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Dr Kathrina Daud, Author of The Fisherman King

When it comes to local authors, only one name truly springs to mind. And rightfully so, as the sole Bruneian whose book has received the honour of being shortlisted in the yearly Epigram awards, Dr Kathrina Daud has set the bar for our local authors – and she has set that bar pretty dang high.

The book in question is The Fisherman King; a fantasy inspired by Bruneian history and mythology which tells the story of an orphan named Lisan who grew up in Kampong Ayer, and who himself suspects to be descended from royalty. Before the novel begins, Lisan had left the water village and his wife to find proof of his ancestry, and the story picks up with his return. Crown jewels, a snake god, and scuba dives down to shipwrecks ensues.

“This was the first novel I wrote after my PhD,” Kathrina explained. “It was the first novel I was able to write about Brunei while being based in Brunei. Previously, I had only ever been able to write about Brunei from a distance, as if I needed that physical space to allow for an imaginative space.”

“Despite being born and bred here, so many parts of Brunei are still a mystery to me, and The Fisherman King was a way of exploring some of those gaps, secrets and blurs.”

Author, Assistant Professor in Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), editor for Heartwrite Co. and all around aspiring champion for the local creative writing industry in Brunei, Kathrina first piqued our curiosity with a soulful passage about long-distance love that she penned called I Am A Bird. A few years ago she released The Halfling King – a short story rooted in local fantasy and mythology (fun fact: The Halfling King was originally part of The Fisherman King, and was cut out from the book during the editing process but worked well as a standalone), and this year she finally gives us the full length experience with The Fisherman King.

However, she professes her natural medium to be the short story. “I like to start with a character and just let it play out naturally – which tends to be briefly. Plot is one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer, and it’s the facet of writing that I have to work at the hardest during the editing process. And yet a well-crafted, surprising, delicate, robust plot – something that grinds the narrative forward with some urgency – is one of the things I enjoy most as a reader.”

Finalists at the Epigram awards

And the fact that we can enjoy, and continue to enjoy, Kathrina’s writing is also helped immensely by her two professions. It is the best of both worlds for an avid reader and author: Kathrina gets to read and write about reading for her academic and scholarly work, impart this knowledge to her readers, and it is work that is valued and then compensated with a regular salary. “Being an academic allows me the time to think, to read and rest – all of which are fundamental to my ability to write. It forces me to keep learning, and it’s also fundamental to my ability to write anything worthwhile.”

Aside from educating her students and providing us with books that let our imagination roam in a distinctly Bruneian environment, Kathrina has also been busy coaxing aspiring local authors out of the shadows and into the limelight. In 2019 she was the Director of the first Tiny Lit Fest – a local literary festival aimed at bringing together writing, reading, and publishing communities in Brunei. The festival comprised 15 micro-events organised by eight partners (namely The Creative Core BN, The Real Word BN, Creative Space Gallery, Creativate, B:Read, Little Bamboo, Engages Minds Learning and Heartwrite Co), and featured international writers, workshops, masterclasses, publishers and writers dialogues, meet and greets, book launches and more, over the space of five days.

The Tiny Lit Fest is returning for its second run as part of the Brunei December Festival this year and will take place from 3rd to 13th December, and will feature 17 anchoring partners who are a part of the local literary ecosystem. Follow them on Instagram (@thetinylitfest) for updates.

Kathrina hopes that the festival will continue to run for many years to come and keep growing, and is something she hopes will strengthen local literature by strengthening the networks and infrastructure needed to help local writing thrive.

“Writers don’t exist without readers, without publishers, printers, designers, booksellers, teachers, critics, scholars. All of us have a stake in local stories. Let’s take ownership of that.”

“There are more literary – including writing – communities these days, however if one wanted to reach out, community is always a good thing. How will local authors fare in the near future? I think they will fare well. I am excited to see the writing that is to come. I am greedy for it.”

Pick up The Fisherman King and The Halfling King at local bookstores dbookhaus and Nollybook.


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