The exotic romance with its set of English characters, features a setting in 1950’s Colonial Malaysia in the distant Far East, otherwise known as ‘the tropics’.
You once mentioned in an interview that books and films from the 1950s period greatly influenced the Malaysian setting for your novel. Can you tell us more?
“I read Graham Greene from a very early age and books like The Quiet American and The End of the Affair, gave me an insight into the rules of social behavior during the 1950s which hold a fascination for me. Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Daphne Du Maurier, were amongst other writers which I read.
“Although slightly earlier than 1950, I think the film which stayed with me is Brief Encounter but films like Rebel Without a Cause, also had a great impact on me.”
Do name a few favourite memories of Malaysia.
“I really like the mix of different cultures and religions. On the surface, everyone appears to get on really well, though of course I don’t know if the reality is different. But everyone is really friendly and will go out of their way to help.
“There is such a variety of landscape in Malaysia from the tea plantations of the Cameron Mountains to the jungles of Sabah, and the food is tasty. I also recall an impressive tropical storm and fantastic sunsets. I remember one sunset, when everyone, tourists and locals, crowded on a beach and watched the sky change from blue to pink/red to gold.”
What is the one endearing thing you remember about your grandmother?
“She was a very genteel woman who used to sing when she was in the kitchen. She got malaria in Malaysia and I believe this affected her heart. So every afternoon she would, clutching a hot water bottle, trot up to bed for two hours.”
What is the one endearing thing you remember about your grandfather?
“He died when I was ten, so I don’t remember much about him. But I have a clear memory of him sitting in a fold-up chair by Lake Crummock in the Lake District with a big smile of contentment, while he puffed on his pipe. It was a huge family holiday and he was surrounded by family. I must have been about nine.”
Would you visit Malaysia again?
“There is still so much I haven’t seen. Maybe I’ll go back next year.
What is it in particular about Malaysia that fascinates you?
“The mix of people with so many different cultures and religions, in a relatively small geographical area.”
Which regions would you like to look up?
“I’d like to go to Malacca, Port Dickson and the east coast. And I love visiting temples and mosques.”
Which character turned up as a personal favourite in The Eloquence of Desire and why?
“I have a soft spot for George because of his enduring love for Emma.”
Did writing your novel bring out the best of your creative nature?
“I think writing any novel or short story brings out the best in me as a creative artist.”
Did your characters offer a satisfying thrill in having observed their eventual development?
“Yes. I don’t think I would want to write if the development of my characters didn’t excite me especially as very often I don’t always know what they are going to do. I think it is the not-knowing that keeps me writing.”
How did you happen upon the plot?
“That is a very hard question to answer as I would say that the characters happened upon the plot. But I wrote a short story called The Carving which was set in Malaysia and was shortlisted for the Asham Award. The Eloquence of Desire grew from this short story.”
Do these characters still live with you or have you let them go?
“The characters will always be with me, but they take second place to the ones I’m writing now.”
How did you get on with research for The Eloquence of Desire?
“I used my grandparents’ photographs. I visited the British Library and used the Library at Sussex University. I re-read Somerset Maugham’s short stories set in Malaysia as well as other novels set in South-East Asia. I re-read a project I’d written when I was studying for a Diploma in Health and Social Welfare on women who self-harm.
“I listened to 1950s music. I asked my mother and aunt to recall their time in Colonial Malaya and I used a report on The Emergency, written by Derrick Sington (a cousin) when he worked as a journalist for The Manchester Guardian.
“There was a more than this – too much to list. But I really like undertaking research, and apart from making my work more accurate and believable, I learn a lot, even if I don’t use all of the research in the novel I’m working on.”
How did you get on with the writing process?
“It took me two years to write The Eloquence of Desire. Countless drafts and re-writing. I deleted the first 17,000 words I wrote, and started again at another point in the narrative. I am quite brutal with my writing because I want to get it right.”
Do tell us a little about your writing life.
“I like to write new work in the mornings. I always switch the Broadband Connection off when I write. On the wall opposite my desk, there is a Salvadore Dali print of a ‘Woman at Window’ and to my left, I can look out on our garden where I’ll look when I’m thinking.
“Behind me, is an overflowing book shelf. Editing is reserved for the afternoons. But if I’m away from home, I use my laptop anywhere. Strangely, I don’t need quiet, just no interruptions.”
How did you happen upon a publisher?
“I am a member of New Writing South and an article about Sparkling Books that appeared in The Bookseller, was posted on one of their weekly newsletters.”
What is the one thing you hope readers would take out of your novel?
“That they don’t want my narrative to finish and that my characters live on when they come to the end of the book.”
Could you tell us a little about your second novel?
“It is a contemporary novel, set in the UK and Ethopia. The main characters are a newly-arrived Ethopian refugee, Solomon, his sister, Hana, an agony aunt, Marianne, and one of her problem page readers, Charlotte.”
Do you nurse an ambition to write a special story, not yet written but one that you would like to attempt?”
“I’ve been thinking about my third novel which has been on my mind for a while. A story which touches on the psyche on sibling jealousy and its repercussions on other people’s lives.”
What are you currently reading?
“The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.”
What images does an exotic foreign land, conjure up for you?
“I love the smell of the tropics, that wall of humidity that hits, as soon as you step out of the plane. The bright colours, noise and the general chaos so absent from Western cultures.”
Are there a few famous historical explorers and adventurers who travelled to foreign lands which you admire, and if so, who would these be?
“Ernest Shackleton 1874-1922, the Antartic explorer because I’m amazed that he wanted to explore a part of the world that is so very cold and inhospitable. Captain James Cook 1728-1779 because he seemed to have an inate desire, to find out what lay beyond.
Amanda Sington-William’s The Eloquence of Desire was published by Sparkling Books UK on 14th June, 2010. ISBN. 978-1-907230-11-0.
Other related articles on this blog: A Few Thoughts from Amanda Sington-Williams & The Eloquence of Desire by Amanda Sington-Williams.