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The power of storytelling

THERE it is a sense of social power in the narrative. Or, in other cases, don’t tell your own story.

“Telling stories is a human instinct. As much as words can unite us, they can also divide us, ” explains Ling Low.

His latest story weeds, written during the first motion control order last year, is among 25 of the 6,423 shortlisted candidates for this year’s Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

It is the story of a rich old retiree who becomes envious of the gardeners who work on the grounds of his condominium during a national blockade when forced to stay indoors.

weeds underlines the power and struggle of our social class, especially the often unrecognized recognition of foreign workers who have done essential jobs.

“Stories are how we make sense of life. So, I write as a way to connect with other people, in hopes of being able to create something that others find as meaningful as the stories I’ve read and loved, ”Low said.

Like many writers, she started out as an avid reader and over the years has honed her art in storytelling through journalism, film and short story writing.

“My reading patterns have changed over the years. There was a time in my life when I was a full time editor and journalist, and I actually stopped reading books. I think it was because I was always reading articles. “

Now he has rediscovered the pleasure of reading and is devouring a wide variety of genres from novels to short stories to collections of essays.

“I’m savoring this feeling of being mesmerized and surprised by the writers again. Lately I’ve been reading more about female writers and also about Asian or Diaspora writers ”.

What was the inspiration behind it weeds?

For a long time I have been interested in how we are so interconnected and yet isolated. I suppose it’s part of the ongoing tension of living in a big city. In KL, we have seen luxury developments popping up right next to the kampungs. In Sentul, there were even cows wandering in the shadows of the new apartment buildings. It is difficult to escape these contrasts.

But more recently, the pandemic has raised my awareness of how people live differently and how unfair and unsustainable our society, as well as the world at large, is.

On a global scale, we are seeing this with the way vaccines are distributed (or not distributed).

But we are also seeing it in our neighborhoods. For example, hospital cleaners have struggled to be recognized and compensated as frontline workers.

Courier delivery drivers suffered a reduction in pay during one of the busiest delivery periods. And migrant workers, who perform many key jobs, are too often forced to live and work in cramped and dangerous conditions.

That said, I would describe Weeds as a story that takes a slightly comical approach to the situation we’re in. It is about isolation, social class and power, but with a twist in the expected dynamics.

Your movie the ruby alluded to an “underrepresented” narrative, was that an active inclination?

To be honest, I’m not going to tell “underrepresented stories” because I can’t do justice to representing anybody or any group. All I hope to do is tell very specific stories and find a specific sense of the universal.

I try to observe and tap into the reality of KL. I think that’s why I keep coming back to narratives that have a certain shared sensitivity.

In retrospect, I tried to get rid of KL’s glossy tourist postcard image to see the dirtier but more interesting image below.

Without realizing it, I look for levels. In the ruby, are the layers of a building’s past and the layers of communities living in Chinatown. In Weeds, it is the layers of social class and behavior that separate the ivory tower from the outer ground.

How much of your personal experience affects your work?

Some of my stories draw more from my personal life than others.

For example, I once wrote a story about a family living in an underground bunker. It came from something that resonated with me. I guess we can’t escape ourselves in the job creation process. Let’s say we walk into a room and look at something, there is a reason why we looked at this thing and not that thing. Our taste shapes our perspective, and then our perspective shapes our taste, and it goes on.

But what shaped my perspective more than anything else is that I’ve felt like a stranger all my life. In order to feel like I could fit in, I became hyper-aware of other people. This makes me think about how other people think and feel, and those imaginations are the basis for various stories I’ve written.

Do you think you are a better listener or storyteller?

I think the best storytellers are great observers of human behavior and also have an ear for how people speak. As a writer, I believe it is important to develop the skills of observing and listening. The other crucial thing is to read extensively, especially the work of writers who are much better than ourselves, to learn from them.

How do you criticize your work?

Slowly and painfully! I accept that it will take me several drafts – sometimes many, many drafts – to get to a point where I am happy with what I have written. Sometimes, I show a trusted friend and fellow writer.

Often my husband also reads a draft. I’ll get feedback and then continue from there. I am also in an international group of writers who meet online.

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