Again, through Sharon Bakar, I came to meet Dina Zaman about a year ago. When I asked if she’d consent to an interview, she agreed but on one condition: there would be no photos of her posted in this interview. I agreed to this. I can tell you, though, she’s beautiful both on the inside and out. Without further ado, I have great pleasure in introducing to you, Dina Zaman …
Aneeta: Dina, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
Dina: No problems!
Aneeta: Let’s begin, as usual, with some personal information about you. Please tell me where you live, your family and any other information you’d like to share with my readers.
Dina: God. How do I describe myself? I live with my family in KL, but we’re all from the East Coast. I’m an aunt to a nephew and niece, and I have two sisters. Err, I’m 37, single, a working writer… I’m not too good at describing myself!
Aneeta: That’s pretty good. Enough to keep going. Before I delve into your work proper, do tell me a little about how you became a writer.
Dina: Well I’ve always enjoyed writing. Because of my father’s work, I’d change schools and there were times I didn’t go to school (!), so I was pretty lonely. My younger sister was too small then, so I had no friends to play with. My father bought me a journal and told me to write. I think he wanted me to practise my penmanship because even til today I scrawl! But that’s how it started. I started writing about the snow, my cats… fast forward to Uni. Didn’t want to do a Business Minor like all my friends so I opted for a creative writing minor. Came back, and submitted my homework to Thor Kah Hoong and it took off from there. And here I am!
Aneeta: Let’s start with an interesting one – Dina’s Dalca. I so like that title. Tell me a little about this.
Dina: I started writing for the NST in 94. I was bored at work, so I wrote about how my parents had my wedding all set up, but I was very very single then. That first article was published and it rolled from there. Rose Ismail and Fatimah Abu Bakar asked me if I wanted a column, and what would I title it? I didn’t have a clue. So Fatimah Abu Bakar gave the column its title. Thanks to that title, everyone now thinks I’m from Penang.
Aneeta: I understand that now, you are no longer with the New Straits Times. Instead, you’re with Malaysiakini. What do you do there?
Dina: Hah! I’ve just ended employment with malaysiakini.com! Well over the past 1.5 years I had a column about Muslim life in Malaysia, with a few detours to Jakarta and so forth. I really enjoyed writing it. I am Muslim will still be around, but right now both of us want a break.
Aneeta: A writer, an editor, public relations, broadcasting, script-editor, events manager, worked in marketing … Dina, is there anything you don’t do?
Dina: Eh… I just write. That was before. You know when you’re employed, your bosses tended to throw you into departments… but now I’m unemployed you might find me hawking laundry detergent at TMC.
I think Aneeta, for many writers in Malaysia, and for a lot of people for the matter, we have to put on many hats. I’d love to just write and be done with it, but let’s be realistic. We don’t have that kind of literary support here. So instead of bitching about it, we work in order to sustain our art. Sheesh. That sounds pretentious. How about, our creation?
I see all this work I do as material for my writing, fiction and non-fiction. I hope one day all the money I make will tide me by and allow me to write fulltime.
Aneeta: I see that in 1998, you were the recipient of the British High Commissioners Chevening Award in 1998. What was this award for and do describe your experience in it, please?
Dina: Every year, the award is given to potential scholars who wish to pursue a Masters or PhD. I pursued an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University.
I actually had a place in SOAS but I decided to live out my James Herriot fantasy in Lancaster. It was beautiful. I love walks, and when I was there, I walked and travelled alone a lot. It was great!
Aneeta: I see that you run a website: http://dinazaman.squarespace.com/journal/ – The Gong Kapas Times. I’ve always wanted to know, Dina, what is this Gong Kapas?
Dina: Simple. The name of my kampong in Kuala Terengganu!
Aneeta: Alright. That perhaps proves that I’ve never been to the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia! As you know, my website caters for storytellers. What advice would you give to people who would like to venture into storytelling?
Dina: The same advice I tell myself and listen to half of the time (sigh). Bum glue. Sit on the chair and work on your stories.
Aneeta: Bum glue! You make me laugh, Dina. Well, Dina, that’s all I have to ask you. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Dina: I think writers should not be disheartened by rejection, an editor’s changes on his or her work etc. Writers should have humility too. One should not be so humble that he’s rendered a doormat but arrogance can take you so far. I’ve seen one or two highly strung writers, and it’s not a pleasant sight.
Writers must work at the craft of writing, and read, read, read. Instead of buying other things, buy magazines. Books. Grab those free pamphlets. Absorb life. Eavesdrop. Get out of the comfort zone. Meet people.
Aneeta: Dina, thank you.
Dina: No worries! My pleasure!
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