Arts & CultureBooks

An Authentic Voice

By Chris Teh

The Sharpened Word session in June hosted an afternoon with Chuah Guat Eng, a Malaysian novelist and professional writer. It was held on Saturday, June 22 at 22 Hale Street.

Contrary to previous sessions of Sharpened Word, this instalment saw attendees being more interactive by exchanging five basic elements of writing a story, which are character, place, time, emotion and action.

From Chuah’s experience, writers have a tendency to write things unrelated to being Malaysian.

“The television world depicted through books and other media trouble the whole reading. Writers are supposed to convince their readers that what was written has really happened,” she said.

“Plausible writing is about using the best words to communicate,” Chuah added.

Born in Rembau, Negeri Sembilan in 1943, she received her early education at Methodist Girls’ School, Klang and Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur. She later read English literature at the University of Malaya and German literature at Ludwig-Maximilian University, Munich, obtaining her PhD from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia in 2008.

Being the first Malaysian woman to publish an English language novel, ‘Echoes of Silence’ in 1994 remains Chuah’s top accomplishment. The story revolves around a Chinese Malaysian woman trying to find clues of a murder mystery and as the plot thickens, discovers more about herself.

According to Chuah, authenticity in writing comes from describing events that had happened from the first-person narrative of the character itself.

“To be truly creative, you need to lose your ego. You are it. Engross yourself in the authentic voice of the character as you have no control over them because they are themselves. That will determine how far you can go in pushing the story along and dealing with the unexpected changes in story elements,” she explained.

Asked about the current work on her third novel, she answered, “Everything I write is an experiment. I cannot give a definite overview on it because ideas flow in as I write.”

“Challenges are bound to be present in my whole process of writing.

Chuah advised up and coming writers, “Write and just write. Don’t talk about it, don’t boast about it, don’t write about writing, but just write. Use simple words and verbs to describe the character instead of adjectives.”

She self-publishes her books and thus, they are unavailable at any bookstores. For more information, log on to

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