Back to the beginning

03 Jul 2014

Chan Ling Yap has taken the same Malaysian family featured in her first two novels to create a
back story about how the left China amidst the turmoil of war for a foreign land in her new books.

Born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Chan Ling Yap is blessed with beginner’s luck. Her first novel, Sweet Offerings, published in 2009, received rave reviews. Two years later, her second novel Bitter-Sweet Harvest also became a success.

Currently based in the United Kingdom, the fitness instructor and full-time author has recently completed her third novel, New Beginnings, which like her earlier two works, revolves around her Chinese roots.

Chan said in an email interview: “It is common among authors to create characters that they feel they can relate to most strongly. This, of course, does not preclude me from including characters who are non-Chinese.

“In Bitter-Sweet Harvest, Hussein plays a dominant role, while in my latest novel, the important non-Chinese character is an Englishman called Grimes.”

Her latest novel is set in the southern province of Guangxi in the 1800s. Amidst the turmoil of the Civil War and the Opium Wars, a woman is kidnapped and her husband is shipped out to Singapore to work as a labourer.

It tells the story of one man’s plight as a result of opium addiction and his journey to riches in British Malaya.

It was her UK literary agent who suggested that an epic drama of the Opium Wars in China, told from the perspective of people who bore the brunt of the wars’ impact, would make an interesting read.

“The evils of the Opium Wars had been generally swept under the carpet,” says the 66-year-old author, who holds a Ph.D in Economics and had lectured at Universiti Malaya before joining the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations in Rome, where she worked for 19 years.

Chan pointed out that the two Opium Wars (1839 to 1842 and 1856 to 1860) were also the periods with the largest outflow of Chinese from China to foreign lands.

“Singapore, Malaysia, and California (in the United States) were ranked as the main destinations for those leaving China at that time.”

Chan had taken the same Malaysian family she had featured in her first two novels – Sweet Offerings and Bitter-Sweet Harvest – and took them back in time to create a story which saw them leaving China for the first time.

“The biggest challenge I faced when writing this novel is that I have very little from which I could draw on, except from my own experience and life, because the story was set in the 1800s,” she said. “I have to start the novel from a totally blank canvas.”

In order to get a feel for the period and set the ambience for the novel, Chan visited museums, read a wide range of books, did endless amount of research on the internet and browsed through old pictures.

“I have been to China on several business trips,” she said. “I must say that those trips were useful because they gave me an insight into the psyche of the Chinese people.”

What was most difficult and challenging for her was depicting how Malaysia (then Malaya) and Singapore were like in the 1800s. There were very few good books written about the Malayan history and heritage during that period.

“The migration of large numbers of people to Malaya from China in the 1800s with the introduction of rubber and the railway lines are well documented.

“However, there is very little written on their personal lives, for example, how they lived, how they moved from place to place, what was their fortune like when they first stepped into Malaya and so on.”

One inspiration for the book came from Yap Kwan Seng who was the fifth and last Kapitan China in Kuala Lumpur.

“He was my great-grandfather,” she said. “Sadly, I knew very little about him as I have no contact with his other descendants. I knew that he arrived in Malaya as a coolie and rose to importance and wealth. Beyond that, I had very little knowledge about his personal life.”

When asked what had motivated her to write fiction, she said: “In my professional career, first as a lecturer and associate professor in Universiti Malaya, and then as a senior economist within the United Nations, I have always written and published extensively. However, these works were academic and technical in nature.”

When she retired, she wanted to write something that was completely different from what she had written then.

“The idea of writing a fiction and of using my imagination just sprung from nowhere,” she said. “I love writing fiction because fiction takes me to areas in my mind which I never knew existed.”

Chan feels that there are still many areas in Chinese history for her to explore.


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Who says Malaysians don’t read?

Sunday, 2 Jun 2019
by Terence Toh

KUALA LUMPUR: A novel set in the country’s past clearly struck a chord with modern-day readers – so much so that they voted it to the top at this year’s Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards (RCA).

Local author Chan Ling Yap’s Where The Sunrise Is Red is a tale of love, lies and resilience during the Emergency in 1950s Malaya.

It received the most votes in the fiction category, winning her the first prize which was awarded in a ceremony at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre here yesterday.

Chan, who currently lives in Britain and was unable to attend the ceremony, was represented by Pansing Distribution Sdn Bhd senior manager (books) Balasubramaniam Rajoo.

“I’m honoured to receive this award on behalf of Pansing and the publisher. On behalf of the publisher, I thank you, Popular Book Co, for creating such a wonderful platform for authors,” he said.

RCA was conceived to support local authors and, through its “vote and win” component, encourage Malaysians to read.

The top three books with the most votes in the fiction and nonfiction categories are chosen as winners every year and announced at the start of BookFest@Malaysia, another event also organised by Popular Book Co (M) Sdn Bhd to encourage reading.

According to Popular executive director Lim Lee Ngoh, last year’s BookFest@Malaysia recorded some 650,000 visitors over its nine-day period.

This figure, she said, proved that Malaysians were still very much into books.

“Who says Malaysians are not into reading? The figure we recorded last year indicated that we are still very much into books and other reading materials.

“And our visitors are from all age groups, which speaks volumes of who the reading public is. It is a reflection of all of us,” Lim said.

Favourite authors: Winners of the fiction and nonfiction categories of the Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards posing with guests of honour – Fu (centre), flanked by Chia (fourth from right) and Ng – at the award presentation ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.

The 20 books nominated in the RCA every year are certainly read by many people, with enthusiasm for the only literary award to be voted on by ordinary Malaysians still going strong in its 12th year.

The second prize in this year’s fiction category went to Norhafsah Hamid’s Letters To God, about a conflicted young woman who decides to pour out her troubles to God in a series of letters.

Third prize went to Datuk M. Shanmughalingam’s debut collection of short stories, Marriage And Mutton Curry, about the concerns and intrigues of the Jaffna Tamil community in Malaysia.

It was an all-political affair in RCA’s nonfiction category this year, with all three top prizes going to books touching on watershed events in the country.

Topping the category was May 9: People Power Saves Malaysia by veteran journalist M. Krishnamoorthy about the events of the 14th General Election last year, and how Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad played a key role in bringing Malaysians together to effect a historic change in government.

Krishnamoorthy revealed that he was inspired to write the book after he was unexpectedly invited to cover a press conference by Dr Mahathir on election results.

“Thanks to our great Prime Minister, and to Popular. God bless us all,” he said in his acceptance speech.

Second prize went to the much buzzed about book on the 1MDB financial scandal, Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood And The World by journalists Tom Wright and Bradley Hope.

The third prize winner is also about the 2018 election: The People’s Victory: How Malaysians Saved Their Country by former journalist Kee Thuan Chye.

The awards were presented to the winners by Star Media Group chairman Datuk Fu Ah Kiow and chief content officer Esther Ng as well as independent director of Popular Holdings Ltd, Prof Christopher Chia.

Also presented at the same event were awards for winners of the Popular-BH Anugerah Popular Pembaca for Malay books.

All winners received certificates of recognition, trophies and cash prizes of RM3,000, RM1,500 and RM1,000 for first, second and third prize winners respectively.

BookFest@Malaysia 2019 started yesterday and will continue until June 9 at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre.

Admission is with purchase of the BookFest guidebook at RM2.50 per entry or RM10 for multiple entries over the nine days.

Guidebooks are available at all Popular and Harris bookstore outlets nationwide and also at the event’s entrance.

Entrance is free for students 18 years old and below and for senior citizens aged 60 and above.

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Created: June 8, 2019.
Last update: June 8, 2019.