How To Tell A Great Story Great StoryTelling Network Newsletter
Volume 16, Issue 5 – 15 May 2020

YouTube Channel

* We Mark Your Memory: Writing from Descendants of Indenture (which has an edited version of Chapter 9 of my novel, The Age of Smiling Secrets) is still a best-seller throughout the Commonwealth and here’s a video about the journey the book has made so far:


I trust that you’re keeping safe during this COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps, you’ll enjoy reading the heartwarming story Seema shares about ‘Duchess’ who started out life as ‘the dumped dog’. 

Here in Malaysia, we’ve now entered the third month of a ‘Movement Control Order’ . During this time, I’ve discovered the benefits and disadvantages of doing more and more things online. 

One of the novel things we did was to attend a virtual online of a book launch. This was for ‘Disorientation’ by V J Singam. I interviewed her for this newsletter two editions ago. The experience was similar to other booklaunches and as interesting as ever. 

Then, like many others, I signed up for an online course. It was one related to Shakespeare’s life and the world he lived in. The learning has been fun but the experience has left me frustrated. Yes, I can learn stuff in my own time and there’s access to the wealth of information at my fingertips. However, there was a glitch in the system which doesn’t allow me to complete the course even though I’ve done all that is necessary. I wrote to Customer Services, but it took 7 days to receive a reply which didn’t solve the problem. I now wait for another 7 days for the second round of possible solutions. Had this been at a college/university, I would have simply spoken to the lecturer and this would have been sorted out.

The online-offline debate also permeated the publishing industry in a big way. Here’s what’s happened to me in a chronological order. In January, the distributor for The Age of Smiling Secrets returned the books because ‘there was no more space in our warehouse and we’re moving to a digital business model’. I gathered that this meant that, in future, they were focusing more on eBooks rather than print copies because ‘everyone is reading things online and via Kindle’.

Malaysians have a particular problem with Kindle because allows us to buy stuff, but not Kindle eBooks (this is a story all on its own). So, Malaysian authors will have their books on but not know how it looks or reads. This is precisely why I’ve never seen what The Age of Smiling Secrets looks like on Kindle. 

Nonetheless, jumping on the eBook bandwagon, I did some housekeeping and got all the options for the book sorted. By March, this pandemic happened. Initially, more Kindle copies were being downloaded. By April, more people were ordering the print copies of the novel – both from and directly from me. 

By early May, I read a story on the internet that and other distributors were struggling to fulfil orders for print copies of the books. This means that all over the world, people still prefer actual copies of books. So, this revolution where we do away with books and focus only on eBooks hasn’t happened.

Therefore, in future, when approaching publishers, authors should insist that the terms of their contracts relate to eBooks and options for print on demand. It’s an exciting way to do business in a traditional industry.  What do you think? Do you prefer reading only eBooks or print books? If you’re an author, what terms would you negotiate with publishers to secure a publishing contract that is favourable to you? What would you like to have happen in future? Let me know by sending an email to

Stay safe. Happy storytelling.

Aneeta Sundararaj

comPETability – Whisper of Love by Seema Subash
Even at four months of age, anyone could see that she was no ordinary dog, IF they looked beyond everything that WAS ordinary about her and looked into her eyes. She had already seen too much for a puppy that young. It was like her heart was already broken, but until her body broke, too, she would still need to feed it. But her eyes were there for everyone to look into – a peculiar mix of sadness tinged with a tiny sliver of the gigantic love she was so capable of giving and yearning to receive. She just didn’t understand why it had to be this way. This is the rags to riches story of the one we shall, for now, call ‘the dumped dog’.

Rescuers (who are also sometimes active feeders) first spotted the dumped dog in March 2018 in Klang, about 30km south of Kuala Lumpur. She was estimated at around four months old and had been seen wandering around alone and frightened. Most street puppies that age still have that puppy innocence in their eyes. But not the dumped dog. She was most certainly an old soul.

Rescuers continued feeding the dumped dog every day in an effort to not only keep her alive but to eventually gain her trust so that their eventual ‘catching’ would be a smooth process for both the catcher and the dog. And because street pups tend to come and go on their own schedule, assigning the right time for the catcher to be present is a constant work in progress.

