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"TRANSPARENTLY an autobiography" is a damning putdown for a debut novel, Chong Yen Chung feels. To avoid that, he adopted a skin other than his own for Clarence Plays the Numbers.
The book, launched in Kuala Lumpur by Datuk Professor Khoo Kay Kim on April 25, tots up the debts of Clarence de Sequiera who resorts to gambling to repay Arunachalam, the chettiar trudging a tragic path.
Yen Chung tells their stories through an omniscient narrator, and pegs their ordinary lives against the backdrop of 1950s Singapore, a period of change and adjustment.
Having a Eurasian protagonist required "a strenuous act of will and imagination", he admits. Likewise, setting the story in Singapore instead of Malaya, where the Klang-born author grew up in.
Like every novice, he made the round of publishers in the United Kingdom, where he lives and works as a property manager. For two years there were no takers - "the small houses have been taken over by American and German firms" - but the option of bringing it out himself didn't entice. Self-publishing puts the brakes on editorial rigour, he thinks.
"You need to have …