After two years of living and teaching English as a second language in Nigeria, Sharon Bakar moved back to the UK where she was born. This was in the early 80s, and being back in the UK had made her hungrier for more adventures; she wanted to continue exploring the world. So, when she was offered a job — to teach English in Malaysia — she took it right away.
“My father was in the British Army in Malaya,” said Sharon in a Zoom video call. “He told me stories about this place, which made me want to come and see it for myself…I like teaching English as a second language, but it was adventure that really brought me here.”
In 1984, Sharon arrived in Malaysia, and started working as an English teacher for a secondary school in Kuala Kangsar. The job required her to teach for only one year, but she felt immediately at home here and decided to stay on.
For the past 36 years, Sharon has been living and working in Malaysia as an English teacher, teacher-trainer, freelance writer, editor, and literary blogger. Today, she is the managing director of Word Works Sdn Bhd, an independent publishing house that provides a platform for local writers to publish their works, and also courses and workshops in creative writing.
“My husband set up the company for me to teach business communication at first. But one day, a friend of mine at work noticed that I was busy. She said, ‘You’re writing, aren’t you? I want to write too.’ So, we started a writing group.
“There were four of us. We met up every Friday to write, and we called ourselves, the Cheeky Curry Club,” Sharon laughed.
“It was amazing, and two of my stories got published! That is when I realised that I was passionate about writing and even more so, teaching creative writing.
“Sometimes you just ask for what you want, and people will give it to you. I remember going to the MPH Management and said to them, you’ve got a room. I need a room to teach creative writing, and I’m willing to pay for the space.
Then they said, ‘No. We’ll give you the space for free. In exchange, we’d like you to write some articles for our magazine, and also help us run our Saturday morning event for writers’ — this was like a dream come true!”
From there onwards, Sharon continued teaching creative writing courses, hosting literary events, and organizing Readings @ Seksan— a monthly event for local writers at Seksan Gallery in Bangsar.
She co-edited (along with Bernice Chauly) two anthologies of writing by those who have read at Readings events. By and by, Sharon published four more books under the Word Works imprint.
When it comes to business in the publishing industry, local English books are generally challenging to sell. Bookstores would return unsold books to the publishers to create space for new books.
This forces independent publishers to continue selling their books online and directly to the buyers. At one point, books were taking over Sharon’s living space in Nilai, and it was troublesome for her to bring copies from Nilai to KL whenever someone in KL wants to buy her books.
As a solution, Sharon came to Cube Self Storage, and stored her books in our climate-controlled storage unit in Petaling Jaya.
“It’s really nice to be able to forget my books from time to time, while at the same time knowing that they are safely stored in my storage unit,” said Sharon.
With one less thing to worry about, Sharon turns her focus to teaching creative writing. Due to the pandemic outbreak, she is running her classes online. Anyone who’s interested in creative writing can find more information on Word Works Facebook page.
Before we ended our video call, I asked Sharon what she wants to achieve. She said, “I want to put more stories out into the world, and helping more writers to grow and be the writer that they’re supposed to be.”
As the quote by Maya Angelou goes: “You have no idea what your legacy will be because your legacy is every life you touch.”
Sharon Bakar has not only touched many writers’ lives in Malaysia, but also readers who have read her stories and stories by writers she had helped, and everyone, including myself, who has met her and touched by her big heart filled with love, joy, generosity, passion and great hope for literature and writing in Malaysia.