10 things about: Amir Muhammad, indie books ‘godfather’

Picture by Choo Choy May
Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR,  April 27 ― Many know him for his movies, but independent filmmaker Amir Muhammad also has another passion: writing.

Having written since he was 14, it is an ardour that Amir, now 42, is helping others to discover with publisher — independent, too, of course — Fixi.

It took nearly three years and over 50 books, but Fixi can now call itself “award-winning” after bagging the Bookseller International Adult Trade Publisher Award at the London Book Fair early this month.

While Fixi focuses on genre fiction in the Malay language, spinoffs Fixi Novo publishes English ones, Fixi Retro re-prints old titles, and Fixi Verso translates books from renowned international authors.

Fresh from winning the award, Fixi launched two new books — Sanctuaria and Awan — for the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair, which starts this weekend.

Another new title in the stable is Fixi Novo’s KL Noir: Blue, the third in its best-selling urban crime and pulp series, while newly-launched imprint Fixi Mono caters to non-fiction.
What goes on behind the scene in Fixi, and what is next for the publisher and the local books industry?

In his own words:

I love books that are like friends: in other words, books whose imperfections agree with me.
I’m currently reading Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, a book about trying to write a book about DH Lawrence; and Razaisyam Rashid’s pulp novella Joni & Rabi, which he apparently wrote in four days.

From the moment I found out I share Walt Disney’s birthday, I knew I was destined to bring joy to the world. Fixi is just the latest gift.

I read every book submitted to Fixi. I get it down to 10,000 to 15,000 words a day. A typical Fixi book is around 60,000 so I can finish it in six days … But I read it with a sense of “should I change anything?”, not reading it like a normal book. With normal books I can read much faster.

We get 10 to 20 submissions a month … We have a panel of 14 readers, and they evaluate the synopsis and the first two chapters .. The submissions need an approval rating of 70 per cent, which most fail anyway. Murtad (by Hasrul Rizwan), had a 100 per cent pass rate, which is rare.

For book fairs we don’t release books by new writers, we release books by people who have had [titles]. In book fairs, people don’t have much time to browse … it is easier if it is a writer they know.

For Fixi Mono, I think I’d like to encourage non-fiction that is fun to read, and hopefully fun to write … It occurs to me that we don’t really have that kind of equivalent here, where non-fiction is seen as very serious.

Fixi Novo uses American spelling just to annoy Sharon Bakar, a good friend of mine. (laughs) It’s just for fun. I just think it looks more dynamic.

For Fixi Verso, we’re only picking new books because it’s easier. I’m trying not to make it like my own personal collection of things I like. It should be something quite responsive to what the people like.

The Islamic romance trend in books has been going on for many years, since it’s safe. It’s about love stories, but they have nothing terlanjur (sex out wedlock) like that. When you read about sex, there are only rape scenes because it is considered safe.
In old Malay films, almost all of them have attempted rape scenes … yet you can bring kids to that, whereas you won’t have scenes of mutual, consensual sex, that’s transgressing. [With rape], there’s a bad guy, and a good girl.

When I’m not reading, I’m thinking of excuses to not join a full marathon. I shall attempt a half-marathon this year, God-willing.

Disclosure: Zurairi AR edited Fixi Novo’s anthology Lost in Putrajaya, which is due to be launched in the Putrajaya Youth Festival 2014 next month. 

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