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Silverfish Writing Programme
THE SILVERFISH WRITING PROGRAMME
Do any of the following mean anything to you?
Do you believe in the power of the story?
Have you wondered why do some stories work while others don’t?
Do you understand the concept of the 'Right Brain'?
Do you believe that it is possible to dig deep into one's psyche and unleash the genius within?
Do you simply enjoy telling stories?
Do you want to create/write stories for your children/grandchildren)?
Do you believe writing is therapeutic?
Do you simply want to write to express yourself?
Do you want to be able to write what publisher's want?
Do you believe in the magic of writing?
If you are even remotely interested in any of these, read on.
Write what publishers want
The universe is made of stories, not atoms -- Muriel Rukeyser
The world is full of stories. We, humans, are the strangest of all animals. We may miss meals (ask your teenager buried in a book or your auntie hooked on a television soap) but not our stories. Even in famine stricken zones, while people wait for the food trucks to arrive, they tell one another stories to keep alive. In war zones, where life is in danger every single minute, people cannot resist telling stories. All religions have tons of stories that are constantly repeated. Stories are part of our very being, our claim to be human.
We are surrounded by stories every waking minute of the day. When we turn on our radio or television to listen to the news, or to watch a drama or sitcom or even a cooking show, when we open our newspapers or surf the net for news, when we go to the movies, to a dance, listen to a song, or look at a painting, when we go to the office, pitch a proposal to our boss, our clients, meet our co-workers when we relax over tea and gossip, or tell them about our day, or listen to their stories. When we read books, we read stories. And stories will make us laugh or cry or angry, and dozens of other things. We will love characters or we hate them. Good stories never leave us indifferent. We have a desperate need to tell stories in whatever form. That’s why some of us want to become writers. But if one does not write what publisher's want, one does not get published. So what do publisher's want?
Why do some stories work while others don’t?
Now we look at another point: how many times have we heard people, coming back after attending a creative writing course, complaining that they still can't write? (One story a year or one in ten years does not count.) There is no shortage of creative writing courses, workshops and books in the world teaching: basic storytelling, rules of plots, pace, characters, conflicts, structure, busting writers' block and etc and etc. In other words: lots of mechanical rules and routines. A student, who has registered himself in the hope of learning some of the magic that makes writers tick, comes away disappointed possibly thinking that he is fated never to become a writer and, maybe, gives up altogether.
Me, I am a publisher, though I do have written a book of short stories (more to test my theories than anything else) and I do all the writing on The Silverfish website. I started publishing ten years ago, and I must have read well over a couple of thousand short stores and a few hundred novels submitted to us for publishing. (Yeah, I am the only one here.) And you can add to that the over half a century of personal reading, and all the editing I do to pay my rent. But one thing has always intrigued me. Why do some stories work while others don’t? Can writing be taught?
Harnessing the Right side of the Brain
The Silverfish Writing Programme is, to a large extent, inspired by Betty Edwards' book on drawing. I came across the book some ten years ago. Yet, another self help book, I thought. Still I always wanted to draw and decided to give it a go. Within three weeks I was drawing the likeness of my face by looking into the mirror. It actually worked! It is, possibly, the only self help book that works the way it promises. And, after reading it, I wondered for years if writing could be taught by some similar technique. I came to the conclusion that a direct 'conversion' was not possible. That would be like asking a swim coach to teach competitive cycling. But there is one common theme in both writing and drawing: learning how to see. If you want to become a writer you must learn how to see and write what you see, not what you think you see, just as you will need to if you want to to draw.
It is often said that genius cannot be taught. Writing with the Right Side of the Brain programme acknowledges that. Only a certain part of writing can be taught, the rest has to be discovered from inside and dragged out by the individuals by themselves. We believe genius cannot be taught, but it can be learned. An average person is not one but two: the conscious craftsman who can learn rules and techniques, and the unconscious artist or 'creative writer'. Or, in 'new age' terminology, every individual consists of a left-brain person and a right-brain person. Yin and Yang. Siva and Sakti. Unfortunately, the two sometimes (often?) don't talk to one another. The programme is designed to trick the two sides into working together. In most people, years of neglect has made the artistic side 'rusty'. The programme is designed to teach you how to discover that creative side, and to switch from one to the other effortlessly. It will take a little time and practice, but you should feel something happening on the very first day.
Long before a student attends a formal creative writing course, something else has to happen. He has to learn to become a writer. It is a mysterious process - this becoming a writer. It requires a awakening of a certain instinct inside. Writing can be all consuming. It can happen even when you are nowhere near your writing pad (if you still do longhand) or your computer. It is a temperament, a desire, a feeling, an impulse … and all those things combined. It is both conscious and unconscious. And just as it is not possible to teach someone how to ride a bicycle by theory alone (get on the bike, sit on the saddle, push off, paddle and balance!), the same applies to writing. But once learned it will not be forgotten. It’s like swimming. Remember that first time you went into the deep end, and you thought you were going to die? Then the next few weeks of fighting with the water, splashing and tiring yourself out? Then, finally, the realisation, the appearance of the smooth relaxed strokes, and you become one with the water? That’s what writing is is like, doing it day in and day out effortlessly.
