I met Lydia for the first time when I attended a ‘Meet the Author’ Session for her book, Life’s Like That – Scenes from Malaysian Life. This must have been about three years ago now. Since then, we’ve kept in touch and I often visit her blog. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you Lydia Teh …
Aneeta: Lydia, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Lydia : Thank you for allowing me to blow my trumpet.
Aneeta: Let us begin, as usual, with some personal information about you. Tell me, please, where you live, a little about your family and so on.
Lydia: I’m a housewife-writer. My husband is in the IT line, so I don’t have to worry about fixing the computer at home. In fact, my children are more adept at handling the computer and gadgets than I am. They are aged 16, 15, 9 and 5. They already know by now that anything they say and do can be used as grist for my mill. If there is something they don’t want me to write or blog about, they’ll have to tell me so.
Aneeta: What did you do before you ventured into the writing scene?
Lydia: I worked as a clerk, a secretary, an encyclopaedia sales rep and an admin assistant on flexi-hours. In 1992 I resigned from my full-time job as Executive Secretary in a manufacturing company to stay home with the kids, then aged 1 and 2.
Aneeta: How did you get into writing?
Lydia: My English teacher used to read out my essays in class and I did quite well in Malay compositions too. My essay in a Bahasa Malaysia test was reproduced in the school magazine. I suppose that was when the desire to write was first stoked but I didn’t do anything about it until I enrolled in a correspondence course in writing. I needed something to kick-start the writing engine.
Aneeta: Let’s get into your books proper. Tell me about each one of them.
1. Congratulations! You have won – A guidebook on how to maximize your chances of winning competitions was published by Malita Jaya Sdn Bhd in 2001. Some people thought I’d laugh all the way to the bank – with my prize winning and royalties for the book. I’m still not laughing. But I’m smiling because God has blessed me with more than what I need. Though the book didn’t sell well, I’m gratified that some readers wrote to tell me how my book has helped them win contests. I’m particularly touched by a reader who wrote to tell me that my book has changed her quality of life. Though that reader has now won more and better prizes than I’ve ever won before, I feel warm and fuzzy knowing that my book was the catalyst of change.
2. Life’s Like That – Scenes from Malaysian Life was published by Pelanduk Publications Sdn Bhd in 2004. This is a compilation of articles written over a ten-year period, beginning sporadically in 1995 and gaining momentum in 2003. I am very encouraged by the readers who took the trouble to write in to say how they much enjoyed the book.
3. Honk If You’re Malaysian will be launched this month. It is published by MPH Group Publishing Sdn Bhd. My editor, Eric Forbes, encouraged me to work on this as a sequel to Life’s Like That. Books like these are evergreen, there’ll always be a demand for them, he said. So I put aside the novel I was working on and concentrated on getting this book out.
Aneeta: What was the one element of the writing and publishing process in Malaysia that you found most difficult to deal with and how did you overcome this?
Lydia: The biggest problem for me is the lack of writing glue. If I sit down at the computer to write, I get distracted by email, surfing for information, blogging or fiddling around with the stuff in my computer. If I sit down with pen and paper, I may end up sorting the papers on my desk, doing a spot of filing or grabbing a book to read. I need pots of glue to make my fingers stick to the pen or keyboard for the sole purpose of writing.
There are many publishers in Malaysia who are interested in well-written books on non-fiction. Unlike in the west where publishers prefer to see a book proposal first, local publishers want the manuscript in its entirety. Therefore it behooves the writer to do his homework to ensure that his topic is marketable to publishers before embarking on the writing project.
Having worked with three different publishers, I’d have to say that patience is a prerequisite if you seek to be published traditionally. The publishing process has just started once your manuscript is accepted for publication. And don’t think you’ve seen the last of your manuscript yet. Though you’ve probably rewritten and revised your work five or six times before submission, you must be prepared to go another couple of rounds more.
Aneeta: As you know, this website caters for storytellers. What specific advice do you have for storytellers?
Lydia : No matter how bad a story is, don’t chuck it just yet. You’ll be able to make it sing if you work at it some more. For example, in Honk! If You’re Malaysian, there’s a story titled Facial Torture Chamber which I first wrote nine years ago. Somehow I couldn’t get it down pat, so it languished in my computer for a long time. When I started compiling articles for the book, I pulled out the story and revised it till it’s fit to see the light of day.
Aneeta: Lydia, I have come to the end of my series of questions. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Lydia : Writers must be hungry. If you can write but you don’t hunger to write, you won’t write. To succeed as a writer – and this doesn’t necessarily mean raking in the big bucks like J.K. Rowling – you’ve got to be hungry.
Aneeta: Thank you, Lydia.
Lydia: It’s my pleasure.
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