Showing posts with label Jakarta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jakarta. Show all posts

Tuesday 31 May 2016

The Puppet Master: a taster

Available on Amazon 6/6/16
On Monday the 6 June, my latest novel, The Puppet Master, will be published on Kindle. It tells the story of a diplomat's wife living in the social whirl of expat Jakarta during the 1970s. She has two young daughters she adores, a successful husband and an exotic home complete with staff, so why does she view the future with a sense of foreboding?

As promised in my blog last week about my childhood in Indonesia, I am posting part of the opening chapter to whet your appetites. Make yourself a cup of tea and enjoy...

Monday 23 May 2016

Tales from the tropics

One of my earliest memories is playing happily in a friend's garden before being unceremoniously yanked inside by our panic-stricken mothers. Turned out there was a python lurking in the storm drain. Not long after the snake-scare, we were motoring through town when our driver yelled at us to duck down out-of-sight. Our error was to pass a roundabout where police were pursuing a runaway man with live bullets. I can remember seeing the man fall to the ground as my mum pushed me down into the footwell. Strangely I accepted these occasional elements of danger without question. That was how life was in Indonesia in the late 1970s.

Emma Clark Lam as a child in Jakarta
Me and my brother in the Puncak, outside Jakarta, c.1978
It was a lot of fun too - lazy afternoons at the swimming pool, horse-riding in the tea plantations outside Jakarta, holidays in Bali and trips to the beach with the volcano Krakatoa looming in the background. My parents were posted to Jakarta in their early thirties and were given a company bungalow complete with domestic staff. Looking back at family photos, it is clear that hedonism was the order of the day. My parents and their friends were young and groovy - the albums are full of raucous parties, boat trips and batik shirts. 

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Work in progress

Today I am posting an excerpt from my new novel about a young woman trapped in a ruinous marriage in Jakarta, Indonesia, during the 1970s. 

Sunset in Bali
The sun deserted us within minutes...

