Three guest panelists spoke at the February edition of Sharpened Word held on Saturday, February 18 at the Old Andersonians’ Club. They were Professor Dato’ Ahmad Murad Merican, Keeshaanan Sundaresan and Julya Oui.
Professor Dato’ Ahmad Murad Merican, a writer cum academician, hails from Penang. He has written 11 books and still writes a column today.
“Writing is not just a skill. It’s a tool and one needs to practise. To be a good writer, you have to be a good storyteller,” he said.
Journalism school exposed him to non-fiction writing. While studying, he also worked as a stringer for Malay newspapers before becoming a full-time journalist with Bernama.
Murad wrote his first article when he was 16. At the age of 18, he started writing for the Penang-based Straits Echo. He has been writing for over 40 years now. Features, for him, are rather captivating as they are more people-oriented. The stories add colour to people’s lives.
Writing is not solely creativity or a hobby. In order to be a writer, one must keep on writing to develop one’s niche along the way.
“To develop a style you need to read a lot. I’ve read books and articles by known writers and scholars for over 30 years. That’s how you identify yourself in writing,” he remarked.
“I was originally from Tapah but moved to Ipoh which is relatively quaint. Growing up here, nothing else mattered,” said sports journalist, Keeshaanan Sundaresan.
As Keesh never really opted to learn about the world, sports journalism has taught him some of the most incredible things about the world today. He began writing with Ipoh Echo, before making his way into online journalism. Currently, he is the Chief Editor of FourthOfficial.com, a local sports portal.
“It’s that intensity and idea of people, regardless of their background, religion, sexual identity, who can unite and become one within a specific period of time that drew me into sports. I’m attracted to the stories that exist behind sports itself so I owe it all to the athletes,” he continued.
His first involvement in sports led to understanding what football meant to different cultures and eventually realised that there are a lot of similarities between countries. To Brazilians, it is more than just a religion while to China, it is a necessity.
He alluded to online games like FIFA 17 and Dota 2 which have been recognised as a legitimate form of sport. Like athletes, these players train 14 to 16 hours a day and get paid monthly.
Murad and Keesh both agreed that anyone can be a journalist, even without factual evidence and this is a sad fact. Anybody can dominate the online world but space for expression are limited in hard copies.
Hence, the education system has to play a role. Students need to be taught on questioning things rather than just accepting. It is important for journalists to evolve before the world is fed with things that are untrue.
Taiping-born Julya Oui is a screenwriter and an author of horror stories. She claimed that Taiping used to be a very scary town while she was growing up. The dim streetlights and huge trees along certain stretches of the town frightened her.
“After dinner we’d go to my uncle’s house. There were 12 to 14 of us who would sit in a big circle and end up telling horror stories. I was a terrified six-year-old,” Julya exclaimed.
Experiencing the toilet outside her house and television series like Twilight Zone were contributing factors to her writing. She used to write poems in primary school and enjoyed the rhymes.
Julya got into writing because she used to tell her own version of horror stories to her friends. As her stories scared them, she thought maybe she could be a writer one day.
“I can’t go a day without writing. That’s why I carry a notebook with me and prefer it to computers. When I hear something that sparks my imagination, I’ll jot it down,” she continued.
As a screenwriter, when she writes script, she writes around it. Her stories speak through her characters. She also writes film and book reviews.