Rich Brunei Heritage Offers Good Backdrop for Writing

Guest of Honour, Haji Mohd Rozan, local writer and Adjunct Professor at UBD receiving a souvenir

Rich Brunei heritage offers good backdrop for writing
February 15, 2018

| Danial Norjidi |

IN BRUNEI’S rich heritage, there are many ideas, tales, stories and characters that can be used as a backdrop and background for writing.

Haji Mohd Rozan bin Dato Paduka Haji Mohd Yunos, a local writer and Adjunct Professor at Universiti Brunei Darussalam, yesterday said this while delivering a keynote address at the launch of the 1st Writers Conference.

“Ever since the invention of printing, books have been the medium of choice, providing an opening into the imaginative world of others and enabling us to enrich ourselves with their creativity,” he said.

“Books play a significant role in our life. They say that ‘When you open a book, you open a new world’. I believe that everyone would agree with this statement as books have become inevitable to mankind. For the majority of people, books are part of their everyday life.”

“Books are packed with knowledge, insights into a happy life, life lessons, love, fear, prayers and helpful advice. One can read about anything under the sun. Books have been here for centuries and without them, today’s knowledge of our past ancestors, cultures and civilisations would have been impossible. That would have happened to the history of the world if intellectuals never documented their studies in the past.

“Books contribute towards improving the education levels and skills of any nation. In Brunei Darussalam, we acknowledge this and if you look at the Brunei Vision 2035, one of the visions that we aspire to is to be recognised for the accomplishment of our educated and highly skilled people measured by the highest international standards.

“Thus is the importance of books and the importance of writers who are the creators of those books towards educating our people,” he affirmed.

He said over the last few years it had become quite noticeable that there had been an increasing trend in the publication of Brunei literature in English. He also noted that the publication of Brunei literature in Malay, judging by the number of books published annually by Language and Literature Bureau (DBP), has never been a problem.

“We have several groups who have taken the tasks of pushing writing and reading to the forefront and I salute the people behind the scenes who have made all this possible.”

He shared statistics from a study published by the American Pew Research Centre in September 2016, which found that the share of Americans who have read a book in the last 12 months since 2012 remained unchanged at more or less around 73-74 per cent.

“That’s pretty remarkable that over the last six years, the pattern of reading has not changed despite the many sceptics out there talking about the death of books.”

The Pew Research Centre statistics were for any format of book, including e-books and printed books. Sixty-five per cent of Americans read a printed book in 2012 and in 2016, it was still 65 per cent. The study also found that Americans read on average 12 books per year.

“So books have not died after all despite all the prophecy about the death of the printed books,” he said. “But what indeed has changed is the statistics for those who have read an e-book.”

He shared that in 2012, 23 per cent of Americans had read an e-book, and by 2016, that figure had gone up 28 per cent.

“There is growth but the growth has not been as phenomenal as we expect,” he said, noting that the statistics also indicate that nearly four in 10 Americans read printed books exclusively versus six per cent who read digital books only.

“What does this all mean to use here in Brunei?” he asked. “If you are a writer what does it mean? If you are a publisher what does it mean?”

“If you are a writer writing for the American market, I would say you do not have much problem,” he said. “There are still buyers of books out there. But many of us don’t write for that market or we are not able to penetrate that market yet.”

He went on to speak on his own personal experience.

“Excluding the four books I wrote for the government and other official agencies, so far I have managed to print and publish six other books.”

“Altogether the print runs for these books are around 9,000-10,000 copies in total, I have sold around 8,000 of these books,” he said. “These books sell but not of course in the bestsellers category, though it’s good enough to give me some financial returns.”

He shared that towards the end of last year he published a book – a compilation of about 17 articles – entitled ‘Monsters, Dragons and Fairies’ with a smaller sub-title ‘Myths and legends from Brunei and Borneo’. “To my surprise, I sold about 1,500 copies in about a month,” he said.

He highlighted that there are two lessons here. “The first lesson I get here is that, given the right titles and the right subject matters, there is plenty of opportunity for local writers to penetrate the local writing market.”

The second lesson, he said, is that Brunei “is still traditional”. As he explained, “Readers still want to sit down and read books about Brunei. There are obviously very few books about Brunei that the small number of books that trickle through made readers buy them.”

He noted that writers have ideas they want to convey, stories they want to tell, feelings they want to express, experiences they want to share, information to relate, opinions to articulate and tales to chronicle.

“There are many things that you want to write about as a writer,” he said. “I do not wish to get in your way, but if you do run out of ideas, do consider writing about Brunei.”

He noted that literature of the Western world also has a number of writers who have written using Brunei as a backdrop or setting for their novels, such as Joseph Conrad, Captain Mayne Reid and Frank Butterworth under the pen name Peter Blundell, to name a few. He added that, in modern times, a number of local writers have done so, including Dr Aamnton Alias, Dato Selamat Munap, M Faisal, Christopher Sun, Amir Falique and KH Lim.

“What I just wanted to point out is that, in Brunei’s rich heritage, there are many ideas, tales, stories and characters that one can use as a backdrop and background towards your writing. This will no doubt serve as the basis to preserve the continuity of the rich Brunei heritage.”

Touching on the publishing industry, he underlined the importance of considering both printed books and e-books.

“E-books are equally useful and will allow more people to read those books and allow writers to spread their wings by getting their books out electronically to people outside the normal limited geographical limitation that a printed book would have,” he said.

Courtesy of Borneo Bulletin


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