The Silverfish Writing Programme was launched in June 2006. We published Shih Li Kow, one of our early participants, in December 2008. Her book, Ripples and other stories, was one of the six (from all over the world) that was short listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award in Cork, Ireland in June 2009. (Previous winners of the Frank O’Connor Award are Jhumpa Lahiri, Haruki Murakami and Yiyun Li.) Interesting, Shih-Li Kow admits that she started writing seriously only after attending the Silverfish Writing Programme.
Didn’t think of it much at that time. But, a Writing Programme that has produced a writer of international standard in just two years is surely worth crowing about. And we are working with several more writers in the pipeline. Do you think you can be one of them? Shih-Li Kow is a single mother, who is a chemical engineer, who works galley-slave hours at a real estate management company in the city, and who still finds time to write daily.
Air and time and light and space
This 10-week writing programme has been designed with the average individual in mind: the average individual who likes to write, who wants to write but keeps running into walls. The most common and crippling of all excuses is: I have no time. I have a full time day job, I have to fetch and ferry my kids, I have no time to write ...
"No baby, when you become a writer, there is no time. There is no space, there is no light, and there is no air either. Everything simply stops." (Apologies, Charles Bukowski.)
When your right brain takes over, everything else simply stops. And when that happens, it is pure magic. Discover, experience and rejoice. Just like in learning to ride a bike, the hardest part is the beginning. But whether you become an Olympic Champion is another matter, though there is nothing to stop you from trying. Becoming a writer is a life enriching experience. Learning to write with the right side of the brain is not simply about the buzz. It is also about writing what editors and publishers want.
Do you, seriously, want to become a writer? Give yourself this gift that will last you a lifetime. But please be prepared to work. (More than 50,000 words should be written during the programme - enough fodder to embark on a novel or a book of short stories.) Drag that genius of yours out from in there. Silverfish Books will be your personal trainer.
The programme which will be spread over 10 weeks — which means participants will be required to work on exercises on their own daily and fill up job sheets. (You can cheat, but you will only cheat yourself.)
1. REVEALING THE RIGHT BRAIN: AN Introduction to right brain technique, and starting out on writing as a career
2. WRITE A CHARACTER: Writing characters, being characters
3. LIVE WRITING: Writing from observations of real people
4. TALKING PHOTOGRAPHS: Using photographs as writing tools
5. THE PRACTICE STORY: Putting it all together, casting scenes
6. BASIC BOOK ANALYSIS: How to read books as a writer not as a reader and how to learn from the masters.
7. LEARNING TO SEE: Learning to see like an artist
8. ROOTS OF GENIUS: How to unleash the genius that resides within us
9. YOUR WORST CRITIC: Learning how to put a distance between your own work and yourself to criticise objectively
10. AN INTRODUCTION TO WRITING NOVELS
In general the programme will cover writing of characters, use of dialogues, plotting and pacing, choosing points of view, use of an authoritative writer’s voice, rhythm, structure and style, use of language, use of flashbacks, and generally writing organically (that is from your very being as opposed to mechanically).
This programme is been designed with the novice in mind, those eager to start on a writing career, who want to learn the nuts and bolts of story telling in prose. The techniques covered will be useful to those a little further down that road -- those who are already writing but want to improve, or are not quite getting it. This programme is not meant for advanced writers. Writing with the Right Side of the Brain will consist of one 10-week module targeted at adults who are interested in:.
1. Fiction writing - short stories, novellas and novels
2. Non-fiction writing - travelogues, biographies, narratives and features.
(Basically this programme can be used by people in any form of writing, including business and self help. We believe writing - and story telling - is about presenting a point-of-view or an argument effectively)
A certain competency in the use of the English language will obviously be a prerequisite. (We do not expect perfect language skills now though, in the long run, this will be definite advantage.)
The on-site programme will be run at the premises of Silverfish Books (address below) for a duration of 10 weeks (with allowances made for holidays).
Do call or email us to inquire about registration and fees. Classes will be limited to a maximum of 10 participants.
Although this specific programme is not design for them, educational institutes and corporations interested may contact us (at the same number and email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to inquire about tailor made writing programmes for your needs.
Note: Please see box above for course dates, times and fees.
