War stories, crime and sports have always been my favourite subjects since I was a boy.
As a child, I was mesmerised by my maternal grandfather British Army Major Leopold James Pierson’s many tales, especially of the Battle of Gallipoli during WWI when he was twice injured.
My father John Ritchie’s equally exciting stories as a leading crimebuster in Malaya and older brother Inspector Ernest Ritchie’s exploits at the height of the May 13 riots, also motivated me to revel in the dream of becoming a policeman or a soldier when I was a teen.
I thought that as an all-round sportsman who had excelled in the Senior Cambridge exams in 1969, I had a chance. But it was not to be.
Joining my father, who was Sarawak’s first Asian police commissioner in Kuching, I soon found myself appointed sports captain of St Thomas’ School. By this time, I had scraped through my Higher School Certificate exams in 1969 and had applied and been accepted into the University of London to study law.
Again it was not to be because I refused the offer as I wanted to be a jack of all trades.
So I worked at two nightclubs in Kuching, then left Borneo to become a temporary sports teacher with the Malacca High School and a stringer with the Straits Times to earn some pocket money.
I then ventured to Kuala Lumpur to work at the Federal Hotel as a singer with a band led by Sarawak RTM combo leader Lawrence Dragon following which I joined the Outward Bound School in Lumut before working as a cadet officer with a security company.
When I applied and was accepted into the New Straits Times (NST) in 1972, I was seconded to the sports desk.
At the end of the year, I was handpicked to join NST’s crime desk under former police inspector Rudy Beltran.
Together with me were some notable personalities such as Najib Abdul Rahman, the son of Malaysia’s Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Rahman Hashim and Berita Harian cartoonist “Lat” Mohamed Nor Khalid.
As a crime reporter in the 1970s, I broke some of Malaysia’s biggest stories, including the assassination of Najib’s father in the Malay Mail. We had record-breaking sales of more than 40,000 on that tragic 1976 morning.
In 1981, I was sent to Sarawak as NST’s first staff correspondent.
It was at Tanjung Bijat, Sri Aman that I had my first major “scoop” — the killing of Penghulu Bangan Pali by a man-eating crocodile called “Bujang Senang”.
I also had my first taste of politics and discovered a family friend, new chief minister Datuk Abdul Taib Mahmud, was close to my father.
At that time, NST was the only national paper in Kuching as the “blue eyed boy” of Taib, I was always the first to get insider information.
My first big political story was when I predicted the exact date of the 1983 election when I got the information from the “horse’s mouth” much to the chagrin of the state election commission who wanted to know the name of the “horse”.
During the political struggle between Taib and his uncle former Chief Minister and Governor Tun Abdul Rahman Yakub in the mid-80s, I revelled in writing about the “cloak and dagger” politics within Sarawak.
Riding on the crest of the family squabble, I wrote my first political book “A Gentleman’s victory for Taib Mahmud” in 1987.
Since then I have written, published and rewritten more than 40 books, some of which have been translated to Bahasa Malaysia with the help of several celebrated authors and journalists.
Lest you think writing is a lucrative business, the fact is that you are more likely to lose money unless you are a “Mercenary Author” or a person is paid a handsome sum to write about the attributes of a rich personality.
Writing is also a social obligation — you can write to alleviate the problems of the underdog.
I’m telling you this story in light of the recent offer by Datuk Talib Zulpilip from the Chief Minister’s Office to Sarawakians to participate in the short story writing competition open to the public from June 1 till Nov 30.
As the writers are free to choose subjects of their expertise and experience, it would have been good had organisers guided the writers on the subjects to write about.
In reality, sad to say, Sarawak still lags behind Malaya which have organisations that not only encourage book writing but also give small honorariums to writers.
In Sarawak, we still have to beg for a few ringgit to publish a book!
But without a doubt, Datuk Talib and his ministry have taken on the challenge of bringing the writing community to a higher level.
Congratulations and well done!
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.