The Mythogenetic Grove

Author Archive

[poetry]: Interrogate Me

by on Dec.18, 2016, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris

if i am locked in stasis
like the pose of some ancient dancer
preserved in a jellied womb
lucent like amber glows
am i still the dance?
fingers will not tingle
bloodstream clogged with worries
and doubt–is this the moment the dancer
separates and becomes waxwork
– a representation of her art?
who divides?
{questioner and the questor}
what dissects?
{answer from the interrogator}
are you the unresolved yearning of
the ultimate eroticist for diversion
or mystic desiring one-ness with the slurry
of Universal harmonics?

You seek to re-create me, but is it rather
my destruction that you desire?
Pull me into the tabernacle of your quest(ion)ings
you can attempt to pry
apart the skins that hold me close —
I feel fingers along every fibre of those
protective coverings, trying to penetrate
the interior. Sometimes a dirt-encrusted
nail reaches within only to encounter resistances
of bloodstream, body, and mind.

Automatic pilot activates the spooling of programmed
answers while they drive in another
stainless steel nail to unearth obscure
treasure from the wreckage of experience.

The hunt is the head of the serpent
the hunted is the tail
watch me swallow myself whole
watch me swallow myself whole.
(11 August 2003)

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[poetry]: Between Stillness and the Dance

by on Dec.14, 2016, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris 2004-2016

Oyster furled liminalities,
the grip of Baubo trembling laughter
in Demeter’s wake of grief.

Soliloquy –
watching the moment
drizzle on inside hyacinth sunpetals of dew
possession beyond the auspices of rue
forged on chains of ivy

We climb upward unnoticed in
the shadow-dappled sunlight
forsaking silkbound checkpoints of
sapient sentries

We dance through subterranean
passages to meadows of starlight
dappled hues of dark
– lit from within like Sister Moon

Starlight –
energy shivering in
an apsara’s pose

Laminate this moment
hold it down like the Leviathan of
the deep.

Coyote pries open the code
and finds nothing there
to greet the sunlight

(29 July 2004)

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[poetry]: What The Woods Mean

by on Dec.14, 2016, under Poetry

(c) Nin Harris 2003-2016

Daughter of tar highways and steel-winged
flights, I belong to this age where
travels have become rat race transits
clogged with humans in metal cages
within subterranean regions bookmarked in cranial
parameters the trail starts inconvenient –
meandering through almost-invisible
paths into the thick of trees.

Once, roots and twigs crammed
commutes interlaced with hosts of fanged
and invisible passengers shivering
thoughts, freezing veins;
claiming pathways and exacting tolls
eked out of terror-filled imaginings

“We must shut them out!”

More roads built with stones,
clearings paved with sacrifices,
industrial accidents and tears of widows.

“These entities of nature are everywhere
and they are the enemy of virtue! ”

We persisted and bartered for an imposed, uneasy truce.

*

The woods outside dwindled but
inside our heads they loomed larger
and more threatening – becoming
metaphors for journeys, travels, bargains –

forked roads suggesting choice over fate.

*

In my youth I shuddered away
from nightmares where branches
looked like hungry claws while
slanted eyes wait all-patient for me
to slip out of hallowed light.

Adolescence: sleeping within thin wood-plank walls
of weekend retreats, nocturnal bovine sounds became
voracious tigers skulking through rubber plantations;
totems who still stalk my dreams
and taunt me with wordless koans.

I promised that adulthood would find me
nestled within a city far from
the woods: encircled by brick and cement walls
the Big Bad Wolf could not blow down.

Brother Tiger will not be able to eat me if
I am cushioned by public utilities.

I will no longer fear things that tap
from outside windows and jeer at
me from just beyond the
penumbra of safe sleep.

*
This helps me understand why highways are
built and why they fear as they huddle in
governments and conclaves that
shut out the woods; magic and
individuality of errant journeymen
who would dance between the trees
and shamans who climb tireless up
(g)hosted trunks to mate the heavens.

*

My dreams still shiver resolve but my waking self
mourns the physical forests and childhood adventures
of mind. Weep for stories of journeys that were
more than just literary devices and metaphors. Weep
for a world sliding here and there on scales of
human duality.

