Tunku Halim Creative Writing Workshop


After attending Tunku Halim’s Creative Writing Workshop (THCWW), I walked away with one important lesson: Knowing something and knowing how to apply it are two very different things. It is much like the 13-year old boy and sex. He may have been taught in biology class how to impregnate a female. But the reality of it is, given the opportunity, and despite his enthusiasm, he may not even be able to perform at all. Even if he does manage to see the act through, it is unlikely that it will be executed with any degree of finesse.

And the same is true with writing, too. Many of us know the tools that are deployed in creative writing (and I don’t mean just pen and paper). Most of us – through books, other workshops or conversations with those more learned than ourselves – are aware of these tools. They are often referred to as ‘setting’, ‘description’, ‘dialogue’, ‘point of view’, ‘character’ and ‘plot’. At the intellectual level, we all know what these things are, what is it exactly that they do and why they are important. Nonetheless, does this mean we also know how to use them? As I painfully discovered, the answer to this question, in most cases (especially mine), is a resounding ‘No!’.

This point was driven home when Tunku made us write little passages using these tools. We then had to read them out for all to hear. After having heard a few, and with the benefit of Tunku’s guidance, I looked at my own wretched passage and almost cried out loud, “What a load of bollocks!”

Like the 13-year old boy, just because I possessed the necessary information didn’t also mean I automatically had the necessary skills to execute the task properly. I was woefully inadequate in the execution aspect of it. To put it in another way, simply because I have memorized the operating manual of a tower crane, for example, doesn’t mean I will be able to operate it. I suppose I could. But the collateral damage would be quite unacceptable.

The important thing is to exercise using these tools. And this cannot be done in any other way than by writing, writing, and then writing some more. If I didn’t learn anything else from Tunku’s workshop, having learned this lesson alone would have made it all worthwhile.

I suppose a grand time was had by all at the workshop. As I expected, a phenomenon that is peculiar to Malaysian audiences managed to rear its ugly head yet again. I call this phenomenon the ‘pseudo-question’ phenomenon. I guess Malaysians can’t help succumbing to this rather amusing behaviour during question time.

This is how it usually goes down: Instead of asking questions in a quest to acquire the answers that would fill an information gap, there will be one or two (sometimes more) who will ask questions that they already know the answers to. The reason for asking these ‘psuedo-questions’, as far as I can fathom, is to put on display the enquirer’s depth of knowledge so that it can be duly admired. When this happens, I am glad I do not have access to a shotgun. Otherwise, the consequences may prove to be quite severe.

But being a right gentleman, and much to his credit, Tunku manages to entertain and address these so-called ‘questions’ with much grace and aplomb. It is likely that the ‘pseudo-questioner’ is not even aware that Tunku knows that he has just been asked a ‘pseudo-question’. Kudos to Tunku!

But moving to things more positive, I guess after the workshop, I became slightly more confident that someday, I may just be able to get published. This is because, according to Tunku, Malaysian publishers are quite eager to develop a crop of Malaysian writers. Currently, there exists a quite substantial window of opportunity. What I have to do is to keep on writing. Someday, somewhere, some publisher may like my work enough to put it in print.

And as Tunku said, “Talent is what separates a good writer from a great writer.” I don’t need to be a great writer. So, talent doesn’t have to come into the equation. This being case, I guess my chances aren’t all that bad.

And the final highlight of the day was when Tunku borrowed my Sailor 1911 fountain pen to write something for somebody.

What more could I ask for?


12 thoughts on “Tunku Halim Creative Writing Workshop

  1. Salam bro,

    You want my honest opinion? Well, like it or not, you are getting it: YOU ARE NOT A BAD WRITER! IN FACT, YOU ARE GOOD! Comprande? Oops! You no understando Spanish 🙂

    Don’t worry about what others say…er, I got that wrong, haven’t I? Since when do you?

    ps. How come you did not inform me about this workshop? I never even knew there was one such! Haaa….makan sorang diri eh!

  2. [babe]

    I could have asked him for a free autographed copy of his book. But can you imagine if he had said yes to me? He would have had to say yes to 30 other people, too!

    So, naturally, I thought it would be a bad idea. But when I get published, I’d give you a free copy of my book… just don’t ask me in front of too many people, tho! 🙂


    Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    But for the life of me, I can’t explain why I didn’t think of telling you about it. *Bad boy! Bad, bad boy!*

  3. Yo MB,
    I want a copy of your book too. Kalau boleh I nak the 5th copy as I reckon you will reserve the first four copies for the “officials” and the “unofficials”! Uhuhuhuhuh :p

  4. Mamak, Re: Writing,

    I was advised a while back on the idea of setting books related industry in M’sia.
    His advise was this ‘…..In M’sia it is more profitable selling durian than selling books’
    How true?

    As skill is concern jes’ write what you feel inside and honest about it .
    That is where I find about yr.skill.
    There is honesty.
    Forget about all other craps.
    Don’t do self promotion.
    Once you completed your 1st.draft hand it to me for 2nd.stage.


  5. Woi… I’m with shah, kemut makan sorang!

    You said, “The important thing is to exercise using these tools. And this cannot be done in any other way than by writing, writing, and then writing some more.”

    Metaphorically speaking . . . does this hold true for sex as well? 🙂

  6. [digital]

    I don’t think so, bro. Taking into consideration ‘officials’ and ‘unofficials’, yours will have to be maybe the 12th copy or so.


    Darn! To think that you may have been at the workshop but for the setbacks with the mother, mother-in-law and maid…

    And thanks for the vote of confidence.

    [pak tuo]

    You may be right. Selling durians may be more profitable. Unfortunately, I think I am slightly better at writing than I am selling durians.

    [mat salo]

    Gimme a high five! You are probably right. I don’t actually know for sure since I don’t practice that much anymore. My tools aren’t as sharp as they used to be 🙂

  7. I think writers usually get RM1-2 for each RM15 book sold.

    In contrast, book sellers get 40% of the list price.

    So maybe better to write and sell your own books.

    Like you, I dream of sending a manuscript to an international publisher and getting a six-figure offer (in euros) in return.

    Next time blog about an upcoming CWW la, woi … at least we’ll get to know each other.


  8. [sir cipan]

    OK, I am guilty as charged (by you, Cakapaje and Mat Salo]. Next time I intend to attend a creative writing workshop, I’ll blog about it first. So there’s no need to shoot me (but cakapaje will still find a reason to shoot me any way 🙂 )

    Hey! You know quite a lot about the publishing industry stuff, don’t you? OK RM1-2 for a RM15 book may not be able to feed me and mine. But it will sure stroke my ego!

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