Nevertheless, getting the dumped dog off the streets was not just an exercise in animal rescue, it was also a case of life and death. Despite being recognised yet undisturbed by daily passers-by at her usual Shell petrol station in Klang, it was only a matter of time before freedom ran out. If Duchess was caught by the town-council assigned third-party street dog catchers, she would become another statistic on a report card of death row dogs. Nonetheless, with the help of an experienced ‘independent dog catcher’, she was ‘caught’ and promptly transported to the vet for a check-up. The vet kept her in his boarding area until we arrived.

When it comes to humans, dogs need two vital connections – love and trust. A dog that experiences the lack of both connections with humans, it can take a long time to develop them again. Dog-catching is one activity that if done without these connections, will leave long-lasting negative effects. All it takes is one bad experience. She experienced several consecutive traumatic human connections – life as a street dog, her misunderstood-catching, emotionally detached vet attendants – and these are only the ones we know of. This is where The ‘ALIVE’ Project came in.

The rescuers had asked us to foster the dumped dog under our sponsorship programme. We agreed and went to the vets. As David followed the vet attendant into the boarding area, his heart broke a little when he saw the dumped dog. There were cages of dogs stacked one on top of the other. Dogs in the lower cages were drenched in the piss of the dogs in the upper cages. All of them were cowering and barking in this unfamiliar territory. The vet attendants were cold, flippant and more interested furry poodles that were, no doubt, paying customers.

“It’s ok, you’re coming home with us,” he whispered in the ears of the dumped dog as he carried her out the cage. In that short journey to the car parked outside, the puppy pissed all over him. I often wonder if this was in fear or relief.

That evening we named the dumped dog. She was graceful, soft and fluid in her movements, a street dog that seemed like she belonged in a castle, like a duchess. That’s was it. Her name would henceforth be ‘Duchess’.

Much damage, however, was already done. Duchess refused to come close, never allowing us to touch her. She seemed eager and curious, but her eyes displayed deep-rooted mistrust. So we gave her some space and watched as she was welcomed warmly by the pack at home, who provided that added assurance that she was in a safe place.

It was wonderful to witness what was happening. Duchess soon discovered what if felt like to be the one protected and watched over, the one who didn’t have to be ‘big sister’ because Christmas, one of our rescues who is also our self-appointed farm perimeter ‘watchdog’ took Duchess under her paw. Duchess became her ‘little sister’ and accompanied Christmas, taking long walks around the outskirts of our acre, looking out for and chasing unwelcomed visitors and most annoying of all to Christmas, the herds of cow and buffalo who like to graze around our farm. Slowly, her eyes getting softer by the day, her body language going from jumpy and startled to alert and observant.

I could sense their thoughts. I’ll get to know these humans soon enough.  And Christmas would respond, They just want to love us. Duchess would give one wag of her tail. I’d like that.

You see, Duchess and I had something going. Every time I gazed into her eyes and whispered her name, they sparkled. She took one step closer. Only one. “Trust me, Duchess. I got you,” I would say each time. This continued until, one day, we were close enough and she licked my nose. I picked her up and took her to have her first bath together.

I’ve learnt to say her name in a particular way. It’s not a whisper,  I whispered her name again, in the way that she loves that makes her run to me and kiss me and beg to be cuddled, and she looked at me with those deep dark eyes as if to say, Please love me like I will ALWAYS love you. I knew that she knew she was indeed finally home.

Now that she looks forward to a happy life, the quirky side of her has emerged. You can’t simply say, “Duchess,” to get a response. Sure, she’ll come to you. But, to get that look of love, you need to do a little more. You need to say her name in a forced whisper that sounds like Macy Gray and lengthen the ‘hessssss’; so, it goes like this: “Duchessssssssssssssss.” Once is enough. She’ll melt for she understands that yours is a whisper of love.

Seema Subash
(15 May 2020)

[Please contact Seema by phone at +60 16 236 3197 or send an email to Seema.alive@gmail.comn if you’d like to be involved in The ALIVE Project‘s sponsorship programme.]

Click here to read more stories about comPETability

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