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A Legacy On The Line

E.S. Alexander Author Interview

Lies That Blind follows a journalist as he travels to Penang to chronicle the life of Captain Francis Light, who was involved in trade and the colonization of Malaya. What inspired you to tell this story?

In 2007 I decided to make a huge change in my life and move from the United States, where I had been living for 18 years, to Malaysia. I had never visited Southeast Asia before, and arrived in Penang “sight unseen.” I soon discoverd that the island had an established history, of Captain Francis Light, an agent of the East India Company, “founding” Penang in 1786. I’m always wary of such stories, since so many of them turn out to be propaganda – the purview of the “victor.” So I started to dig into contemporary books written about this “founding” event, along with Francis Light’s letters. It soon became clear to me that the accepted story was missing certain crucial details, not least how Light used double-dealing and deception with the Sultan of Quedah, the Malay owner of the island, to occupy Penang illegally. That gave me the general idea for a plot in which there could be competing interests (tension) and a legacy on the line (stakes). Everything–including the cast of characters–just fell into place after that.

What research did you do for this novel to get it right?

I was lucky enough to already have two volumes about the founding and development of Penang written by another author who had lived on the island for many years. He had already done considerable research, investigating original documents, books, and journal papers held in various museums and libraries in the U.K. and Malaysia, so that made a huge difference to my research efforts. I also spent several days at the National Library in Singapore, where many invaluable books and papers are kept. Thanks to the efforts of other researchers I was able to read a number of Francis Light’s letters, which gave me greater insight into the man and his motivations. And to get a better sense of Malay culture in the late 18th century, I read The Hikayat Abdullah, which was published in 1849 by a teacher living in Malacca. I probably spent a total of three years conducting research – which is arguably the activity I love the most.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

My novel asks the question: What would you risk to avoid obscurity? I wanted to explore the lengths to which some people will go to ensure that they are remembered. That led me to examine the connection between fame and infamy: how, in some extreme cases, individuals would prefer to be known for their misdeeds than to be completely forgotten. I can think of plenty of current examples of that. Plus, I’ve long been fascinated by how little human beings have changed over the centuries. I discovered during my research that in the time period I’m writing about, challenges including fake news, public gullibility, con men, the focus of organisations on profit over people, “too big to fail,” and corporate corruption mirror pretty much what we’re facing today. So, while we may have access to more advanced technologies in the 21st century, we’re more similar to our 18th century (and earlier) ancestors than we might like to think.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

After writing more than a dozen internationally-published non-fiction books and this award-winning novel, I hadn’t really planned to write another book. But while on holiday in Portugal I got the germ of an idea that I’m starting to develop. It’s very different to Lies That Blind as it will be a black comedy focused on suicide. I’ve booked myself a month in Cambridge and a month in the wilds of Aberdeenshire to begin writing. I’m excited but have no idea how long it will take me to write or whether it will end up being a short-story, a novella, or a full-length novel.

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1788, Penang, Malaya: A young man desperate to prove himself becomes enmeshed in the web of deceit woven by an ambitious adventurer whose double-dealing imperils the island’s inhabitants.

Malaya, 1788:
Aspiring journalist Jim Lloyd jeopardises his future in ways he never could have imagined. He risks his wealthy father’s wrath to ride the coat-tails of Captain Francis Light, an adventurer governing the East India Company’s new trading settlement on Penang. Once arrived on the island, Jim-as Light’s assistant-hopes that chronicling his employer’s achievements will propel them both to enduring fame. But the naïve young man soon discovers that years of deception and double-dealing have strained relations between Light and Penang’s legal owner, Sultan Abdullah of Queda, almost to the point of war. Tensions mount: Pirate activity escalates, traders complain about Light’s monopolies, and inhabitants threaten to flee, fearing a battle the fledgling settlement cannot hope to win against the Malays. Jim realises that a shared obsession with renown has brought him and Light perilously close to infamy: a fate the younger man, at least, fears more than death. Yet Jim will not leave Penang because of his dedication to Light’s young son, William, and his perplexing attraction to a mercurial Dutchman. He must stay and confront his own misguided ambitions as well as help save the legacy of a man he has come to despise.

Inspired by true events, Lies That Blind is a story featuring historical character Francis Light (1740-1794) who, in an effort to defy his mortality, was seemingly willing to put the lives and livelihoods of a thousand souls on Penang at risk.

Lies that Blind

After being banished to Calcutta two years prior by his British father, Jim Lloyd decides to leave this place when the opportunity to live up to his ambitions presents itself. Lies That Blind by E.S Alexander is based on a true story taking place in Malaya during the 18th century. Starting off in India, Jim heads to Penang in Malaya to become Captain Francis Light’s new assistant in order to write a chronicle about this fame-driven captain. The readers will follow his new life in this new place where he needs to adapt and make trustworthy friendships.

This fascinating story is written using rich details and historical facts. The readers are brought into what life was like in Penang as if they were the ones settling there, and they witness the growing friendship between Jim and Light. It is clear that the author did a lot of research about the Malaya culture, embracing it without disrespecting it. This shows through Jim’s love for other cultures and mainly towards the Malay’s religion and ways of living. Furthermore, being a historical novel, this book contains a lot of trade and military tactics, allowing the readers to understand how trade used to work during colonial times.

While I enjoyed the book, I felt that the story seemed slow in some chapters; being told from Jim’s point of view, he describes some details that seem irrelevant and/or slightly dull. But I also appreciate how this gives the story an air of authenticity and shows how one’s interests and opinions can differ from another’s.

The author teaches readers a lot about this time period and about Malaya colonization while being respectful and not overlooking the harsh facts surrounding colonization. This exciting adventure novel gives readers a look at the trading aspects of the colonization of Malaya through a compelling coming-of-age narrative.

Pages: 278 | ASIN : B09HKXYT12

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