In cemented underground parking lots
wolves without fur still exist; devoid of grace and
innocence they denude the furred and feathered
hunters of mythic woods – murder both the Wolf and Red Riding Hood.

I fear this unnatural forest of human hate and
enclosures of cement and steel more than
the dark enclosures between trees, more than
Brother Tiger laughing at me through doorways
in dreams. I fear more the empty eyes of humans
lacking love; desiring only annihilation
and satisfaction of the lower chakras
while the screams and pleadings of
their victims become epodes for
vacant beings.

*

You have denuded the jungle but your replacements
are more terrifying. You cannot remove these
woodland quests, only mutate the labyrinth.
There are still paths to keep to and safety in numbers.

“Be bold but not too bold”
when you’re wandering a tar and cement forest
through office buildings and travails up
corporate ladders, senates and pop-charts. Discard
the red hood of womanly desire and awareness
for it is still the mark of the harlot and tells them you
deserve what you get. It assures virtuous women
they’d be safe from wild animals lurking outside
if they hide inside your walls and

agree not to live.

Remember: do not desire more than
we have decided you can have- Bluebeard
still waits with his casting couch in a bloody
castle at the forest’s heart. The dismembered
arms and heads of your sisters should teach you
a lesson you’ll never forget.

Remember: the cost of knowing more
than we have decided you should – it
is the mark of waywardness and we’ll only
throw you into the pond to make sure you can’t
swim for if we were meant to be in water we’d surely be given fins.

Unconscious memory filters these
highways we speed down, exacting a toll on
our minds even as we nudge
aside collective guilt – create new lore
out of screaming headlines and electronic mass
morality tales.

*


C:\
C:\NUMINA

*
Won’t you dance between the trees with me?

Let us outwit Robber Bridegrooms and wicked Kings.
– climb up fanciful trunks of enlightenment so stars
may annoint us with courage beyond these binary woods.

I know we can be bold here – within these forests
of our souls. Let us laugh at distorted
reflections on windows with ever-tapping
branches; begging us to please let the Outside in.

 

(18 August 2003- 9 October 2003)

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On Not Being a Revenant: At The Crossroads as a (postcolonial) Gothic Scholar

by on Dec.13, 2016, under (post)colonial Gothic academia, The Escritoire

Hello! The Escritoire is a blog category that I’ve been meaning to use for quite some time, a place to write about my process as an author. I’ve decided to expand on that to write about my process and challenges as an academic as well. This is only the first of what I hope will be a series of posts. And this one is more general because it’s an introduction.

I call myself a postcolonial Gothic academic. What does that entail? Are my priorities, for instance, different from those of Gothic academics from the first world and the Northern hemisphere?

Not automatically, I’d declare. We all come from the same place of loving literature, all that is spooky, and sublime. What propels me towards Gothic literary scholarship is the same thing that propels me towards being an SFF author with Gothic roots and propensities. It’s in the stories I read, it’s in the philosophies and literary criticisms I devour as though they were page-turning thrillers. It is fueled by a sepulchral fascination with my own night-terrors, my fears and paranoias.

When I teach my Masters in Literature course on Gothic Literature in Popular Culture and Media, I tell my students that I am drawn to this topic because I am afraid, and I want to know why I’m afraid. That inquisitiveness about the darker aspects of the human psyche informs my fiction-writing as well. I am not always political. I am more inclined towards exploring the intimate minutiae of human nature, the ways in which we screw up, the things that influence us, the things that draw us against our better nature.

And one of the things I love about Gothic literary criticism is that it gives me an apparatus within which I can explore the intersections between the supernatural and the personal, the gruesome and the sublime. Also, some of the best written literary scholarship out there are by Gothic scholars, displaying an intimate understanding of the written word coupled with the complicity of psyches that wallow and delight in the manifestations of the Night and all it brings.

And yet — as a South East Asian, I have often felt alienated by this tradition as well. Why is that? Well, I don’t think people automatically set out to make me/us feel alienated, to be fair. But most of Gothic scholarship is centered on the west, and even when it looks outwards, that centrality is still set in place. We write from the margins, we are studied in the margins. There’s this kind of possessiveness about the Gothic I’ve encountered during conferences as well, a kind of hostility that I’ve experienced (but will not expand upon on this blog).

