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`Pleng’s Song` makes children question their lives: Patrick Maher

Updated: Jul 12, 2013, 17:40 PM IST

Patrick Maher, an American author, has written two successful novels – `Pleng’s Song` and `Candid Confessions`. `Pleng’s Song`, set in Thailand in the backdrop of 2011 Bangkok floods, is a work of fiction that sketches the turbulent story of 11-year-old Pleng Butiplanka, who lives in social isolation and is left to deal with the natural disaster on her own.

His first work, `Candid Confessions`, was also a bestseller in Japan.

Deepak Nagpal of spoke to Patrick Maher in an e-mail interview. Here are the excerpts:

Deepak Nagpal: What was the inspiration behind your latest, `Pleng’s Song`? What made you choose an 11-year-old child as the protagonist of your book?

Patrick Maher: There were a few people in my life that inspired me to choose this character. Of course, the first were my two children whom I dedicated the book to. I wanted to share my writing with them. Another person who influenced me was a student of mine that I had many years ago. Her name is actually Pleng. She is an adult now, but as a child, she was very shy and wasn’t doing her homework. This led to me throwing around some ideas for a storyline. While I wrote the book, I also had a classroom full of 11-year-olds and each of them motivated me to write because I wanted to encourage them to work harder at their own writing. One way of teaching is to get up and talk like you’re an expert and another way is to role model how writing is actually done. I prefer the latter.

Deepak: How would you describe your personal experience of getting caught in the 2011 Bangkok floods?

Patrick: It was very stressful. As a child, I grew up around tornadoes but they are fast and furious. The Bangkok floods moved very slowly and the waiting was very hard. As the floods got closer and closer, my stress level soared but once the water arrived, I felt relieved because I knew what I was facing. In my case, the unknown was worse than the reality of the floods. That’s not to say it was easy. Our home was surrounded by water and I had to make sure my children were safe. I live in a gated community and our northern wall saved us from getting drenched. It blocked over a meter of water from flooding my community. I spent many restless nights in bed wondering if the wall would hold up and this is when I started thinking about how I could use the floods as a basis for a story. My imagination just went wild.

Deepak: The setting of `Pleng`s Song` is at the Union of Hearts International School. How did you come up with this name?

Patrick: Union of Hearts is the motto of Ruamrudee International School. It’s where I teach in Bangkok. The institution is run by the Redemptorist priests of Thailand so I guess it has a kind of a spiritual connotation to it. I thought the name worked perfectly because Pleng struggles with herself and questions her essence. She’s clearly not in unison with the rest of humanity but the floods make her realize her heart is in the wrong place. She decides she wants to be like everyone else and join the Union of Heart’s school community. There is a lot of underlying symbolism to the name and how it relates to the story.

Deepak: Do you think your novel, `Pleng’s Song`, would inspire children to become stronger and face problems head on? Today`s young generation appears to be volatile...

Patrick: My intention was only to captivate the imagination of children so they’d be interested in reading but as I’ve gone on author`s visits to various international schools, I’ve noticed the story definitely makes children question their lives. The students talk a lot about how lucky they are that they don’t have to face such hardship like Pleng did, and they point out exactly how she was able to transform into a new person. So kids seem to be inspired by the story. As far as today`s young generation is concerned, I think they’re great. With each new generation, the older generation always questions their capability and direction. This always repeats itself through history. I think the young generation of today will do just fine and I’ve met many remarkable children who are destined to make great contributions to the emerging global community.

Deepak: Your latest book mainly targets children. Do you think in this age of smartphones, tablets and high-end videogames, children have spare time to read a novel unless it`s part of their school’s curriculum?

Patrick: I think it’s important to remember that storytelling went through a dramatic transformation when oral stories were replaced with written ones. I’m sure the storytellers were going through a major crisis then and felt their art was being destroyed. For now, we are simply seeing novels being available in a digital format and I think that is great for facilitating the distribution of texts. If anything, technology has given a rebirth to oral storytelling through websites like YouTube. So I guess for me, it is not so much about kids reading novels but more about them being exposed to storytelling, and I think the Internet, and all the devices that go along with it, have increased our ability to share stories. So I guess it’s obvious that I’m a strong believer in technology but it’s up to parents to make sure their children are not playing interactive games too much.

Deepak: What message do you have for the children?

Patrick: Believe in yourself and follow your heart and dreams. Don’t let negative comments hold you back because it’s what you believe about yourself that is most important. However, that being said, it is important to always work for the common good of humanity so make sure your goals aren’t too selfish. Life goes by very fast and it is much easier to live with yourself when you’ve contributed something positive to this world that you’ll one day leave behind.

Deepak: When can we expect your next book?

Patrick: Over the past couple of months, some things have changed. I had planned to write `Memories of Gaslight` which is a story set in my hometown of East Grand Rapids, Michigan. I really want to give something back to my hometown but it will have to wait because I’m working on some deals to widen the paperback distribution of `Pleng’s Song` with an established publisher. This will also involve completing a series of children’s novels that are set in Asia. Some ideas are being thrown around now and I’ll have a clearer vision of what’s coming next fairly soon. With all the attention `Pleng’s Song` has gotten, I feel like I should make the most of writing for young readers.