I had just left the office when Patrick Cotter, Director of The Munster Literature Centre, called on Monday. Phek Chin took the call and politely told the gentleman that I could not be contacted because I had already gone home. Gone home? It is only eleven o'clock here, he said. Whereupon, Phek Chin inquired where he was calling from. Ireland! And ... He was just calling to tell Mr Raman Krishnan that his writer, Shih-Li Kow, has been short-listed for the Frank O'Connor award!
The silence that followed must have been deafening. Phek Chin was petrified. She was speechless. She was afraid to say anything lest she sounded like a blithering idiot.(Oi!!! she protests to me, loudly.) But he assured her that it was a perfectly normal reaction and that he had been confronted by it several times before. He made her promise to tell me about it, as soon as possible, and gave her his email.
She says she was still frozen in shock for a while after she put down the phone, not knowing what do or think. Finally, after recovering some of her senses, she called my house (I was not there yet as I had some errands to run), then my wife's mobile and my house again, and managed to leave a message for me. Then, when I called her it was my turn to be gob-smacked.
Apparently, Shih-Li came in a while later that evening and Phek Chin made her sit down before telling her. Are you sure? It can't be, lah. Maybe it is a hoax, Aiyoh, I am going to pengsan ... and so on and so forth. Anyway, Phek Chin and I walked around the whole day, the next day, grinning from ear to ear, as if we had been smoking something. I cannot begin to imagine what Shih-Li must feel, but we are so incredibly happy for her.
I first met Shih-Li almost three years ago at the third Silverfish Writing Programme. News from Home was published about one year after she finished the Programme, and Ripples, another year later. She is unpretentious, she is level-headed, and she is prolific -- such a wonderful writer to work with. As I worked on Ripples, I felt that her work was very good -- a sort of prize-winning good, if you know what I mean -- and I was determined to nominate her for an award, any award. But still, when I received the news that she was short-listed for the Frank O'Connor (I mean the Frank O'Conner), it left me in a state of shock, in a daze -- though in a nice way.
Well, now she has to be in Cork, Ireland on the 20th of September for the awards presentation at the end of the Frank O'Connor Short Story Festival, which starts on the 16th of that month. Win or lose, it does not matter any more. She has already won. Malaysian writing has already won. Malaysian readers have won.
Let us bask in the warmth for a while more, then we shall resume prowling the streets for more hidden gems that we can polish. Congratulations again, Shih-Li Kow. You have blazed the trail.
And Silverfish Books is proud of this achievement; the first effort by the first author to emerge from the Silverfish Writing Programme to be shortlisted for a major award.
The first book to emerge from the Silverfish Writing Programme
Ever since Silverfish Books started publishing activities in 2001, we have been continually asked about the next big thing, namely the next big Malaysian writer. We gave a lot of people hope. While the Silverfish New Writing series was a tremendous success (and it still is very popular) it did not bring to the surface the multitudes of Malaysian writers hiding in the woodwork, waiting for an opportunity to be discovered and be published. The Silverfish New Writing series remains a snapshot of Malaysians writing in English, though we have begun to question its relevance in unearthing new authors.
The Silverfish Writing Programme is an entirely different initiative, the purpose of which was to give writers an opportunity to not just to get published but, also, guiding and training them. The Programme started in June 2006 and, now, we have the first three writers to actually get their work published. Chua Kok Yee attended the first one, Shih-Li Kow the third, and Rumaizah Abu Bakar the fourth. We are as excited as the writers themselves with this project.
Ten stories were selected from each writer for this book. (Yes, they all have many more that they have completed and many more they are still working on.) Ten stories, we felt, would be a nice number to introduce each of them to Malaysian readers, each with their own distinct Malaysian voice, and each with a slightly different story to tell and way of telling it. These are all writers to look forward to, writers who are genuinely Malaysian and modern. At the time of writing this, they are all working on their own 'solo' efforts which they hope to complete next year.
Chua Kok Yee, who is from Ipoh, manages a cosmetic company in his day job, having graduated from the University of Malaya in 1995. He says he doesn't have a life anymore considering how he says he spends all his spare time now reading and writing. Gothic tales of horror, tender love stories or tongue-in-cheek retelling of fairy tales, Chua Kok Yee does it all. Is he our own Murakami?
Shih-Li Kow holds a degree in Chemical Engineering and currently works for a property developer to pay her bills. But her passion is writing and is a distinctive stylist who is clever and yet charming. Her work defies categorization. I thought Peach Blossom Luck was a gem until I read Don't Depend on Me, and then A Job to Love, and Pak Hassan's Story, and ... All of them different, all of them little jewels. She makes her point not with a smash-down-your-head sledgehammer style but with deft nicks of a rapier.
Rumaizah Abu Bakar describes herself as a Public Relations professional with a degree in Accountancy. Rumaizah is a writer who is all heart, who so obviously loves the people she writes about, whether it is Shanti the hotel room-cleaner, or Chef Chen the highly principled hotel cook, or Aunt Aini who lost in love but never fell out of it, and a host of others.
If there is one thing the three writers have in common, it is their dogged determination to succeed and their work ethic. Whenever they failed they tried and tried again, refusing to be discouraged and taking every harsh criticism as a challenge.
This volume is the first in, what we hope will be, a series unearthing new generations of writers who can hold their own against the rest of the world, and still remain distinctly Malaysian.News from Home is also the first book to carry the 'Malaysian Literature in English' sticker, a new initiative to promote Malaysian literature within the country and overseas.
Without Anchivies. A short story collection by Chua Kok Yee appeared in 2010. He is now working on his second volume.
The Female Cell. A collection of short stories and travel tales by Rumaizah Abu Bakar
A Call to Travel. A collection of travel stories to three Muslim countries by a Muslim woman travelling )largely) alone.
Faultlines. A debut anthology by six writers from different Silverfish Writing Programmes. Viz, Chin Ai-May, Jenny Ng, Shazwani Abdul Kabur, Shazra Aishath, Tan Yet Mee and Teja Sallehuddin Tan.
Two more anthologies are currently being worked on by other participants. And several more have contributed to other anthologies and magazines by other publishers, not to mention other magazines.
Hi there Raman,
Just thought I would let you know that I have thoroughly enjoyed the Writing with the Right Brain course.
I felt that you encouraged, rather than prescribed which was particularly good for our group which was quite a mature group despite the age of some of the participants;
I enjoyed the way you used different 'building blocks' to show the participants the correct way to approach their writing
Not expecting participants to read their 'stuff' throughout the course was the right idea but I think that, if you slot in one lesson where everyone gets to read their stuff, it might encourage the ones who are not confident and help the more confident ones to go to the next step - just my opinion of course!
I have personally benefited, not only from the discipline of writing each day - something which I now feel very guilty if I don't do - but also because some of the writing I have done has been cathartic for me. Old thoughts, prejudices, angers and happiness have now been jotted down, transferred to my computer and from there on to a thumb drive. What a glorious time my grandchildren will have......!
I am going to miss the Saturday afternoons at Silverfish. For me, it was a time of getting out of the 'real world' and being with people who have within us a deep desire to put down our stories on paper. It was a time of affirmation of what we want to do, a time of sharing our thoughts and aspirations, a time of helping one another along.
The wish to write stories is so fragile and it can easily get buried in the hundreds of things we have to do in our daily life. The Silverfish writing programme showed me how to keep that wish up there in front of me, not to let it slip away.
You will be happy to know that our group - your first batch - will be sending out our stories to one another for helpful comments and that we will be meeting up to discuss these stories. Dates have even been set.
Thanks for starting your writing programme. I truly enjoyed it and I have no doubt that your other groups will too.
As someone who has never embark on creative writing before, the programme has taught me the necessary steps to take in order to write successfully. It was not clear in the beginning but eventually I began to see the programme taking me on a structured and discipline approach to creative writing. The first step, the creation of writing scrap has been a tremendous door opening for me in writing. I suddenly found an avenue to pour all my thoughts, feelings, experiences and observations for them to be used, hopefully, in my eventual story writings. It was a very simple step, yet I would never have discovered it if I hadn't attended the programme.
Noriah Mohd Yusof
The weekly session not only gave me an insight to the art of creative writing, but also a good platform to share the energy, passion and
enthusiasm from a group of people with the same love towards books and writing.
A word of caution, though. It's like walking into a fire.It will burn off your inhibitions, and set your inner passion towards writing aflame.
Chua Kok Yee
I find that the programme was an excellent opportunity for us to share ideas and peel off our layers of fear. It was rather daunting to have to read my story aloud but I learnt from it in more ways than one. I learnt to be more self-critical, to appreciate the constructive criticisms of others, to see my story from another viewpoint, and to have a stronger faith in myself too.
You threw us into the deep end, but I think it was the only way you could get us to write. I think the course helped to cultivate the writer's temperament e.g. the morning writing. I only wish we had more time to hear out each other's stories and give more comments (but this is underway with our post-programme email discussions). I liked the way you didn't try too hard to get the discussion back on track but rather let it veer wherever it led to. This gave the programme a lot more life, I feel, and in the end I learnt which were good books to look out for, too! The flexibility and spontaneity was good!
One thing about the programme that I feel would have enhanced my experience further would be this: I would have liked to know from the outset what the module would be like i.e. what every lecture would entail. This will give me a direction and a sense of what's coming up next, so I could get myself prepared. I don't know, perhaps this was what you deliberately intended to do (not letting us know what was coming next)?
And as Kok Yee said, it really was like walking into a fire -- you'd never know when you'd get burnt!! Or worse, razed!!! Or the passion may consume you entirely you'd have no time or appetite for anything else!!
Yan Lai Peen.