image of a piece of parchment on the left with the words Theresa Fuller, 
followed by the a slice of an image ofa piece of parchment on the left with the words Theresa Fuller, followed by the a slice of an image of a sailing ship

Theresa Fuller


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Theresa Fuller

I grew up with ghosts outside my door. They haunted dark trees and cemeteries and were the spirits of young girls betrayed by lovers. These stories were made real by my cousins who were always telling me how just last year a child around my age had been snatched by one of these ghosts - Pontianaks. And never seen again...

In Singapore it is considered a treat to bring children to Haw Par Villa, originally a venue for teaching traditional Chinese values. Here children are shown the ten views of Hell. I had nightmares for a week after each visit. Even today, I can visualize the demons as they tortured liars by pulling their tongues, elongating them grotesquely.

This is probably why I never wanted to be a writer. Initially.

Writers bend the truth. A little.

Then I came to Australia for my education, met my husband, married and stayed.

When my first son was born I read him stories. And somehow something stirred. I remembered my grandfather and how he would tell fairy tale after fairy tale, at least ten per night until in frustration he would record them to be spared reading the same stories repeatedly.

Thus, in a strange land far away from my own family and what was familiar, I began to write. And in my stories, I could come home.

To a land where boys turn into crickets and mousedeer dance laughing upon the backs of crocodiles.

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Late 2021 - My journey into Baba Malay

Disclaimer: I am no expert in Baba Malay or Chakapan Baba. Which is why I spent 1 year doing this course. So how did I get here?

The strange thing was that I had no idea initially that Baba Malay existed.

I had always assumed that there was only Malay i.e., Bahasa Melayu.

So when I started writing THE GIRL SUDAN PAINTED LIKE A GOLD RING, and discovered that Malay had subdialects, this came as a complete surprise.

I knew I had grown up in a Peranakan family. I remember relatives speaking Malay, but for some strange reason, I always assumed it was Bahasa Melayu.

So it was a shock to discover Baba Malay.

Now you have to remember that by 2021, I had been living in Australia for decades. So when I heard Baba Malay spoken, it was as if my late grandmother was standing right in front of me.

I saw her smiling face. And I wept.

I had to do something.

I knew I couldn't let the language die.

The silly thing was that I couldn't speak the language. Or at least I thought I couldn't.

I signed up on Facebook into a Peranakan group and this was where I discovered other Peranakans like myself searching for our roots, our history.

Next, I signed up for a course in Baba Malay.

I found books, or at least some books. Many of them were published many years ago and hard to get. All were expensive.

But where were the resources for children?

There were none.

I knew I had to do something. Only what?

I decided that a picture book was needed. Sounds easy, right?

I am a writer. I should be able to write a picture book. That was what I thought.

And I had good reason to think that way. When I first decided I wanted to become a writer it was as a writer of picture books. Even though I am now published, it is as a YA writer. But I had training initially as a picture book writer. Somehow I had strayed into YA territory. But surely this was the chance to go back into what drew me initially into writing? That was what I thought.

First Hurdle - Getting the Manuscript in shape

So I wrote a picture book. I had done courses with Libby Gleeson about 10 years or more ago, and I assumed I could draw on past skills.

Haha! I was wrong.

I sent my first manuscript to Cathie Tasker. The result - a suggestion to do a course in picture book writing which I did and where Cathie was the teacher.

See. I was so wrong.

But I did do the course. And Cathie kindly invited me to lunch at her house in April 2022 where she discussed picture books.

It was there that she suggested that I do a chapter book instead of a picture book. It made sense.

Thankfully I had also signed up for a chapter book course as well. :)

Second Hurdle - Finding the Illustrator

Around that time I had even selected an illustrator and she had drawn up a contract.

Problem was that a war broke out between Russia and Ukraine.

The illustrator whose illustrations I loved so much was Russian.

I never knew that getting a picture book out could be so difficult.

Third Hurdle - Workbooks

Cathie's idea was a great one. Now I was looking for an illustrator who could do black and white sketches instead of F/C illustrations.

I began to think about a phrase book. I went down to the bookshop to check some out but they all seemed rather difficult.

I began to think, dream, write...

I started putting down my thoughts but the task seemed too hard. I had a language that was almost dead. No sponsorship except for my wonderful husband. I was waking up at 5 AM just to try to find the time to do this. Only what was THIS?

By now I had rewritten my Sang Kancil manuscript from a Picture Book to a Chapter Book. I still had no illustrator but that didn't worry me. Yet.

My problem was that Cathie had suggested writing a blended book which meant the text was mostly English with a few Baba Malay words thrown in.

On the last two pages she suggested having the English version on the left and the Baba Malay version on the right.

I tried it.

But ... it didn't work.

The problem was that Cathie and I assumed that if we cut the number of words down to say 400 that the text would fit on the page.

It may have fit on the normal size of a picture book but it didn't fit on the normal size page of a chapter book.

I needed at least 2 pages for the English version and 2 pages for the Baba Malay version.

So would should I do?

In the meantime, I had a brain wave.

The thought of a smaller sized book appealed.

Then the holidays came along and the family went to see a movie - THE BAD GUYS.

