An interesting novel which narrates about culinary passionately – which coincidently, is not an ordinary theme in the local literature.
It tells the story from Nuha’s account, the leading lady, a determined and enthusiastic girl who sets out to become a chef. Nuha meets a number of people along her journey of becoming a chef, including her anxious coursemate KK, the ever-charming Zef, the wonderfully warm Laith, and an abundance of chefs with a variety of personalities. The emotions and opinion she has on studies and work is something that most people can relate to. Below is an interview with the author, Mia Sallehudin.
- Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
A cook at heart and a writer by nature; that is how I always like to think of myself as both writing and cooking came to me early in life. My first attempt to write a novel was perhaps when I was nine years old, but it proved to be unfruitful until fourteen years later. The time between my first attempt and the publication of my first novel, I spent learning to become a chef and struggling in the kitchen whilst composing poetry in my spare time. I am currently based in Sydney and as a rookie novelist, I am more eloquent in my writing when heartbroken and also mortally prone to frequent spells of writer’s block. Feel free to visit my page at https://www.facebook.com/Mia-Sallehudin.
- The knife’s got reflections focuses on Nuha, a bright girl who left Malaysia to pursue a career in culinary. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for the book?
The book itself is a tribute to the people with whom I have shared the culinary turf. The culinary field has not been known to be as generous and welcoming towards female chefs especially in Malaysia as the Malaysian culinary scene is still dominated by males even to this day. Female chefs often feel the need to put in twice the amount of effort and out-perform their male colleagues to achieve the same level of professional acknowledgement and I believe this is also true for many other professions. My observations was what prompted me to have the story led by a young aspiring female character. My goal was to allow the character to build up and progress as an individual throughout the story. I believe the readers would notice how Nuha develops her maturity and understanding towards her profession and herself. To sum it all up, I would say that the book is inspired by real people, real scenes and sceneries as well as very real ambitions and challenges.
- What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
Being the unconventional writer that I am, I do my research as the need arises. I mostly write impromptu and check for the facts afterwards because I would hate to lose any spontaneous ideas. They might not get back to me later if I put them on hold just to get to the book shelves or internet just to get my facts right. Unlike cooking, writing a book does not require a writer to have the complete list of ingredients gathered before the cooking process starts, sometimes all you have to do is let the story carry you. The Knife’s Got Reflections is a book that I hold very close to my heart and the ingredients were gathered as they come throughout the span of several long years. I did my research by observing, trying out new things, answering my own curiosities and simply living.
- Were there any characters that was inspired by anyone in real life?
Yes, and please don’t sue me! Throughout the book, Nuha crosses her path with a stream of other characters which is part of my attempt to insert the ‘life’ into making the storyline lively. Some of the characters only appear once and never resurface again, just like how some people come and leave a mark in real life just enough for me to remember something they did or said and feel that it is absolutely worth sharing with the readers.
- What was your hardest scene to write?
Come to think of it, I would say that the hardest part to write is not only a scene but the whole few chapters about Nuha getting back onto her feet. If it is already hard for a real-life person to figure out how to recover from a fall, chances are, it would take more thinking and toiling to be described in words. It is her desperation, her lost sense of direction and her wanting to reason with herself about the tragedy that befalls her that is a puzzle for me to solve as a writer. The result; I found an opportunity to show the readers how a character, reckless and seemingly arrogant at first, evolve into a wiser and more gracious person, humbled by time and experience.
- How did you decide on becoming a writer?
Becoming a writer has never been much of a decision per se. I personally find that it is only possible to start by trying to become one. For me it started when I was much younger but became serious only when I had some time off from cooking. I had been writing scribbles of thoughts aimlessly in my notebook and one day realized that the bits and pieces could actually be put together as something more. When writing TKGR, I needed to discover my own style and I went through the process by experimenting, skipping from one chapter to another in no particular order. At one point, I found myself stuck in the middle of the story and had no idea where the story was heading. I decided to skip right ahead to writing the ending and filled in the gap afterward. So when I finally finished my first manuscript, I just said to myself, “hey, look at that. Who knew it could be done?” The fact is, sometimes I still ask myself if I am writing enough to consider myself a writer. After all, everybody writes, don’t we?
- What books and authors that have most influenced you?
I have always admired the works of Jojo Moyes, Lian Hearn, and Tere Liye. I rarely stick to following the works of a set of particular writers, but I appreciate what every author has to say through their books and I find myself fall smitten with many of their own unique writing styles. Though I may be more familiar with the works of some authors compared to others, I do not allow myself be too influenced as my aim is to distinguish my own voice. I learned my lesson early enough as a young teenager when I had a craze on Meg Cabot’s novels that when I wrote, my words came out exactly like hers and I could not have helped it. However, I do get emotionally influenced by the music that I listen to when writing. Most of the time, I have to put one particular song on repeat until I finish writing a whole chapter.
- Do you currently have any plans on a second novel?
As a matter of fact, I do. I have plenty of plans to write non-fiction as well. Initially, I thought of writing a sequel for The Knife’s Got Reflections but I feel that it would be good for my development as a writer to have a fresh start and diversify. I find that many authors tend to be at least a little repetitive if they keep on writing in the same genre, so why not move on towards something totally new? Perhaps I might even take up a personal challenge and start writing in Bahasa Malaysia. Now, it is about starting on a blank canvas all over again and I look forward for it myself.
- Do you think the library can inspire writers to write?
Definitely! It depends on the type of writer a person is, but for me, I find it useful to surround myself with books in order to be able to write. If I don’t read good books, how could I expect myself to produce good writing? I have started to go to local libraries since I was a child (my parents made sure my brothers and I were members of the local libraries and that we always have enough books to read), and although some local libraries offer limited and out-dated books, I still find many books worth reading there. So, as I am sure we are all very used to the saying ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, we should apply the same message on libraries. A library may look boring from the outside because, trust me, all the treasures and gems are kept inside.
A library to me is the best place to do research or just a place where I can be in a conducive environment to get some ideas flowing. As I currently do not have an office, I have been trying to write at home, but it proves to be difficult as I often get distracted with house chores. To solve this problem, I go to the local library here in Sutherland, NSW during the time that I have allotted for writing. The writing desks are comfortable, they allow light snacks (and it helps when you can nibble while writing), and best of all, there is a vast collection of books on the shelves! What I like about this library is that it welcomes people for many other activities apart from those that are book-related. Sometimes I go there for chocolate talks or flower arranging classes hosted by experts. These activities are good as they give you knowledge and insight into many different fields which may be something that you might want to keep exploring, and the least they would do is keep your mind working when you are not writing.
Once a month, the library invites local authors to talk and showcase their works. I find it very inspiring and beneficial to attend these talks as these authors are always delighted to share their experiences. Some of these local writers also meet up here on a weekly basis to share ideas and help each other out on any writing issues (maybe even to exchange remedies for writer’s block). So, whether you are currently working on a writing piece or just trying to start one, you are always welcomed. I see this as a very good, effective and generous move by the library to provide a place for local writers to build up their passion and talent in a non-discriminating environment, therefore, you need not be a distinguished or even a published writer to take part. It does not cost you anything but your time and commitment and you would not even be judged if your writing is bad!
So, if you are trying to write and find yourself out of ideas, or if you think you need to refresh your mind as a writer, I suggest you make a trip to the nearest library at don’t be afraid to get stuck there for a while!
- The book is now available in free range reading area with Call No. PL5147.3 Mia.K
- The book can be purchased from Terfaktab Media https://terfaktab.com/category/books/terfaktab-media/terfaktab-vine/