“Everything unfolding as it should.”
Never was that mantra truer than in 2017 when I decided to leave the United States, where I’d been living for almost twenty years, to “semi-retire” in Asia.
My chosen destination at the time was India, where I have many friends and for which I have a great affinity. Yet something told me that wasn’t the right destination.
Still in the throes of indecision, I attended an International Living conference to explore what I needed to do to live the “expat” life. I met their Malaysian representative, a fellow writer and publisher, who persuaded me that Pulau Pinang was where I needed to live.
In a flash of inspiration, I returned to Austin, Texas, sold my home, car, furniture, and most of my possessions. By September 2017 I had moved permanently to a country—a region of the world, even—I had never visited before: to the beautiful Malay island of Penang.
Credit: Beng Lim, Balik Pulau, Penang
Having been a writer almost all my working life, I had a driving need to accomplish something that was still on my “bucket list”: a novel. I had already written or co-authored over 20 non-fiction books, but always wanted to master the very different skill of writing fiction.
Over coffee one morning in 2018, the same friend who had enticed me to Penang told me the story of how Captain Francis Light (1740-1794) had taken over the island, which at the time belonged to the Sultan of Kedah (then spelled Queda). Light had ambitions to make Penang one of the pre-eminent ports of trade in the region, and became its superintendent on behalf of his paymasters, the East India Company. He even had the temerity to “christen” it Prince of Wales Island during a flag-raising ceremony on 11th August 1786, without any reference to the island’s true owner – or the fact that the sultan’s terms for leasing Penang had not been ratified by the EIC.
Courtesy of Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library
I sensed the makings of an exciting story…
When I learned that the sultan had amassed an armada of Malays and local pirates to reclaim his island by force, I knew I had a plot to work with that centered around the themes of duplicity, the desire to be remembered, and the risks some men will take to defy their mortality.
After several false starts, changing who would be my protagonist, and how the story would unfold, Lies That Blind came to fruition after more than three years of research and writing.
For more of a backgrounder, here’s my bio on the Penguin Random House SEA website: https://penguin.sg/book_author/e-s-alexander/
Other than that, what can I tell you?
I’ve thrown myself wholeheartedly into Malaysian life. I was the “kedua hakim” (chief judge) for Fame Lab Malaysia from 2018-2021 and helped to choose one of the two international winners that Malaysia has produced (the only country in the world, so far, to have done so). I’m learning ‘Bahasa’ (the Malay language) but find it challenging to speak it on Penang, with so many excellent English speakers (better than my Malay, anyhow!). The food here is amazing – and so varied. I love the multi-cultural vibe: Malaysians, Indians, Chinese, Europeans of all stripes, Americans, Canadians…we respect and celebrate each other’s festivals, which keep us entertained and enlightened all year-round.
Do come and visit when you can…Penang (indeed, Malaysia) has so much to offer. In the meantime, enjoy transporting yourself to another time and place by reading Lies That Blind.