Amir Muhammad has probably made more money from a year in publishing than ten years in filmmaking. For someone barely into his forties, he’s travelled the awards circuit more than most home-grown filmmakers, his name pretty much synonymous with the Malaysian independent scene.
However, this is a man who isn’t much of a commercial draw; his movies have been small-budgeted endeavours in the craft of cinema. Limited local appeal and government backlash on some of his works took their toll on how far he could go with his own voice.
Despite everything, three years into the business of publishing with his brainchild BUKU FIXI has yielded him an almost permanent residency at the top of Malaysian fiction charts.
It’s hard to imagine a past without FIXI books dominating the MPH Bestsellers List. KL NOIR, FIXI’s short story compilation set in the heart of Kuala Lumpur and sourced from the rakyat, was originally planned as a 2-book series.
KL NOIR: BLUE is the fourth book in the series: it went straight to number one on the fiction charts and was ordered for a second print less than a week after launching.
So what is the fuss all about? Here are the basics: the stories are meant to be in the noir genre, and they are set in KL. Sounds simple enough?
A read through KL NOIR: BLUE proves that this fairly simple premise can be a great playground for its often skilled writers. At close to 300 pages, the book is a surprisingly light and entertaining read. From its amusing manifesto to the quirky biographies of its authors, its pages burst with life and fresh, unpolished talent.
At one end of the spectrum are the pieces that play up to the noir and suspense element in a shameless, calculated or tacky manner. Pumped up on melodrama and bursting with some cerekarama realness, we have Ballerina In Pink, written by Rozlan Mohd Noor. According to his biography, Rozlan is an ex-police officer, so the less said about his work the safer.
On a higher tier are stories with entertainment value but don’t provide any long-lasting impact. These are the predictable, dramatic sort that keep you on the edge of your seat while they last, but every twist and turn can be called out from a mile away.
Monster by Xeus is a classic example of this dilemma. It’s based on a very Malaysian parental threat, but while gratifying, doesn’t attempt anything new.
When the writing is good, it really stands out. Some of the great pieces in this anthology include Joelyn Alexandra‘s short but powerful Unwanted Utopia II: Deviant. The political sci-fi piece runs at a mere 14 pages but gets the job done nicely. Ling Low’s “Smoke Flowers” is also similarly concise at twelve pages; an efficient display of storytelling.
Even better are Sinful Saints and Ah Beng’s Wedding. Iqbal Abu Bakar‘s Saints is wonderful – exhillirating, clever and witty from start to finish – while Wedding frustrates greatly despite its merits. Had William Thai‘s protagonist been more consistent with his manner of communication, “Wedding” could have been one of the best features in KL NOIR: BLUE.
Most beautiful of all are the works of Karina Bahrin, Zed Adam Idris and Zedeck Siew.
Karina’s A Woman in Five Pieces is an intriguing and highly visual piece that is as beautiful as it is descriptive. Here is a writer capable of giving a decapitated corpse allure and vivaciousness.
Zed’s story in the meantime is a jam-packed action thriller with a heaped spoonful of Malay mysticism spicing up the entire affair. Mirage is dark; it leaves the reader with a stench of hopelessness; it’s a sinister journey from start to finish and back to the start again.
Zedeck’s Hearts in the City however is quite frankly a masterpiece. It is bizarre, very powerful – a truly special entry in the collection – and sticks out for its otherworldliness while also not straying far from reality. His piece felt akin to a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the uncanny valley hypothesis and the only way to figure out what all this means is to go and read it for yourself.
Works like Zedeck’s are priceless; they demand public attention and serve to educate the masses.
All the writers featured here are not to be belittled for the time and effort they spent carefully crafting their stories, especially considering they had guts to showcase their pieces for mass consumption.
Inspiring local writing is vital to the awakening of public interest in literature and these guys have made us want to put down our stories on paper too – it’s crucial to maintain this opportunity FIXI has given potential writers so new voices may be heard.
Looking at the overall picture, it’s only fair to insist that FIXI continue to nurture and build upon the talent of local writers.
Should Amir continue making money this way then? We don’t see why not.