The journey ended as the wheels of the aeroplane struck the tarmac with a deafening roar. I stared into the face of an airhostess and decided that Death wore a batik uniform and crimson lipstick. Over our heads, the rain hammered upon the cabin like gunfire, while the wind sucked at the egg-shaped windows. As the plane listed from side to side, I gripped the hands of my two little girls and opened silent negotiations with God. We were three hundred passengers holding our breath, waiting for an engine to blow or smoke to billow out from the wing. My eyes sought out the airhostess once more, scanning her features for any trace of panic. Her mouth remained composed, still fixed in a faint smile, her lips ghoulish in the dimmed light. At last, the plane came to a juddering halt. A hoarse cheer broke out, followed quickly by the snapping of seatbelts. It was all over – we had arrived. My hysteria shrank back down like a defeated genie into its lamp.
It was dusk by the time we staggered across the runway, crumpled and exhausted. We had endured forty-eight hours of travel, with eight pieces of luggage, a pushchair and a wooden crate. I thought I would be used to it by now, but the trip still knocked me for six. There were pustules of vomit on my jeans from where my eldest child had deposited her evening meal and my swollen feet filled up every crevice in my shoes. It was a journey to shake body and soul.
Within minutes of arriving, the sun deserted us, tunnelling down to another part of the world. I inhaled the soupy air and straightened my spine. It was a reflex – partly a reaction to the cramped cabin, but also a stiffening of resolve. Jakarta, we have returned! That said with defiance and weariness. After a summer away in Sussex, expatriate life was about to resume. While we swung croquet mallets in an English garden and caught up with the relatives, it was like someone had lifted the needle off the record player. Now, with a little crackle, the music would begin again.
When we reached the baggage hall, Simon disappeared into the rabble by the carousel, to collect the suitcases, while I ushered our girls over to a bank of seats. Two flights had arrived at once and there was general confusion as to whose baggage would materialise first. Outside the window, our jumbo jet melted away into a twinkle of lights, which swam in fluorescent waves as my eyes struggled to focus. A muscle in my left lid went into spasm. The urge to close my eyes was overpowering. Everyone had managed to sleep on the plane apart from me – the girls sprawled on the floor at our feet, Simon swathed in blankets. Ever watchful, I sat condemned to a numb kind of wakefulness, queasily aware of the body odour drifting over from across the aisle. Now sleep was calling me. The babble of the baggage hall was oddly soothing and I felt myself falling gently off a cliff… until a small jab on my forearm brought me back round.
“Mummy! Katie won’t let me have any of her water,” complained a voice by my side.
Slowly, automatically, I reached into my hand luggage for a flask to give to Hannah, my youngest. She took one swig and then flew back to her sister, invigorated. Both of them had been fractious and tearful when we left the plane, but now the excitement of arriving had given them a jolt of energy.
“Katie! Hannah! Please! Calm down,” I called after them. My glance flickered between Simon’s head, now floating above the crowd at the conveyor belt, and the girls in mid-flight. “Shush now, Daddy will be cross.”
After a while – I lost track of time – Simon and a porter returned with our luggage piled high on a trolley. I was too tired even to check the cases, an unusual omission for me.
“For God’s sake, try to get the girls to behave,” Simon snapped, before heading off to sort out the paperwork for the new dog.
During our summer in England, my husband had finally relented and allowed the girls to adopt a russet cocker spaniel called Dixie. For too many hours the poor animal had been holed up in a crate, two rows behind us on the plane, whining for her freedom. When we stopped in Bahrain to re-fuel, I watched out of the window as Simon gingerly led her around the plane. She eventually peed beside the wheel of a nearby truck as impassive soldiers looked on, cradling their machine guns. After Simon returned to his seat, he looked at me as if to say, this was all your bright idea.
More minutes ticked by in the baggage hall. I felt a dull ache rolling through my body – I was thirsting for a cigarette! With some sort of sensory memory, my fingers began twitching in my lap. The girls clambered across the floor, pretending to be donkeys. Where in the world had Simon got to? Girls please! Get up off the floor, it’s dirty. I gazed out across the marbled tiles and spotted my husband in the distance, arguing with an official in a blue uniform. Simon’s head was jutting forward, shooting words into the space between them. Something was wrong. Hauling myself to my feet, I tottered over in my sick-spattered trousers, trailing small girls, a porter and a squeaking trolley in my wake.
“What’s going on?”
“It’s the bloody dog,” said my husband tersely. “There’s an issue with the paperwork.”
That was Simon to a tee – controlling, aggressive, persuasive. He turned his back on me to continue his negotiations.
Selamat datang,” the customs man said, ignoring Simon and beaming across at me. “Welcome to Indonesia, Nyonya!”
Despite my malaise, despite the ache in my head, despite bloody everything, I smiled back. It seemed the thing to do. For the dog’s sake.
“How can we resolve this?” Simon cut in, his voice officious.
“I am sorry sir,” said the man with another oily smile, “but you are not permitted to bring this dog into Indonesia. It is against our regulations. Your paperwork is not in order.”
He jabbed his finger accusingly at the documents on the table in front of us.
The pulse in Simon’s jaw started to throb. His fury was like ice in my veins. I almost pitied the customs official – he had no idea who he was dealing with, poor soul. Dixie whined pathetically in the background, scrabbling at the door of her wooden crate. I held out my hand to her through the mesh window. There, there, little one. It will soon be over. One of the girls started to cry again – Hannah – she had a knack for tuning into emotional static. Katie leaned despondently on the crate with her arms hanging by her side.
“Give me your gun then,” Simon said.
“Sorry sir?”
“You heard me. Give me your gun.” Simon gestured towards the man’s holster. “If I can’t bring this dog into your country, I will have to shoot her with your gun.”
The breath was sucked out of me, my fingers snagged on the mesh. Katie gave a yelp of dismay. “No Daddy, please!”
The man gaped at Simon, his mouth hanging open, revealing an array of yellowing teeth. “One moment please,” he said and disappeared into an office by the side of us.
Inside my head I began to scream. No one deserved to die. Not yet, anyway.
Then the official came back. “Go, go!” he said, waving us through with a dismissive hand.