In that most famous tract on the postcolonial Gothic that I problematised in my PhD dissertation, the ontology of the postcolonial Gothic is linked to loss, of never being able to return to a point of origin. The Gothic Other then, should revel in her state of being, a state of loss — content only to be a revenant.

In one of the comments made by a PhD examiner, she asked me to make very clear that I understood that the supernatural elements I was studying were psychological “vehicles” and to make the Lacanian slant clearer. I acquiesced of course — but here’s the thing…

Here in South East Asia, horrors stalk us everywhere. In corridors. In our dreams. We may have relatives who are yogis, or who are witch doctors. We have tales about saka, and bunian, and pontianak and penanggalan. These stories aren’t “metaphors” of colonial subjugation, or of our loss of culture. They don’t exist to be picked apart by western apparatuses as manifestations of our collective psyches.They are part and parcel of our world, our unempirical superstitions. And while as a scholar I take the stance of empirical distance — choosing to study these aspects of literature from an analytical and psychological point of view, I know that when I take out the trash after 8pm, I shouldn’t look left or right. I know I am saying prayers under my breath. I know the fine line we walk. A fine line we talk about unempirically and without irony. Yes, even in academia. And we’re not talking about it because we want to analyse our psyches. We’re talking about it because we know that the buildings we inhabit have a culture, a history, and sightings that only idiots wouldn’t respond to with caution.

Are they somehow psychic manifestations? Are people all collectively deranged? I suppose to the West it would seem like it. I am far more empirical than most in these parts and do take quite a few things with a pinch of salt. But I have seen and experienced too much not to be careful even so.

These are the things that distance me from the hallowed halls of Gothic academic scholarship in the first world. Things I don’t write about as a scholar but which I address in my fictions. We have stories about the bunian in my estranged maternal family as well. What did I do with those stories? I turned them SFnal, created an entire empire from the stories and the night-terrors I inherited.

The freedom I do not get as an academic, I expand into my fictions. But as an academic I ask different questions. I cannot ask the same distant questions as an academic in the first world. Yes, I delight in all of those early Gothic writings. Yes, I have read Burke more times than I care to admit, and I’ve been a huge Romantic since my teenage years when I read Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth and Keats more times than I care to tell you. I read Coleridge when I was eight years old. This has been my whole life, this sad colonial legacy that grew into a passion and inquisitiveness for the Gothic spaces around me (although some would declare that only English spaces are Gothic spaces, forgetting that the philosophical, literary and theoretical roots and influences of the Gothic come from Europe and to a certain extent, the Middle East).

The colonial mansion I grew up in, the low-cost homes built in the 80s and the 90s we lived in, post-parental divorce were so Gothic and looms so large in my dreamscapes that I’ve written more than one story about it. My land is teeming with ghosts, revenants and stories. And yes, we use different words for it. Not “sublime” or “Gothic” or “revenants” but the experiences are cognates to those distilled in the theory books that I read.

I will always cherish and be grateful to the canon and body of Gothic literary scholarship for the apparatus they provided so I could explore my fears, desires, and understand better not just these tales, but how I react to them. But the apparatus is limited. The apparatus is made to study US. We need to study and understand OURSELVES. And here’s the crossroads I am at as a Gothic scholar. One I’ve been at in the past two years since leading two research grants which diverge into genre and gothic — both from Malaysians and from the African Diaspora.

It’s a crossroads of which I am painfully aware every time I teach the Gothic and ask students to tell me about their own fears, their own stories, their own perspectives.

We are not revenants, walking without souls. We are not monstrosities, condemned to forever exist in the marginalia of eurocentric Gothicised discourse. We live, we breathe in an air made thick with nightmares but we belong wholly and solely to ourselves. And this is what I bring with me on the next step on my journey as a postcolonial Gothic scholar (and author).

