Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reflections of an Accidental Writer

It has been exactly a year since I submitted the final edits of Footprints to my editor at MPH. Eric was sending the manuscript to the printer on 1 February but I stopped making revisions several days before 31 January, the deadline.  

“I know there’s always a better way to say something and to string words into pretty chains but my journey with this book is done,” I told the editor in an email. And I believe that. One could go on revising and rewriting forever. But we have to stop some time in order to get the book published.

Courtesy of goodbooksguide
I had several interviews after the book was out. One frequently asked question was: Why did you write the book?

What goaded me to start writing was the realization that our childhood memories amused my younger sister who was battling cancer. However, the materials for the book had been brewing in my head for a very long time, years before my sister fell ill. I knew that a book about the Dusuns had to be written. Now, I’m not saying that no books had ever been written about the Dusuns. I’ve come across many fine books written by white men who came to work in North Borneo—men such as Ivor Evans, Owen Rutter and Oscar cook, to mention a few. But I thought it’s time we wrote our own stories.

At MPH Mid Valley (Courtesy of Safuan)
So I wrote this book, a family portrait in which I’ve painted scenes of life from the good old days when all Dusuns were rice farmers. Today, more and more of us have given up farming. For some of us, it’s because urbanization has eaten up our paddy fields. For others it’s because education has given us the option of seeking other forms of employment.

I also want to help preserve the Dusun traditions and beliefs. Our culture, because it’s rooted in agriculture and life in the ‘wild’ is fast disappearing. I want to remind readers that we’re in danger of losing the very things which make us unique and that there is an urgent need to preserve the cultures of all the indigenous people of Sabah. There must be some ways of retaining the old (even as we move toward becoming a modern society,) something we can perhaps learn from Japan where hi-tech exists side by side with centuries-old traditions.

Signing books at the book launch
 (Courtesy of Anita)

I  also wrote so our future generations will know that their ancestors were hardworking farmers who lived in harmony with nature and were at peace with their nearest neighbours: the Chinese of Kota Belud and the Bajaus of the surrounding villages. It is a reminder to all that we have something to learn about harmonious living from our unschooled, illiterate ancestors, the ‘wild men’ of Borneo.

Finally, I wanted to show ordinary Malaysians that we don’t have to be a ‘somebody’ to write about our lives.

Footprint cupcakes at the launch
 (Courtesy of Jain)

Having a list of ‘valid’ reasons for writing a book is, of course, not good enough to hanker for publication. What if nobody wants to read the book? That possibility gnawed at me as soon as the rewriting was over. I was so afraid of embarrassing the clan by becoming the laughing stock of the kampong. But I still had more than a month before the book was out and I could pretend I hadn’t done anything that might cause my siblings to wrinkle their brows as they respond to questions posed by their acquaintances: “Who? Tina? Oh, you must be mistaken. We don’t have a sister by that name. ”


  1. Your book did gave me some answers to my questions about how the Dusuns live back then. =)

    I am looking forward for more!

  2. I remember; when I read footprints, I got almost the identical feelings with the time when I was reading Frank McCourt's 'Tis. I wished that footprints in written in a much vivid details, but I'm guessing that there'll be another book?

  3. Tina,
    congrats again for 'footprints' and all the best for your next project.
    i knew its not fair to make comparison, but, like Rick, i wished for vivider details in the story. not a scattered fragments of stories.

    this, however doesnt wane my support to you. Go Tina!

  4. Tina, I am hoping to read another book of yours very soon :) I actually learned a lot of things from the book. One of them was the existence of 'tudipon' in the Kota Belud Dusun clan of the time you were growing up. It fascinated me a lot because just a few days before reading that I've had a discussion with a Bajau friend about how in their society, there is that concept 'ulun' albeit unspoken among their people. I wonder if 'tudipon' is due to Bajau influence...

  5. Hello everyone! I really appreciate your taking time to read my posts and leaving your comments!
    @Angel, glad you found some answers!
    @Rick, Frank McCourt? Owh, you're too kind. Among the top books I LOVE is Angela's Ashes.
    @Kukuanga, I value your opinions and will keep in mind what you've said here and in other posts. I'll be writing about 'details' and other stuff soon.. like Reflections 2! Hopefully, you and Rick (and others too) will come visit. :-)
    @Verone, glad that you too learnt something. My mother told me about 'tudipon'. She personally knew someone who had been a tudipon.. besides her step-mum's first husband. I was amazed that slaves existed!
    She also used the word as a verb. "Mongudipon ko doho," she often said to my father!
    I've no idea about the Bajau ulun, though. I've always thought 'ulun' is a Sabah word for servant! "Ko buat saya ulun saja," like we used to say!