The lawyer turned novelist muses on travel, the environment and her favourite places in Malaysia – all while working from home in her pyjamas
Born in Kuala Lumpur, corporate lawyer and fiction writer Shamini Flint has a rich imagination that has led to a series of books with travel at their core. Her popular Inspector Singh Investigates crime fiction series sees the titular character travelling from his home in Singapore to investigate murders in Indonesia, Cambodia, the UK and elsewhere. In Shamini’s children’s book series, too, the protagonist Sasha explores not just destinations in Singapore, but cities around Asia and the world. In real life, the environmentally conscious author is a lot more housebound these days, spending the lockdown at her home in Singapore with her husband and two children. Here, she talks to us about all the things she loves about Malaysia, the biggest lessons of the pandemic and her latest literary project.
Where and how have you been self-isolating these days?
I work full-time as an in-house counsel at a university in Singapore, so I am basically just working from home all day except I don’t have to drive and can work in my pyjamas – but don’t tell them!
Any newfound hobbies?
I am doing all the usual and watch more current favourites than I used to – I think because of the desire to feel closer to the rest of humanity when we are so physically distant. So, yes, I watched Tiger King! I do not have any useful new hobbies unless you count eating more junk food, but I do sweep the garden of fallen leaves every day and that is my exercise while my part-time gardener cannot visit.
You’ve done a children’s book series in which Sasha visits places around Singapore, Asia and the world. What are some thoughts you’ve had on travel now that it is all but non-existent?
I don’t see travel as non-existent; I just see that we have to travel with books and movies and the arts and our imagination. It is part of a new way of doing things that is difficult to get accustomed to but also makes me, at least, more appreciative of past experiences and present memories.
What do you miss most during lockdown?
I miss sport, both on TV and playing. I regularly play squash and badminton and football – I am rubbish at all of them, but it is fun and there is always beer afterwards – and I really miss that. When we are allowed out again, I actually plan to stay in for a couple of extra days when we don’t actually have to so I can try and get my head round living the way we have done during lockdown when it is not forced upon us.
As hard as it has been, there have been many positives in terms of how we have been taught to value different things, whether it’s the time alone or essential workers.
In what ways has the pandemic been a source of literary inspiration for you?
For me, it is too early. I have tried my hand at writing about the pandemic and lockdown, but I find my voice has not developed to cope with the world as it is. That is why I am working on the collection I mentioned earlier so that I can still contribute to the literature of this moment. In the meantime, I am carrying on with my writing in a non-pandemic way. Luckily, my two projects are a memoir and a historical children’s novel, so neither is so affected by the present reality.
You’re passionate about environmental causes. What are some thoughts on environmental issues you’ve had during the pandemic?
I cannot get my head past the absurdity of all those people who told us that humanity would not be able to give up their lifestyles, like cheap holidays and gas-guzzling cars and shopping. It turns out that none of these things were necessary or essential or even important compared to health and family. The reality is that if society does not use this opportunity to rethink the way we organise ourselves, this pandemic will be followed by many more and much greater tragedies. We have been given a chance to save ourselves and I hope we take it.
What are some of your favourite places in Malaysia?
I don’t have a favourite place in Malaysia – I love it all. The streets of Kuala Lumpur, limestone ranges on the way to Ipoh, jungles of Borneo and the people and culture and food. But when this is over, my plan is first and foremost to visit my mother in KL. She’s been on her own for months now.
What’s kept you optimistic over the past couple months?
People. Governments have failed but people have stepped in to help each other, honour the fallen, take care of the marginalised and struggling, feed the hungry, shop for the old and ill. We can be proud of our community efforts.
Shamini Flint is currently curating a “Covid Collection” of poetry, short stories and art from all over the world.