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Enter the next generation of Khmer literature

Ngo Menghourng talks to literary types in the Kingdom to find out where the next great Camboidan story might come from

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Sitting on a chair and smiling in front of the Khmer Writers Association, Sok Chanphal, a 27-year-old author and song writer, was showing his new novel Winter Love to other writers to get their feedback.

Winter Love costs 6,000 riel and it is about love during the winter.

To write a good novel is not easy and the author has to know how to develop a story and write well.

Chanphal, who has written novels for two years and has many readers, said he can make his novels interesting and popular with his readers because he always uses simple words and correct grammar, making them easy to understand.

“I also write jokes or funny sentences or paragraphs to add colour to my novels,” he said. “Most novels don’t have real pictures or photos, but mine do.”

Tell of the lamp, The letter of love, Gentlemen love, and Winter love are the titles of Chanphal’s novels, which are on sale to the public.

All his novels have become popular and have gained a lot of support among Cambodian youth.

“I always receive good comments or praise via phone calls, text messages and Facebook,” he said.

By looking at the real situation of Cambodian society, Chanphal is interested in writing love stories in his novels. He uses his imagination and reflects what happens in society.

“What my audiences like, I will do,” he said. “I also want to educate my readers about love as well.”

A different author is Neang Sotheary, a 20-year-old writer and student at the Royal University of Law and Economics, who has written seven novel and books on philosophy, but none of her novels have been published.

“I have prepared two of my titles to be published and I hope that I will get success,” she said.

Sotheary does not like structuring stories like other writers, she like writing straight away whenever she has ideas.

“If we structure our story, it seems we put more pressure on ourselves,” she said.

All writing should not be too complicated or too simple, it should be an interesting piece and easy to understand, she says.

“After I have finished my writing, I always revise it again and again and I also print it out in order let my friends and teachers evaluate it,” she said.

Being afraid of losing Khmer literature, Touch Kimsreang, the president of the association supporting Khmer Literature and Culture, said the association has cooperated with the government in efforts to preserve Khmer literature and culture.

The association supporting Khmer literature was formed to support Khmer literature and culture via the media, and its aims are to conserve and develop Khmer literature and culture and to bring more unity to Khmer literature.

Kimsreang said that novels which are written by young writers have their strong and weak points because they use their own new styles and structures.

He explained that their strength is to help conserve Khmer literature and culture, and writers can make their readers understand this. The weak point is the readers cannot pick up on the main thrust of the stories.

However, he said he feels stressed about some Cambodian people and writers because they cannot write the words correctly, read or speak correctly.

“They don’t know how to produce or create new words or phrases,” he said. “They just use words, or phrases, which are borrowed from foreigners.”

It is not only Kimsreang who worries about Khmer literature, but also Neang Kanitha, 29, another writer, who received three award from the Nou Harch collective competition.

She said there are too many technological words writers use, which is a good signal for Khmer literature, but those words cause concern at the ministry if the writers do not use them properly.

“Some words that people use when they talk and write do not make sense such as thank you big big, which will harm Khmer literature,” she said.

Nevertheless, having worked carefully on his writing, Sam Sophearin, who has written 33 novels, has become a famous young author in Cambodia.

The novel The sun rises, written by Sophearin, has received an award from the Ministry of Culture and Fine Art.

Sophearin has finished writing nine novels which have been published and are on sale.

He said his novels became famous because of his vivid descriptions of death – he does not use the word die but instead says “stopped to breathe forever” or “stayed on the bed forever.”

He added that good stories have to be meaningful and the stories have to flow.

Someone who has enjoyed reading Sophearin’s novels is You Sophea, another famous young writer.

This month You Sophea, who has written 31 novels, has released a new novel called Don’t cut and don’t kill my love.  

He said his novels are different from each other because they include all tastes of life and he always plays with the obscene or mocks words in order to make his stories become more interesting.

He added that in the past writers liked using long descriptions, long anecdotes, long narrations and a lot of metaphors to attract readers. However, now writers prefer to keep things short because readers do not have much time.

People cannot make a living writing novels due to piracy, the law on copyrights and the limited number of readers.

“I don’t think I could survive writing novels, but I do it because I love it,” Chanphal said.

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