With their book, Trouble Started, 20 young Malaysian writers share their stories of internal and external conflict. The anthology of short stories delivers slices of life in Malaysia, where young people struggle to fit in, be heard, and be themselves.
Trouble Started showcases the writers’ talent and skill at weaving stories and crafting characters that resonate with people their age, and even adults. There are stories about family problems, friendships, bullying, mental health, and conformity. These are issues that our young scribes face daily, and they are issues not unique to Malaysia.
Sarvesh Adittya Murali Desan, 13, said, “The conflict theme was not the easiest to write about and I found myself staring at a blank screen for days. I learnt that writing is an art, requiring much skill, time, and patience. So, with time and patience, words started to flow onto the page. I learnt how to frame my thoughts and express myself on the page. Using the written word this way is very empowering.”
Sarvesh’s story, The Competition, is about Rajan, who enters a science competition and finds that he has to realign his priorities. This writer, who cites Harper Lee and Michael Morpurgo among his favourite authors, wants to become a chemist one day.
Chen Kyleen, 14, said she was nervous but excited about the book. Her story, titled Runaway, is about a girl facing racism in school. While the protagonist’s experiences are fictional, Chen hopes they come across convincingly.
“It wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, but it’s not too difficult, either. I had the framework of the plot in my head and just went with the flow most of the time. I hope people can take action against the social problems I highlighted in my story, such as racism and running from home. I’d like people who have read my writing to be aware that our society is far from perfect and that each of us can make a difference, even if it’s a small one,” said Chen.
Lana Othman wrote about a murder mystery in her story, Mawar’s Kampung. According to her, she received a book about plants around the time she began writing her story. It sparked an interest in botany and prompted her to ponder plants and their toxicity.
“In that book, there’s a shrub called oleander, which is toxic. Soon after, I heard a rumour that if you eat honey made from oleanders, you’d become sick. This ended up being false, but it intrigued me nonetheless. I wondered what would happen if someone were to go around poisoning, possibly killing people with an innocent jar of honey. I hope readers enjoy my story and keep in mind that plants aren’t as boring as you might think!”
The homeschooled 13-year-old said that writing has given her something to focus on, especially during the pandemic. “It’s always been an excellent outlet for my thoughts, and now that I have more time, I can finally exercise and develop my skill further,” said Lana, who has her heart set on being a fashion designer.
Trouble Started was launched at BookXcess’ newest flagship store in REXKL today. It is the culmination of a seven-month writing programme conducted by writer/editor/trainer Brigitte Rozario.
The 20 young writers, aged 11-15, took part in Rozario’s Junior Writers Programme, held from January to July this year. The programme aims to encourage youngsters to write and learn the art of storytelling. Lessons include the nuts and bolts of writing, as well as introduction, conclusion, dialogue, characters, descriptions, thematic words, and also editing. At the end of this year’s programme, the youngsters were tasked with writing a story each on the theme of conflict.
This is the fourth book produced by the Junior Writers Programme and the first one published by Rozario. The past three books were published by MPH Group Publishing: Spiral Through Time (2018), Writing KL (2019), and Lives Under Lockdown (2020).
Rozario praised the young writers, applauding them for their tenacity and perseverance in writing a story each for the book.
“Conflict is something they face every day, more so during these past two years when the lockdowns were enforced. The pandemic brought all of us different challenges. For these writers, it was often conflict – at home, in school, and within the community. I’m glad the book gave them a chance to share their thoughts and feelings through their characters.”
Trouble Started, priced at RM29.90, is available at BookXcess. Royalties from the sale of the books go to Thrive Well’s (formerly SOLS Health) community centres.
All images supplied by Brigitte Rozario.