Barbara Ismail lived in Kelantan in the 1970s and ’80s, studying Wayang Siam and the Kelantanese dialect. She holds a PhD in Anthropology from Yale University, and is the sister-in-law of Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Singapore’s Minister for Information and Communications.
Her first novel Shadow Play won the Best Debut novel in Singapore. Her latest novel is Princess Play, Vol.2 in the Kain Songket Mysteries series set in Kelantan, Malaysia.
Here is an interview with the author:
A foreigner writing a novel about a detective in Kelantan, Malaysia. How did that happen?
I worked in Kelantan as an anthropologist in the late 1970s, and therefore knew Kelantan fairly well. One should always write what one knows, so I wrote about Kelantan, which I both knew and loved.
What was the inspiration behind your main detective character? Were you inspired by a real life person or a fictional character in a different setting?
I was inspired by actual market women in Kota Bharu, some of whom were my neighbors, all of whom were very ‘take charge’. Mak Cik Maryam is also named for my mother, Miriam, and she’s definitely part of the character.