I liked the idea of a chapter book and I examined the size of the chapter books for THE BAD GUYS. Could I produce a chapter book roughly the same size? It would be like a phrase book.

And suddenly I had my solution

I would produce workbooks the size of chapter books.

This would help beginners to learn the language.

Small books would not be seen as a threat or challenge.

Fourth Hurdle - Curriculum

How do I start?

Thankfully I was doing a course with Ken Chan, the author of BABA MALAY FOR EVERYONE - a comprehensive guide to the Peranakan language. I went through the course notes. I wrote. Wrote some more. And then finally it came.

I remember as a kid learning to read. The books I had were simple. Something along the lines of - This is Ali. This is Siti.

I remember asking numerous questions when learning. And so this is how the books - SAPA, APA, MANA and AMCHAM, APASAIR, BILA started.

9th of September 2023

On the 9th of September 2023, I was the guest speaker at the Peranakan Association of NSW's AGM.

My topic was - Saving our Peranakan Language

Baba Maly Banner showing 5 books

I shared my journey with the audience, telling them that I had prepared 5 books with Book 6 coming out in 2024

I also shared the fact that Baba Malay is sadly an endangered language with less than 2,000 speakers worldwide. Many were shocked to hear that. But one lady said that Baba Malay is still widely spoken in Malacca. That was good news indeed and I hope that there are a lot of speakers there. I spoke about how I am also planning to create a series of readers (blended and bilingual) in the form of picture books and middle grade books.

One project that I was hoping to get underway however was an anthology - a collection of stories. Anything Peranakan. I am still hoping for this to happen. I just have to be patient while I wait for the stories to come in.

I provided the audience with ways that they could help. Because saving Baba Malay should not be left to one person - me.


1. Speak the language

2. Learn (If you do not know the language)

3. Share the news that the language is dying

4. Lobby/Apply for grants - because it is an expensive process both in time and money

5. Suggest ways to help/Brainstorm - because one person (me) cannot come up with all the answers.

I also mentioned that there are other resources.


Baba Malay for Everyone by Kennth Chan

A grammar of Modern Baba Malay by Nala Lee

Baba Malay Dictionary by William Gwee

All in all it was a great day at Pennant Hills and I thank everyone for coming.

11th of February 2024

Two years... and still going only what next?

Then my husband suggested a game...

And I thought... why not?

Don't get me wrong. We're not rich or experienced in producing games, but many years ago when I started my journey to becoming a writer my son, Tim, was newly born. Today, he has graduated from AIE as a games designer. Maybe something was possible?

So for around 9 months, Tim and I worked on a language learning game while I continued to wake at 5 am to write my books. But after publishing 5 books, I learnt one thing. There is no demand to learn Baba Malay. Producing a language learning game was not going to work.

So what then?

We had a few ideas which we worked on while I spoke with a few people, one of them Dr Pius Akumbu from the Endangered Languages Project, who suggested senstising the Peranakans to their culture.

This confirmed that we were on the right path. If not, then we have spent a lot of money and time going in the wrong direction. But hey! We're having fun.

Kampong Kanchel was born.

From the beginning, we wanted the game to be a fun game but at the same time, we wanted players, and this is anybody not just Peranakans, to be able to learn about the Peranakans.

What makes them special.

So if you want to come with us on our journey and are a game designer or illustrator or programmer and would love to volunteer your time(remember, we have little money), please, please contact me.

Would love to talk

In the meantime, WATCH THIS SPACE!

June 2024

Something occurred to me the other day.

This year I am planning to publish two books.

The titles are: Eating the Liver of the Earth which is a collection of folktales about the legendary trickster of SE Asia - Sang Kancil also known as Pelandok or Pilandok etc.

and Chakapan Baba Ati - which means the Heart of Baba Malay.

In both cases, I am going straight to the Heart of the Matter.

The Heart of the stories of Sang Kancil and the Heart of Baba Malay.

The liver of an animal is what predators prize the most. It is the organs that contain the most nutrition.

In Standard Malay, the word 'hati' means the liver/heart i.e., the core. The word 'ati' in Baba Malay actually means the 'liver'. Heart is 'jantong'. But phrases such as 'kind-hearted' and 'evil hearted' are 'ati baik' and 'ati pekong'. Hence to me 'ati' is used to express the meaning of the word 'essence' or the 'core'.

So it looks like 2024 is going to be quite a seminal year.

Baba Malay Banner showing 6 books

Click on covers to see more.

By author Theresa Fuller.


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Where Cranes Weave and Bamboo Sings is available at: | | | |

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SAPA, APA, MANA or Who, What, Where is available at: | | | | | |

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AMCHAM, APASAIR, BILA or How, Why, When is available at: | | | | | |

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TAPI, ABIS, PASAIR or But, So, Because is available at: | | | | | |

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ATAIR, KAT, BAWAH or Top, Near, Bottom - Book 4 is available at: | | | |

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ALUS, KA, KASAR or Delicate, Or, Coarse - Book 5 is available at: | | | |

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The Girl Sudan Painted like a Gold Ring is available at: | | | | | | | |

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The Girl who became a Goddess is available at: | | | | | |

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The Ghost Engine is available at: | | | | | |

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