By Mei Kuan
After the acclaimed debut of his first collection of short stories in 2013, Ipoh-born Paul GnanaSelvam is back with another collection titled “The Elephant Trophy and Other Stories”.
Ipoh Echo spoke to the 46-year-old published author to learn more about the much-anticipated book release and his inspirational journey as a writer which began way before his debut.
“I first began to write Letters to Editors which appeared in the Star Education in 2005, followed by life-reflection articles that appeared in the Heart and Soul section in Star Two. A number of colleagues, friends, church members and family members gave very positive remarks on my style of writing. This led to my first successful short story publication in the anthology, Write Out Loud in 2006. It was a ghost story titled ‘Doi…’. That created the onset for me in pursuing creative writing. I began to see myself as a writer,” the alumnus of St Michael’s Institution Ipoh recalled.
“I like stories from the Indian Diasporas, entailing the detachment and the connectedness to the motherland, or simply telling the Malaysian Indian experience as part of this great Diaspora through my stories,” Paul expressed, citing the late K.S. Maniam, Rani Manica and Tan Twan Eng as some of his favourite Malaysian writers.
According to him, the overall theme of his second collection echoes the outer and inner demons that possess the Malaysian Indian community and dictates the overlook of their lives as Indians and Malaysians.
“I feel there are very few Malaysian writers in English who represent the Malaysian Indian community, particularly the Tamils. I suppose I am one of those contemporary voices that bring up social issues that surround the community,” he explained.
Written between 2012 till 2020, the 248-page paperback covers major themes such as socio-politics, social-economic imbalance, issues pertaining to gender and social class juxtaposed with community values.
“The content in this collection is relevant to time, society and context of the changing world and the many challenges it brings to contemporary Malaysia. People especially in Malaysia are becoming more racially divided, as such, there is a need to understand more about each other—their struggles, aspirations and successes. This would make a difference on the readers’ psyche and world view, and create kinder, empathetic individuals who are aware of others and their lives,” the amiable Paul added.
His journey as a writer includes juggling between his full-time work as lecturer, research for PhD, fiction writing and more: “I usually write during the weekends or as an end-of-the-day chore. However, I write everyday to ensure continuity in my thought processes and text production. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and burn the midnight oil or write between lectures in the office. I write a little at a time – rethinking plots, defining characters or editing language. I usually don’t finish writing entire drafts in one sitting. Therefore, I am always writing, either academic or fiction.”
“Sometimes submission deadlines also affect the way I work, concentrating more on fiction during a given time. However, as a writer, my stories and characters are always on the roll in my mind. I carry a notebook to write down ideas as they come. A smartphone makes it easier now to write notes and voice-record my thoughts for later reference,” he shared.
Here’s his advice for budding writers who are just starting out: “Make sure you read extensively. Decide what you want to tell the world. Get a scrap book – write down your ideas as notes. Make sure you know your basic elements – plot, characters, themes etc. Do research if you have to as you need to be credible. Identify your genre whether it is fiction, poetry or non-fiction. Work towards your goals—stop dreaming and do not expect any form of glamour!”
He observed that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed challenges for authors as the publishing industry is severely affected: “Printing costs have increased. Book retailers are facing closures as the pandemic has closed down book shops everywhere. Events such as international book fairs, book launches and readings have been cancelled, too. As the international market is facing a sluggish condition, the marketing of books and promotion of writers seem to have become an uphill task for publishing houses. There is a new norm that authors and publishers have to contend with—the Internet—for all activities from book promotions, sales, launches to author presence. This calls for new strategies, new mechanisms and tech savviness to cope.”
He names his mother and the late K.S. Maniam, a leading literary voice in English in Malaysia, as his biggest motivators as he keeps moving forward in life: “We grew up listening to stories that my mother often told us, about her life and those around her. She breathed life into my imaginations, nostalgia, and to a certain extent, story-telling techniques. K.S. Maniam was my first official contact with stories pertaining to identity. In university, we studied his text, ‘In a Far Country’. It shook me. I was astounded by the mirror it presented on who I was, where I came from and what I am now. This novel helped me to discover nostalgia, memories, lessons, directions and the ability to connect with my internal and external worlds.”
Published by Penguin-Random House SEA, Paul’s “The Elephant Trophy and Other Stories” is currently available for pre-order by online retailers worldwide at the following link and Google: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58527271-the-elephant-trophy-and-other-stories
Its price ranges between RM55 to RM80, depending on retailer discounts, postage and currency exchange in countries where it is being sold. The physical copies will soon land on shelves of the Kinokuniya bookstore in Malaysia.
Meanwhile, his first collection of short stories, “Latha’s Christmas and Other Stories” was published in 2013 by MPH Malaysia.
For more updates, interested readers can check out Paul’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/paul.gnanaselvam