COT: All Splashed Out

Target just looooves to cuddle!  Here he is, all splashed out on top of me.  He can stay this way for hours, especially if I squizzle his tailbone.  Talk about relaxed, right?

For more cats, check out Gattina's Cats on Tuesday.

If you want to keep in touch with updates, here are some simple ways:  
Follow Au on Twitter

Follow Ellen on Facebook

Monday, April 05, 2010

Monday Writers Craft Online: How To Be A Book Reviewer

I'm always amazed by how industrious and enthusiastic book reviewers are, so when on 14 March 2010 Hooked On Bookz gave me (sorry, Au and Target!) some great publicity with a Review of Katz Tales by Ellen Whyte and an Interview with Ellen Whyte I just had to ask her how she got started.   Jee Wan agreed to be this week's Monday Writers Craft Online guest blogger and answered this question:

Thank you, Ellen for giving me the opportunity to guest blog. To answer your question as to how started, let me first introduce myself. I am a book-obsessed person, as in, I love reading, wrapping (yes, wrapping), buying (my husband says I should see a doctor about this) and hoarding (and this too) them. But I have never thought of having a book blog (Duh, right?).

It all started when I was working with a health magazine a few years back, which had a column for book reviews, and that was when I met Kavita, the marketing person for Pansing. Meeting new friends in life is great, but nothing beats meeting another bookaholic! After a few bookish chats, we formed a strong bookish bond and continued our bookish relationship even after I left the magazine. During one of our chats, she suggested that I set up a blog for books, and I thought it was a brilliant idea.

After setting up, Kavita continued feeding me with books, as I continued reviewing and blogging, and feeding myself with more books at sales and fairs. I was also given the opportunity to meet, interview and chat with authors from around the world, thanks to the people at Pansing for arranging them for me. But sometimes, I'd have to do it on my own and I've learnt that not all interview requests will be entertained. Nevertheless, that never stopped me from trying.

I never knew how to market my blog, and only recently thought of posting up my reviews on Facebook and Twitter after getting a request from one of my readers. My reviews are usually short and simple (Slightly longer ones for the books I enjoyed reading J), but usually, I keep it at not more than 400 words. Besides reviewing books, I also post up news and stories on books; book sales and events; interesting or entertaining videos, and bookish stuff I come across in the papers or Internet. 

Go visit Jee Wan's blog and take a look: it's great!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Au Speaks Out: Dissiplin, Dat's De Thing

it has bin a furry busy month.  first dere was dis whole boris thing.  he hung about and stole my biskuts and stuff. 

den dere was dis klaw in my face.  It got all infektud.  i was showing de feemale survunt how brave i am and what did she doo?  she took me to the VET!!!!

yes i am suffering a lot.  but i haf also been furry klever.  i now haf al de food i wnat, and treats, and games.  it is all bekos of dissiplin.  i will tell you my sekret.

de sekret is in de tayul tail.  wen your survunt is reely, reely bad, you haf to show dem de tayul.  turn you bak on dem.  flik your tayul to show you are NOT HAPPEEE.  don't spik.  don't look.  not even when they show you chikkun (iff you are reely hungry  you kan shut your eyes while you choow den it doesunt kount)

dey will get the messsage and do what you want.   it always wurks.

like boris.  i complayned and complayned about boris and NUTFFING but when i showed my tayul de feemale finally got rid of him.   he's a lap cat now in sum teacher's house.  Didn't know he could swim, but all i can say is he deserves what he gets.  HAH!

and dat VET thing works fur me too bekos i showd hur de tayul after we kame home.  den de feemale survunt felt guiltee and gave me treats.  also furry humbol apologees.

now i take my medisin efurry day, and den aftur i hiss a little big and flik my tayul and she is all, sorry Au meow (she is furry soppy) you are sutch a good boy to take your medisin.  how about some chikkun?  Den i sulk for a long time like too sekkunds and den i get a treat.  if i sulk for too minutes i can get her to bring me treats to my upstairs bocks.  honest.

hehehe, i am a klevur kat!