Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Nor Azida Ishak

I interviewed the author Nor Azida Ishak and her interview was published in theSun today. Read the full article here 

Headline: A Scientific Slant
By Bissme S

Writing science fiction in Bahasa Malaysia is a sunrise industry in our country, and Nor Azida Ishak, 35, is excited to be a part of it. Her first sci-fi novel Leksikon Ledang, which she co-wrote with fellow sci-fi author Fadli Al-Akiti, creatively linked their plot to the mystical Puteri Gunung Ledang of the popular Malay folklore.
The story starts with some mysterious deaths in a village near Hutan Simpan Gunung Ledang. Published earlier this year, the novel sparks an interesting debate on whether Puteri Gunung Ledang is just a myth, or she was an advanced human being from a different world. The interesting combination of folklore and science in the novel won the two writers second place at the recent science fiction writing competition, Sayembara Fiksyen Sains & Teknologi UTM-Kumpulan Utusan.
“Malaysian authors should take advantage of the fact that our country is rich with folklore and we can take these stories and give [them] a scientific twist,” says Nor Azida, who is an executive secretary by profession.
Nor Azida recently published her second novel, Resesif, which features 13 short stories with scientific elements. Currently, she is working on her third novel, which she describes as an investigative adventure against a scientific backdrop.
When asked what sparked her interest in the sci-fi genre, she explains: “My parents are avid readers, and they encouraged me to read instead of watching TV. I read a lot of mystery and horror books, and my favourite author is Christopher Pike, who combines speculative sci-fi, mystery and horror into his writing effortlessly.
“I remember how scared I felt when I read his book Season of Passage, which is about a bunch of Nasa astronauts stranded on Mars who are slowly being possessed by an evil entity there. From then on, I was hooked on speculative sci-fi.”
The Ipoh-born lass is happy to note that in recent years, schools have chosen to include science fiction books such as Di Sebalik Dinara and Tawanan Komander Caucasus in Malay literature studies.
“This is a very good start in promoting this genre to young readers,” she says.
“I read that many students were excited when they learned that sci-fi books were in their reading list. That is a good sign.”
She also sees local writers now becoming more adventurous with their plots. In the past, she finds most Malay sci-fi books focusing on the subject of flying sauces and aliens. But now she is glad that the focus has shifted to include other scientific elements besides spaceships.
“There is more depth now [in the plots] compared to 10 years ago,” she adds.
When asked what inspires her, Nor Azida says: “My ideas often come from imagining alternative scenarios and extreme contrasts for everyday issues.”
She cites the example of Pokok Pontianak, her short story in Resesif. The idea for the story was conceived when she toyed with the possibility of a plant becoming a carnivore and attacking humans in retaliation to Man’s irresponsible pollution of our planet. Yet, Nor Azida emphasises that having an active imagination is not enough in writing sci-fi.
“Research is utterly important. Justifications need to be integrated into your storyboard. You can only give a solid justification when you have done proper research. I personally value a well- researched piece of science fiction because I crave knowledge and discovery in my reading. I think other sci-fi readers are looking for the same thing.”
Her all-time favourite sci-fi book is Stephen King’s collection of short stories in his Night Shift and Skeleton Crew books
“In fact, many of my earlier published short stories were inspired by his works,” Nor Azida says.
“I like the surrealism and mysterious undertones in his stories. He is a very good storyteller.”
Closer to home, she cites Sri Rahayu Mohd Yusop as one of her top favourites.
“I love the way she portrays an advanced and triumphant Malaysia against a backdrop of adversity. Her stories are about hope, courage and strength.”
Nor Azida also picks Fadli, her collaborator in Leksikon Ledang, as another sci-fi author she admires.
“His book Saga Horizon was the driving force for me to start writing sci-fi,” she says.

“The book is now out of print, so I am guarding my personalised signed copy like a precious gem."

The author

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