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PETALING JAYA, April 23 — One doesn’t need to travel far and wide or perform grandiose acts to seek creative inspiration.
For Malaysian author Ling Low, the seed for her short story Weeds came from observations of life in her home country during the Covid-19 movement control order.
The tale centres around an elderly man who finds himself confined to the space of his home when the pandemic strikes.
With more time on his hands, he notices the workers who maintain the gardens at his luxury condominium for the first time and grows increasingly envious of their time in the sun.
Low told Malay Mail that she wanted to highlight the “invisible” nature of foreign workers who often go unacknowledged despite playing key roles in our daily lives.
The story also touches on how life in a metropolitan setting can be a lonely experience at times.
“By the end, the gardeners who work in (the old man’s) condo are no longer invisible to him.
“The story is about isolation, and how urban life can be very isolating even without a pandemic.
“When writing this story, I was also thinking of the many foreign workers who fill essential jobs in this country, but who are treated as invisible, disposable labour,” said Low.
Weeds was among 25 out of 6,423 entries that made the shortlist for this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize.
The annual competition is organised by the Commonwealth Foundation and awards the best unpublished fictional short story by any citizen of the 54 former territories under the British Empire.
Low said she felt “stunned” when she got the email bearing the good news and the announcement saw her making headlines in Malaysian media.
She was also heartened knowing that Weeds had resonated with a global panel of judges.
When it comes to writing, Low’s fiction is largely inspired by things in her everyday life which she then threads together to form the basis of a story.
Most of it is unconscious, she says, and it takes time to nurture that seed of creativity before it blooms into a finished work.
“There’s an unconscious process where all of these things break down and then get mixed up, creating the right conditions for ideas to take root.
“Recently, my friend and fellow writer Zedeck Siew described it as a process of ‘composting’ and that’s how I would describe it too.”
When she’s not writing, Low pursues storytelling in other forms, namely through journalism and filmmaking.
She has written on arts and culture for the Guardian and South China Morning Post in addition to being the former editor-in-chief of Poskod.MY, an online magazine focusing on Malaysian life and affairs.
Her filmmaking credentials include directing music videos for Malaysian musicians The Impatient Sisters and OJ Law, as well as writing and directing the short film Closure which premiered in May 2014 at the Brussels Short Film Festival.
As for her future plans, Low is working on a script for a short film adapted from one of her short stories and is hoping to secure funding for its production soon.
She’s also set on keeping up with her fiction writing and eventually publishing a collection of short stories under her name.
To find out more about Low and her work, check out her website.