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A Brief Personal Review of My Year in Writing

by on Dec.09, 2016, under The Escritoire, Thoughts on Writing

This year for me as an author has been quite a whirlwind. Publications nearly every month, reviews every now and then. I do miss being reviewed on Locus (I vastly enjoyed Lois Tilton’s reviews of my works even when she didn’t like it — I have a fondness for cantankerous readers) but my stories have been mentioned on Strange Horizons reviews twice. All in all, 2016 gave me decent amount of reviews, in particular the wonderfully thoughtful and literate reviews by Charles Payseur which serves as a panacea for certain places we shall not mention.

Books I have been in have also been reviewed in newspapers, even mentioned on BoingBoing but since I was not mentioned in those pieces I don’t feel I have any right to lay claim to those successes.

For me personally, it feels like 2015-2016 have been gamechanger years for me. Which leads to more, not less pressure as being me I have set the bar even higher for myself. But. Finish that novel and that historical fantasy novella first, I guess.

I don’t really feel sad that my Campbell eligibility period is drawing to a close. Instead I feel a sense of relief, and pride. I think I did well by my own standards this year and that is a rare thing indeed. I love the stories that were published. They were perhaps not as wildly popular as other authors in my position would hope but I am a bit of an elitist bastard so the idea that I am an acquired taste appeals to me. More importantly, I am really looking forward to the next stage of being a pro writer. If there are any more left for me, that is!

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SFF Works Published in 2016

by on Nov.22, 2016, under Lists!, Publications!, SFF

Hello!

I won’t be having (to my knowledge) anymore fiction publications in 2016. It’s been quite a year. I’ve had around 14 publications inclusive of fiction, flash fiction, academic articles, and various reprints. Of these 14, only 6 are actually eligible for awards nomination so these are the ones I’m going to be listing here. No new poetry for this year so I’m not actually eligible for the Rhysling for 2016. I did get nominated for 2015, which was a HUGE surprise to me but a very nice one — thank you to whomever decided to nominate me! I’m still quite astounded!

Important note for people who want to know such things: I am in my final year of eligibility for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, so I guess in 2017 the training wheels for the wild and wonderful world of SFF pro publications come off. Eep!

I’m also eligible for all relevant awards: Hugo, Nebulas, World Fantasy, etc.

Mostly this page is here so I can keep track of what I have published this year, and so people will read my stories. Thank you!

Professional Publications 

  1. What The Stories Steal (November 2016) in Clarkesworld. Bereavement, loss, sacrifice, loyalty and what narratives take from us. A Sesen planetary romance. My publication day post is here.(SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)
  2. Moult (July 2016) in An Alphabet of Embers.  An urban dark/Gothic fantasy set in Kuala Lumpur, about skins, our outer defenses, and what it means to be vulnerable. My publication day post is here. (Dark/Gothic Fantasy)
  3. Morning Cravings (June 2016) in People of Colour Destroy Science Fiction (Lightspeed).  A  Calvino-esque flash fiction piece set on Sesen. Featuring food, taboos, and a lusty lycanthrope. My publication day post is here. (SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)
  4. Tower of the Rosewater Goblet (January 2016) in Strange Horizons. An embedded interstitial tale about appropriation, powerlessness, quiet resistance, pamphleteering culture, and printing presses. Also a story about relationships and finding your place in the world. Featuring a parable that retools Zeno’s paradoxes, the fable of the hare and the tortoise, and the Castle of the Grail. Yes, one of my more ambitious stories and I love it to death. My publication day post is here. (SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)

Semi-Professional Publications

  1. Butter-Daughters (October 2016) in The Sockdolager. I’ve described this as a Borgesian planetary romance with a soupçon of body horror (and with truly creeptastic goats).  People seem to really like it! My publication day post is here. (SF: Planetary Romance/Science Fantasy)
  2. Auto-Rejection: An Outro (April 2016) in Trash: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (Fixi Novo).  A dark, urban fantasy featuring a penanggalan. My exact pitch when I submitted this to the editors was: “what if the Little Mermaid was a penanggalan-in-training?”. It’s one of my more literary, stream-of-consciousness pieces and is as much a love song to Kuala Lumpur as Moult was.  I used to work in Brickfields, where this story is set, in an NGO college, much like the one I describe in this story. My publication day post is here.(Dark/Gothic Fantasy)

 

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Publication Day: “What the Stories Steal” in Issue #122, Clarkesworld Magazine

by on Nov.02, 2016, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

I really enjoy doing Publication Day posts not just because I get to tell the world I have a new story out, but because sometimes I get to talk a bit about the process and the backstory. Like most authors, I could probably write essays about my own stories. And it stops me from annoying people on social media by going on and on about it!

I am really happy and thrilled that Neil and Sean accepted this story. It took me a year (exactly a year!) but I am back on the Clarkesworld page! That was partially because I’ve dithered on finishing the stories I wrote that I filed away as “stuff that Clarkesworld would like”, because there’s always that fear the first time was a fluke. I mean I could have sent this in directly after “Your Right Arm” but it was at another pub (because “Your Right Arm” was in second round for a while). And then I was just. Too. Shy. To. Send. Another. Story. So. Soon.

**cough**

This story is one of the oldest stories in my story folder. The idea for it came post 9-11, when the world was rent apart, when I was hurting. I had helped to look after one of my maternal aunts who, because of misdiagnosis, got to final stage of endometrial cancer before it was detected. I had learned the algebra of bereavement and guilt all caregivers undergo — especially so because my relationship with my maternal family is fraught. But my maternal aunt was always kind to me. She was the dean at the law school, and every academic term she’d give me money for my textbooks, a peptalk. I also got to do some light legal research assistant work under her.

To have that kind of history with someone you find intellectual and dynamic, to see them waste away because of cancer. That’s a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I write this and it’s not easy because I have had two separate cancer scares this year. I’m now in the clear for breast cancer but I have to go through the invasive procedures to ensure that I’m just going through early premenopausal and hormonal issues and not endometriosis or endometrial cancer.

This year, my grandmother died. And before that, before even my aunt in 2001, my maternal grandfather, (a literature, geography and history HS teacher and inspector of schools), passed away. I saw him in those heartbreaking final stages too. Felt, even as a teenager — that guilt. Why couldn’t I do enough to make the people I love stay? What had I not done that I could have done so they could live?

So in 2001, my world broke. The IRC chatroom I was in for a couple of years was very close-knit, I even moderated some #mythicfolk sessions there. But when 9-11 happened, in the midst of all my bereavement, I found that in a collective shock and grief, also an anger as people I had liked turned on me because I was the only person from a third-world nation. I had gone from being a friend to being The Enemy. And that is how these things happen, really. Stories can change who you are from one minute to the next in the eyes of people.

[LIGHT SPOILERS START HERE]

 

This is my way of saying, the genesis of this tale was as a post 9-11 tale of bereavement and loss within a fraught relationship with this divide — and I wondered if love could ever be enough, if friendship could ever be enough. Or if something more was needed to heal the breach.

Around 2007, when I finally got around to fleshing out the story, I was going through another kind of heartbreak. I was also adjusting to living on my own in a different country for the first time. I wrote this story. I was a bit frightened and awed by it, but I was not happy with it. I submitted it, it was rejected. And I thought, “Well, that’s that.”

But something kept me going, kept me having faith in it. And then in 2010, at Worldcon, through an alignment of miraculous events, I found myself having dinner with the editor who rejected it and her partner. I thought she’d forgotten the story. But she told me she loved it, but she had to make such difficult choices. I thought she was being nice so I brushed it aside in my usual awkward self-effacing way. And she got quite cross with me! 🙂

Funnily, it’s because she got quite cross that it sank in that she meant it. She loved the story. There was something in it that mattered. So I kept plugging on. And then I showed it to my mentor at the time, Erzebet Yellowboy because I told her I was worried I might be  problematic. She very patiently explained to me what was wrong, and during the course of our correspondences I realised that I didn’t want to set it on earth at all.

I wanted to set it on Sesen.

