Where the Golden Oriole Sang

By Jude Toyat


THE ART OF WRITING is incomplete without inspiration. Writers agree that in order to create an impactful story, they need inspiration, which can be drawn from any places in any form possible, inspiring them to write on things they may want to write about, or mostly on what their readers expect to hear from them.


In fact, inspiration is not optional. It is the force that drives writers telling them that it is time for them to say something that might somehow change the world. Writers have to find what to write about, and to keep finding it until they eventually complete the writing, for as long as they are writers.


As for myself, a writer for The Borneo Post SEEDS, I constantly draw inspiration from various sources, including browsing and reading magazines, books, novels, newspapers, blogs, watching endless videos on YouTube, watching my favorite television programmes, listening to music, having smart dialogues, or even simply lazing around and walking down the street. The things that I do in my daily life will somehow reflect the way I write my stories and the outcomes.


Inspiration for ‘Where the Golden Oriole Sang’


golden oriole - p1For Gael Harrison, a Malaysian-born writer and author of ‘Where the Golden Oriole Sang’, the title of her book was drawn from her childhood when was sitting in the garden, listening to the lovely chirps of a particular bird. Curiosity overcame her and she asked her mother, “Mom, what is the name of that bird who sings the lovely sound that’s very pleasing to my ears?” to which her mother replied, “That is the Golden Oriole, my dear.”

Gael, who was born in 1954 in Kuala Lumpur was educated in Scotland and has worked in Vietnam, Ukraine and Qatar, and has recently returned from Australia. She is married with three grown children and now lives in Edinburgh.


Where the Golden Oriole Sang revolves around Anna, a prosperous woman living in Edinburgh, who, in trying to make sense of the traumas of her childhood, travels to the highlands of Scotland in the hope that the contents of an old tin box may throw light on her mother’s untimely death when Anna was just two years old.


Anna’s quest for the truth reveals unfolding layers of dark secrets, passion and murders that shrouded her developing years, and answers to questions that have burdened her since she was a child.


The novel tugs at the emotions while the reader is transported from rural villages of the Highlands of Scotland to the steamy jungles and rubber estates of a seldom-seen Malaya. The story weaves around the characters of the beautiful, vibrant Eilidh, her intrepid husband Alex and the fiery Estelle, but it is through Anna, the child, that the reader discovers the repercussions of three fatal tragedies that dominate the narrative. Anna as a grown woman, finally faces her nemesis in a Malay woman, Aminah, and at last is able to return to Malaysia after a prolonged exile.


‘Where the Golden Oriole Sang’ is a novel primarily set on the rubber estates of Malaya in the 1950s, during the time of the Emergency, when communists insurgents were fighting a brutal guerilla war against the British and Malayan administration with the aim of bringing communism to Malaya. When Anna again meets the characters that knew her as a child, the reader will share the pathos as she reflects on her odyssey and at last is able to come to terms with the tragedies of the past.


Gael added, “I consider myself as a lucky person because every time I travel I meet some really wonderful people with stories of their past which absolutely fascinated me, and I just love to think about those who have lived before me. This has inspired me to use some of their stories and make it into something relatable to the younger generation for them to understand. That is just what I am always intending to do, and that is also what I did with Where the Golden Oriole Sang,” she replied when asked about her inspiration on stories behind the novel.

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To date, Gael has been writing for almost 10 years, and has successfully published 4 novels, The Moon in the Banyan Tree (2005), The Highland Games (2012), The Highland Rocks (2012), and Where the Golden Oriole Sang (2012).
Gael loves reading biographies and historical fictions, which in some ways have contributed to her writing.


When asked about any upcoming novels, she answered, “I lived in Kota Kinabalu for five years , and I have been thinking about going there again, this time around as a holiday trip and perhaps to do some research, and the stories in Sabah will be an inspiration for my next novel.”


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As for me, Where the Golden Oriole Sang successfully portrays the ways of life long gone; a calm way of life for some and terribly grueling for others often faced with danger and struggles lurking in the dark.


The descriptive passages and exposés of people and places came alive when she was doing a live-reading of the novel and I can almost smell the scents, hear the noises, and feel the excitement as we were transported through this magical journey into the past. As the tale links between the East and the West, between the past and the present, I didn’t want this story to end.


Especially for someone my age, ‘Where the Golden Oriole Sang’ is tremendously useful to young readers through the imaginative descriptions of real personal knowledge of places and the mores of time, relating how in real life, sometimes good and bad go side by side or even hand in hand. I loved the feeling of comfort and discomfort that lead to eventual acceptance and resolutions, therefore I strongly recommend this novel to be read especially to today’s youths.


“Where the Golden Oriole Sang” comprises of 350 pages, written in English and published by the Silverwood Books. Read more about Gael Harrison and her work at gaelharrison.com.

Gael giving a reading to members of Friends of Sarawak Museum.

Gael giving a reading to members of Friends of Sarawak Museum.



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