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

"This was such an enjoyable read and the quality of the writing was what made it so. I could not put it down as the plot was so meaty with so many twists and turns." 
-- Amazon review

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Dissenting voices

There are so may ways of telling a story. In the weighty tomes of Victorian England, authors like George Eliot took you by the hand and led you sententiously through the novel. Eliot's all-knowing, all-seeing 'voice' helped to shape your response to the characters, and ultimately the book itself. 

Tatty old books
Books of old: "Dear reader..."
© Photographer: Simon Lawrence | Agency:
As children of the modern age, we have rebelled against this kind of handholding. In The Art of Fiction, the writer and literary critic, David Lodge, explains that an intrusive, authorial voice claims "a God-like omniscience, which our sceptical and relativistic age is reluctant to grant to anyone". Modern fiction, he says, tends to present the action through the consciousness of the characters, or "by handing over to them the narrative task itself". 

In other words, readers of modern fiction are more accustomed to a quiet, third-person presence who moves deftly in and out of the characters' thoughts, or a first-person narrator who tells the story from their own point of view. This is not to say that the first-person narrator is a modern invention - in Great Expectations, Charles Dickens tells the story through Pip with great ingenuity. Despite the immediacy of the first person, somehow we can still feel Dickens' judgement of Pip coming through. 

Undeniably, however, there is something modern and spontaneous about the first person. It pulls us into the book with its confessional tone. There is no standing on ceremony. The authenticity of the first person can instantly bring a story to life. Immersed in the tale, we find it easier to forget that we are reading a work of fiction.

Nevertheless, there are limitations. The author, adopting the voice of a first-person narrator, has to stay in character. There are can be no sweeping descriptions of landscape (unless the narrator is prone to such diversions) or jumps into the minds of other characters. By contrast, a third-person telling allows the author to stand back, play God and pull all the strings. 

Now we come to my dilemma (and here I switch into the first person). I am in the process of writing a novel about an ex-patriate community in Jakarta during the 1970s. On a whim, I decided to write it in the first person. I wanted the novel to open with all the immediacy and distinction of a single voice. But, for the reasons above, I keep toying with re-writing the book in the third person! My view on which perspective works better changes from day to day.

So I am putting it to the vote. Below, I have included two versions of the same opening passage. If you have time, take a read of both and let me know which you prefer in the "Add a comment" box at the bottom of the page.

First Person

We arrived at dusk. Flaming Nora – what a trip! Forty-eight hours door-to-door, with fourteen pieces of luggage and a wooden crate. We were only off the plane five minutes before the sun deserted us, tunnelling down into another part of the world. Jakarta! Truthfully, I had barely heard of the place until a few months ago and here I was, one dark night.
Outside the airport window, the jumbo jet had melted away into a twinkle of lights. They swam before my eyes in fluorescent waves. Oh Holy Mary, Mother of God, grant me one cigarette, please! My fingers were twitching in my lap. And where in the hell was Daniel? I gazed out across the filthy floor of the arrivals hall and spotted him in the distance talking to some airport bloke in a cheap uniform. Daniel’s spine was stooped, his head hangdog. He looked as old as my dad. Something was wrong. Hauling myself to my feet, I tottered over.

Third Person

They arrived at dusk, a husband and wife. What a trip! Forty-eight hours door-to-door, with fourteen pieces of luggage and a wooden crate. They were only off the plane five minutes before the sun deserted them, tunnelling down into another part of the world. Jakarta! Louise, the wife, had barely heard of the place until a few months ago and now she found herself listening to crickets trilling in the trees outside the window.
On the runaway, the jumbo jet they arrived on had melted away into a twinkle of lights. They swam before Louise's eyes in fluorescent waves. Oh Holy Mary, Mother of God, grant me one cigarette, please, she prayed, as her fingers twitched in her lap. The sound of raised voices caused her to look up. Where in the hell was Daniel? She gazed out across the filthy floor of the arrivals hall and spotted him in the distance talking to some airport bloke in a cheap uniform. Daniel’s spine was stooped, his head hangdog. He looked as old as her dad. Something was wrong. Hauling herself to her feet, she tottered over.

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot