Life

Clara Ng: Writing for women
and children

CLARA NG: (JP/A Junaidi)
CLARA NG: (JP/A Junaidi)

Avoiding stereotypes in her literary work, writer Clara Ng portrays women -- the gender of almost all of the main characters in her books -- as a non-single entity.

Clara, who has penned eight novels, promotes lesbians, metropolitan career women, victims of domestic violence, animal nursery employees and car workshop owners as the protagonists in her literary works.

"I write about women and their complex issues," Clara told The Jakarta Post after recently launching her new book Malaikat Jatuh (Fallen Angel), a collection of short stories.

Organized by Qmunity, an umbrella group for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT), the book launch was marked with a discussion of her 2007 novel, Gerhana Kembar (Twin Eclipses), which explores lesbianism.

In the novel, Clara, a graduate of communication studies from Ohio State University in the U.S., relates that "truths" and loves are found both in straight and homosexual relationships.

While man and woman are traditionally symbolized by the sun and moon, respectively, the 35-year-old writer picked gerhana (eclipse) as a representation of homosexuality -- the unifying characteristics of man and woman.

In the discussion, many gays and lesbians praised Clara's novel for not linking lesbianism to "negative" issues, such as drug abuse and violence, as many other works which explore lesbianism do.

Gerhana Kembar was published as a daily series in Kompas before it was published as a book. The novel has been reprinted three times -- a considerable success for a book exploring such a "sensitive" theme.

The novel was published by Gramedia, the country's largest publishing company considered "conservative" in terms of political and cultural issues.

Since taking on Clara's novel, Gramedia have bravely begun to publish other "sensitive" works, such as Djenar Maesa Ayu and Ayu Utami, who dare to challenge sexual and religious taboos.

Clara, however, said she would not just explore lesbianism as she believed the topic was just one of many diverse themes relevant to women.

Malaikat Jatuh, her latest offering, explores death, with women again starring as the main characters.

Clara's earlier novels were considered pop works. Three of her books belong to the trilogy of Indiana Chronicle -- Blues (2004), Lipstick (2005) and Bridesmaid (2005) -- which saw her name recognized as a modern female novelist.

The characters in her earlier books were often metropolitan working women with their urban issues, which many might view as superficial and unsubstantial problems.

But many women on Clara's blog assert the topics are "gue banget" ("so me"). But Clara says she does not care much for literary critics, as long as her works can reach her readers.

After writing her first novel, Tujuh Musim Setahun (Seven Seasons A Year) in 2002, Clara decided she wanted to make writing her full-time profession. Her novel Dimsum Terakhir (The Last Dim Sum) is being made into a feature film and is scheduled for release next year.

Clara is often asked where she gets her inspiration, for which she replies on her blog by citing a statement from one of her favorite writers, Neil Gaiman: "You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice we're doing it."

Clara's occupation is supported by her hobby: Reading. She has collected more than 1,000 novels in her home in Tanjung Duren area, West Jakarta.

The mother of two not only writes novels; she also writes children's books and has written 21 to date, including Seri Berbagi Cerita Berbagi Cinta (Story Sharing Love Sharing Series), a series of seven books; Sejuta Warna Pelangi (The Million Colors of the Rainbow), a series of nine; Bagai Bumi Berhenti Berputar (As if the Earth Stops Rotating), a series of five.

A book from her seven-book series titled Rambut Pascal (Pascal's Hair) was awarded the best children's story in 2006 by the Indonesian Publishers Association (IKAPI). The same association also awarded Clara's Sejuta Warna Pelangi the best book award in 2007.

Presenting simple stories with colorful drawings, her books teach children how to deal with feelings of sadness, shame and shock.

Clara's childrens' books focus on the relationships between mothers and their children which she hopes will encourage mothers to read with their children thereby fostering a love of reading among the younger generation.

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