So I slowly whittled away at it from year to year. A little frightened of the story but still believing in it. Then last year after I finished all of the Tower of the Rosewater Goblet stories, armed with the accelerated worldbuilding I had done for those stories (after 2-3 decades, I started writing Sesen stories when I was 14), I was finally able to work out what I wanted to say in this story, and why it was so right to set it four generations after the first human Arrivals settled in. This is a story in a world where people are still remembering, and grieving for Earth. And really, there are so many levels of grieving in here but I didn’t want it to be just about that.

Like the first story I had published this year, Tower of the Rosewater Goblet, I wanted this story to be medicine, but of a more soothing kind. That story was about what happens when we have our stories and our identities taken from us (and I’m not done with this theme as it’s still bugging me both epistemologically and ontologically). This story is about what stories do to us, what they wring out of us. How stories can either build walls, or become bridges.

And I hope I haven’t spoiled it too much, lol.

All my love and thanks to everyone who ever read and commented  on this story through its troublesome teenhood till its final maturity. Thank you. If I do not name you it is because I do not want to namedrop and presume upon your kindnesses.
What the Stories Steal, Issue #122, Clarkesworld Magazine, November 2016.

 

 

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Publication Day: “Butter-Daughters” in The Sockdolager, Fall 2016, Issue 7

by on Oct.20, 2016, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

Hello!

Surprise story publication day!

I actually dreamed about the butter-daughters sometime in 2009. I woke up around dawn a bit scared of the dream because it was so totally vivid and surreal. So I typed out as much as I could remember in a notepad. This was before I had read Borges’s Fictions. I knew I wanted it to have the kind of first-person account you get in thick compendiums of supernatural sightings. When I returned to the story in 2014, it became a planetary romance but with that same folkloric kind of slant. Since this was post-my reading and rereading Borges, that was an influence.

This hasn’t changed much since I first wrote it all out and submitted it in 2014 to Alphabet of Embers along with Moult. Moult was accepted, and this got a lovely personal rejection that said it could not be accepted since Rose had accepted Moult! From then on, it got to that much coveted second round at DSF, also at FSI but never sold. I kept it on ice for a bit, and half-wondered if I wanted to flesh out the story to submit. But, I decided to give this story another chance. I modified the ending a bit so it was more obvious that the narrator was a male chef in his later years (sorry spoilers) and then sent it out again. I was so happy that the lovely editors at The Sockdolager decided to accept it and happy it was in such a good and spooky issue.

I really love this story and am very happy that I can now share it with the world. This is now my third Sesen story to be published this year. Squee!

Also, I suspect I AM going to be writing another, even more Borgesian story about the events at the heart of this one.

Butter-Daughters, The Sockdolager, Fall 2016, Issue 7, 20 October 2016.

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Catching Up: October 2016 Updates

by on Oct.05, 2016, under Acceptances!, Author News and Updates, Housekeeping

So, I’m all caught up with my Publication Day posts now. I decided not to post about the three reprints (3 for fiction, 2 for poetry) because that would be a bit much. The things I’ve been in have been mentioned on various media however, which was nice.

I’ve got a couple of acceptances but I have a new policy of not spelling out where, even after I’ve signed the contract. Just consider me superstitious! They’re both semipro acceptances and hopefully you’ll all be hearing about that sometime in the not so distant future.

What else? There have been a couple of poetry readings, which were good practice for me, I suppose. Doubt there’ll be anymore. I’m basically just focusing on finishing up my novel right now, so am lying low. Despite all the publications, I’ve been pretty low profile in other ways. And I’m not going to be shilling myself for various things. Seems futile and I’d rather just focus on writing better stories. My game plan? Craft and Grace. Craft and Grace.

Hope everyone is fine.

Best Wishes,
Nin

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Publication Day: “Moult” in An Alphabet of Embers

by on Oct.05, 2016, under Author News and Updates, Publications!

This issue went live sometime in July. I am still trying to catch up on my publication day posts but I’ve decided not to have individual posts for the reprints (I’ve had about 2-3), so this is basically it for now!

Moult was essentially written in a single sitting, sent out and got accepted a few weeks later. It is a story about transformation, about shedding your skin and becoming something else — either metaphorically, or literally. At its root however, it is a story about language and what it does to us. This is one of my stories that uses both English and Malay.

Moult, An Alphabet of Embers, Stone Bird Press, July 2016

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