Anna Tan is currently undertaking a residency at Rimbun Dahan from August to September 2020.
About the Author
Anna Tan grew up in Malaysia, the country that is not Singapore. She is the author of two fantasy books, Coexist and Dongeng, and has short stories included in various local and international anthologies.
When not writing, Anna is the treasurer for the Malaysian Writers Society and heads the group in her hometown of Penang. This really means that she nags them into turning up for write-ins and critiques, then wrangles them into submitting for NutMag, an annual zine published by MYWriters Penang. Anna was once a certified and chartered accountant with a big 4 firm but has given up on annoying bean counters in general. She now likes to annoy other wordsmiths by correcting their grammar.
In 2019, Anna completed an MA in Creative Writing: The Novel at Brunel University London. She is interested in Malay/Nusantara and Chinese legends and folklore in exploring the intersection of language, culture, and faith. She can be found tweeting as @natzers and forgetting to update annatsp.com.
Current Work-in-Progress at Rimbun Dahan
Anna is currently working on the first (millionth) rewrite of The Weight of Sin, the culmination of the Absolution duology.
The first novel, The Weight of Strength, is a high fantasy retelling of Samson and Delilah set in a magical Malaccan Sultanate-esque world that draws on Nusantara culture, language, and imagery. Terang has fallen, its people have been taken captive. Raja Muda Mikal must prove himself and discover a way to liberate his people, even while he struggles with his own faith in a silent God.
The current WIP, The Weight of Sin, follows the restoration of Terang two years on. Mikal, now Sultan, must fulfil the Perjanjian Garam to restore God’s protection over Terang. He sets out on his pilgrimage to Suci with fear in his heart and death in his soul—and the hope that his sacrifice will save his people. Tulen sets out on a similar pilgrimage, seeking absolution for causing the death of her brother. But the road to Suci is fraught with danger—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Soon, both Mikal and Tulen must decide for themselves: what lengths will they go to in their quests for absolution? The Weight of Sin explores the concept of absolution—and weighs the merits of simply offering sacrifices for atonement versus obedience to the scriptures.
Excerpt from The Weight of Sin
Finding a new job is not easy when your ex-boss has circulated your name and crime to all the nearby restaurants. It’s the third morning since I lost my job and I’ve already been rejected by most of the restaurants near my place. I’m also using too much of my money on food. If I’m going to have enough for rent, I’m going to have to turn to drastic measures.
Mak will be so disappointed in me.
I slip into the back of the Temple, ignoring the clamour in my head as the bells toll. If cursed is the hand who kills, then it wouldn’t matter if that same hand also stole, would it? It couldn’t be doubly cursed, could it?
Not here, Tulen, I tell myself. You don’t do anything bad near the Temple nor near the Justice’s Quarters, not where there are dozens of stern-faced women around who know your name and your face and can read your thoughts, no matter how hard you try to mask them.
I concentrate on the Uskup who is droning on ahead, praying to Kudus for the restoration of Terang, while I try to slide shields around my thoughts. Aunty Rahsia taught me this four years ago—the basics of it, at least. She said that it was important for me to learn, especially with the promised strength of my gifts—and then Mak died and Aunty Rahsia got her dream job and disappeared out of our lives, the very way she told Mak off for doing to us. Well, she’s not a blood relative anyway, just Mak’s friend.
It still hurts.
A Justice in front turns around, eyes scanning the crowd and I slam my shields up. I must succeed this time, because her gaze passes over me without pausing. She looks a little puzzled, then turns back to the service.
What did I let slip?
I suppress my thoughts and practice monitoring those of the people around me. The tall, thin man in front of me is wondering if his wife is cheating on him. The lady next to him, whom I assume must be his wife, is trying to calculate if they have enough to pay for their son’s school fees for the next month. The fat lady next to me is thinking about dinner. Hah. Mak Ros, that nosy old bawang, is somewhere on my left, wondering if that degenerate girl is up to no good. My cheeks burn.
Aaaand this is why you don’t eavesdrop on people.
The Uskup mentions Suci and I perk up. He’s praying for Kudus to confirm the appointment of a new Uskup Agung. I frown. Hasn’t he been praying for that for the last six months? I mean, the old one has been dead for almost a year. I know because he died two months after Telus did, just when he was supposed to come to Impian.
When the Uskup starts on Sultan Mikal and the Bayangan Raja, I take that as my cue to leave. It means he’s about to end the service and I don’t want to be caught hanging around by more bawangs who may or may not remember Mak and ask me what I’m up to these days.
I shut the thought down and slip out of the Temple. My feet take me to the market, partially because I’m hungry, partially because I don’t know where else to go. The crowd in the market is perfect for hiding me, and it’s not where I’d be likely to find a Justice. I work through lifting my shields again, so that no one can read me. I don’t bother trying to add a covering projection, because that takes too much energy and concentration.
And you’re not very good at it.
Shunting that thought aside, I work on listening to the thoughts around me, trying to pick an easy mark. It should be easy, right? And Kudus can’t curse me twice, right? All the Paderis I’ve ever talked to say that all sins are alike to Kudus so if I’ve sinned once…
The fat lady from the Temple crosses in front of me. She looks like an easy mark. She’s still distractedly running through recipes in her head—ooh, curry chicken sounds lovely—whilst tallying the amount she has in her purse—she has a lot of money. Now she’s thinking about whether she should get pastries for the brat, whoever that is, as well. I follow her around the market as discreetly as I can, but can’t seem to find an opening. She keeps her bag too close to her, makes too many unpredictable moves.
I spy a likelier target. My second target proves a better choice. I manage to slip a hand in her basket and score a nice sausage bun. She doesn’t even notice.
With a little more confidence—and practice—I walk away from the market that morning with enough food for the next two days. No money though. My fingers are not that nimble, and it seems that Impianans are more careful with their purses than they are with their shopping bags.
This is only a temporary measure, I remind myself. Once I get a new job, I won’t have to steal anymore. I just need to conserve as much money as I can so that I will still have a place to stay. I don’t doubt that Pak Baik will kick me out the moment I’m late in paying, no matter what his name actually means. I mean, look at the name I got stuck with. You don’t expect a murderer to be called pure.
I spend the rest of the day receiving more job rejections. One even has the audacity to chase me out of his restaurant. Maybe I need to consider a change in careers.