500 Words From...is a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their recently published books and characters. Here Bruneian KH Lim discusses his debut novel, Written in Black, which is set in his home country.
A darkly humorous coming-of-age novel, Written in Black offers a snapshot of a few days in the life of a troubled 10-year-old, Jonathan Lee, who absconds from his grandfather’s wake in an empty coffin. He then embarks on a journey across Brunei. His travels bring him into contact with poklans – Bruneian teenage delinquents – weird shopkeepers, and the inhabitants of cursed houses. Along the way, he discovers adventure, courage, friendship - and, eventually, himself.
So: over to KH Lim…
“Written in Black is about a boy from a broken family, who escapes his grandfather's funeral to find his runaway elder brother. Why? Because only his brother might know the truth about why their mother left the country six months ago. If all that sounds too optimistic for you, I forgot to add that he also gets regularly picked on by an unsympathetic and rather volatile father. Hopefully he'll make it through alright in the end, but definitely not unchanged…
I trust readers can relate to my novel because navigating through a maze of crap only to find that half your decisions were wrong, you've ended up at the wrong destination, and you’ve many miles yet left to go...that probably describes life for most people, and it doesn't always change us for the better.
How did I come up with the book? Dreaming up stories is just something I do, almost out of instinct, and after trying to write about other places, I thought: why not try writing about my home country instead? I wouldn't have to do much research and there was plenty of material I could dredge up from past experiences to fashion into something readable and entertaining that also had depth, meaning, and a setting largely unfamiliar to readers from outside Brunei, and hence one that was fresh and interesting.
As to my writing process, I write as and when I get the time; mainly in the evenings, after I’ve finished with my day job as a doctor. I can shape story lines in my head during the day to a certain extent, but ultimately what looks good in my imagination doesn't always translate so well into writing, so there's no avoiding having to spend hours at my laptop worrying over which order of words sounds best for a particular sentence - multiply that by the average number of sentences in a typical book and you get the scale of the ordeal writing can be, and often is.
Would I ever think of becoming a full time writer? Probably not, unless it brought in Harry Potter levels of revenue. I have a cautious, traditional streak that makes it hard for me to conceive giving up a steady, respectable occupation in medicine for a career in the arts.
I think many of my fellow Bruneians share this caution; it probably partly explains why there aren't many writers from Brunei to begin with - or, at least, not many writers who are serious about getting their material out into the wider world. My advice to those Bruneians who do want to write, is: read a lot; think a lot; write a lot; be concise.
I hope that eventually writing from Brunei will win international attention.”