Postcard from Zaharah: Timely 1st book by Thalia, 11

LONDON: A Novel by 11-year-old Thalia S.A., Mermaid Lagoon, couldn't have come at a better time.

As delegates from all over the world at the COP26 climate change conference grapple with grave concerns about climate change and the damage done to the environment, the young author addresses the issue in her first book in a fun and adventurous way, raising awareness about what is happening to our planet.

The 183-page book, about the adventures of four new-found friends at the Ocean Academy by the sea and published by Young Author Academy, was from an idea Thalia had when she was 8.

"I got the story idea from a dream, about a house in the sea with lots of mermaids.

"I figured it would be a good idea for a story. I had always wanted to write a story, so I went along with it," said Thalia in a Zoom interview recently.

But like all good ideas, it was left to ferment for some time until the time was ripe to revisit it.

That time came during the Covid-19 pandemic, when she was being home-schooled by her mother, Ann J., who had noticed her eldest child's voracious appetite for books since the age of 3.

Thalia is a fan of unicorns, fairies and all things magical that transport her to a world of fantasy. Her writing journey soon saw her delving into another realm of adventure.

At the start of the pandemic, she enrolled in a 10-week course, where her skills were honed and ideas were developed until the book was born.

Admitting that she wasn't quite a disciplined writer, she said she used to struggle to start writing, but when the ideas came, it seemed like she couldn't stop.

Her mother, who used to work with a media organisation in Malaysia before moving to Manchester with husband Arif Husni 12 years ago, helped Thalia with the illustration on the cover as well as some of the illustrations in the book. The family lives in Warwick, near Coventry.

It would seem that the family collaboration didn't stop there.

A huge and touching dedication was reserved in the book for her brother Zayd, 8.

"He usually likes to create so many jokes and I thought I could actually use them in my story and make it funny," she said.

Coincidentally, the main character in the story, Lilly, also has a brother Zack, who is annoying yet funny.

When asked if she based any of the characters in the book on herself, she said "no", but a glean through the book will tell you differently. Lilly is shy but very determined. Lilly too had a dream. Enough said.

Thalia's library at her room is filled with children's books by authors such as David Williams and Roald Dahl.

But when she mentioned the name of an author whose books I devoured half a century ago, I nearly fell off my chair. Thalia loves Enid Blyton and The Secret Seven Society series.

At that point, I felt the connection. Readers will now get a whiff of the kind of adventure that she has in her book.

The saying that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree couldn't be far from the truth about this young family.

Ann J., or her real name, Natikah Nurbiani Jamaludin, also had her works, an anthology of poems called Kawan, published by Dewan Bahasa, and a short story published by Dewan Pelajar when she was 12.

Ann J.'s father was an award- winning poet, the late Jamaludin Darus, who wrote under the pen name of Jamaludin D.

He was a journalist before he turned to writing creatively and had won awards such as Hadiah Sastera Utusan Melayu/Public Bank. The Gapena member went on to win many awards and even dedicated the book Penerbangan Cinta, which he wrote when he visited the family in Manchester, when Thalia was born.

And if that is not all, Thalia's grandmother on her father's side, Ramsiyah Amir, is also the author of children's stories, one of which is Empat Sekawan.

Thalia is active on social media, engaging with writers and bloggers to promote her book.

On Nov 20, she is scheduled to be interviewed in an online live session by the Turtle Conservation Society of Malaysia. Three winners of a colouring competition organised by the society will also receive copies of her book.

Naturally, another book is in the pipeline. "It's a totally different story," said Thalia, smiling and keeping mum.

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