The Girl Who Got Her Groove Back
How a career change reignited Siti Syameen Khalili's love for writing fiction.
When a major life change occurs, it can act as a catalyst for new passions and creative pursuits. But for Siti Syameen Khalili (picture above), a career change reignited her long-ago passion for writing fiction.
In a recent interview, Siti Syameen shared how she got started with writing fiction. "When I was in Primary Six, my Bahasa Melayu teacher said I had a flair for writing in the language and she always gave me opportunities to write fiction but I didn’t think much of it at the time," she recalled.
Later, in high school, she wrote articles and short fiction for the school magazine, also in Malay. However, when she started tech reporting in her early twenties, she abandoned fiction writing. "I forgot all about writing fiction because I had found a new love. Although I had to look at hard facts, I loved the element of discovery about tech writing," she said.
The curve-ball that reignited her passion
A career change happened to her unexpectedly about three years ago, which changed everything for Siti Syameen. She was transferred from the technology desk to the NST Online team, where she now checks articles of news journalists prior to publication.
However, she found 'hard news' heartbreaking, and she soon learnt that it is a harsh world we live in. "I needed a creative outlet for myself, and I soon found Wattpad," she said. On Wattpad, Siti Syameen wrote and published two short stories in English.
A close friend suggested that she write fiction in Malay instead. Siti Syameen was initially apprehensive and doubtful, as her years of writing in English had left her Malay grammar somewhat neglected.
She decided to try her hand at it anyway. She released her first sci-fi/romance short story of about 8,000 words in Malay on Wattpad and although some Wattpad users said her Malay was "weird", others started recommending her work to their fellow Wattpad users.
According to Siti Syameen, what differentiates her stories is the fact that they feature strong female lead characters. "I have written six to seven stories in Wattpad featuring these characters," she said.
Getting her big break
As Siti Syameen built her community on Wattpad, her confidence grew. "I built an organic following on Wattpad, I've had good experience using the platform," she enthused, adding that a lot of nice people read her stories and said encouraging things, giving her a sense of belonging.
Her readers on Wattpad mainly comprise young adults, however she also has readers above the age of 40. She added that while she has fewer than 1,000 followers, she has an engaged following.
Her Wattpad stories eventually caught the eye of Ipoh-based book publisher TebuOne Press. "They approached me to send in a pitch for my manuscript. I sent them the first three chapters of one of the stories and a full synopsis. They asked me to expand the story into a stand-alone book and they signed me on early this year," she recalled.
Siti Syameen's debut novel Nujum Casiopeia is now on shelves at the Gallery Bookstore in Cheras. At the time of writing, she had already submitted a second manuscript to TebuOne.
Inspiration and future plans
I asked Siti Syameen who her favourite authors are. She shared that authors who inspire her include the late Terry Pratchett and the late Peter Mayle, a British author noted for his memoirs of life in Provence, France. "Mayle was good with prose and had interesting observations. I also like the work of Isaac Asimov," she said.
Asian authors whom she admires include Malim Ghozali P.K., whose advice was "to never leave any character’s story unfinished". Whereas Serunai Faqir, she said, pointed out that while you have can have a lot of excuses, one should tolerate "no excuses, just write and make it tangible".
She also admires the work of Indonesian writer Andrea Hirata. "I hope to get to that level one day. He has a high-level of finesse as a writer, as does Malaysian fantasy writer Ahmad Patria Abdullah," she added.
Although she has a busy schedule (she is also married and a mother to two young children), Siti Syameen finds time to write every single day. "I write during my commute to work by train. Seventy percent of what I've written has been done on my phone," she said.
She also believes that authors should leverage on social media. "There are so many platforms today on which to promote yourself and interact with your favourite authors," she pointed out.
Her advice to aspiring authors is "don't self-censor while writing and worry about editing later."
She added that she will continue to write fiction across multiple genres going forward, adding that she is most drawn to the paranormal, sci-fi, romance and young adult genres. Her long term plan is to stay true to the sci-fi genre.
"I want readers to quote from my stories. My job is to serve my readers first. I want to write books that I want to read too. I want to make people happy when they read my books," she said of her goals as an author.