My parcel from Malaysia has finally arrived! Hey, it only took three months to arrive in UK.
I am in an amazingly good mood right now, and I’m not sure if it’s because of the combination of chewy milk candy, meat jerky, murruku savoury snacks and white coffee I just wolfed down after rescuing them from the somewhat battered box.
But a huge chunk of the box included research materials for the novel (or series) I’ve been planning! And it’s so exciting to have a bit of home with me. I worried it would get lost. Here they are:
The last time I was back in Malaysia, I invested quite a lot on horror/ghost films, specifically those most likely to feature how that culture ‘deals’ with said evil. My brother was awesome enough to bring me to this store selling a whole lot of titles, but I found there were too many to choose from! After going through some hilariously written movie synopses, I had to put quite a number of them back.
In the end I chose two Hindi, two Chinese and only one Malay ghost film(s). Mostly because I was less sure how Indians and Chinese dealt with ghosty nasties in films. I would have bought more, but I couldn’t afford it!
You will not believe the amount of research I had to do before and while writing Malaysian Dark! I had to read up on bomohs (Malay shamans), Hinduism, Taoism, feng shui, spiritual/medicinal herbs, and the folklore and mythology of the Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures.
And that’s not counting the 2,000 photographs and videos I took of wacky places/plants/things the last time I was home 😀 All this research is definitely exhausting, but still immense fun. I must remind myself however that the researching should never be used as an excuse NOT to write.
Moreover, part of me wants to be careful not to read too many ghost stories like Russell Lee’s and so on, of which Malaysia has plentiful! As much as I want to be inspired and informed, I don’t want it limiting the kind of plots and scenes my imagination could come up with. By all means, acquire a foundation of knowledge, but don’t copy from the research, I say to myself!
The UK has its Fortean Times. Malaysia has its own huge array of magazines on weird supernatural stuff. Nearly all of them are written with a heavy Malay slang, but I can sorta get the gist of it. Here are some of my favourite article titles within:
The Husband who Cast Spells with Black Chicken Head Soup
Married to a Jin
The Employee who Bewitched his Boss
UFO Lands in Gobek Village?
Victim of a Rain of Needles
His Corpse Smelled Sweet…
Dialogue between a Pocong (Burial Shroud Ghost) and a Pontianak (Malay Vampire)
“For 3,000 years, I have lived in this place…”
Penis Bitten Until Broken Off
We might laugh, and I might be (a freethinking) Christian, but I am inclined to treat Malay ghost folklore with a pinch of salt and a great deal of careful respect. After all, I come from a country where many people take ghosts for granted. Chances are, you’ll always find someone who knows someone who’s had a supernatural encounter, for instance. Whatever my views are on these things, I’m also of a mind that there are things out there you don’t laugh at or make light of. After all, who are we to assume we know everything about the world?
And last but not least:
This book of 366 Malaysian Folk Tales was a brilliant find for me! Although the title is aimed at children, the book features stories I’ve never heard of from states all over the country. Some are old childhood favouries, like that of Sang Kancil, the mousedeer.
And then there’s the fairy tales that are just plain bizarre. One story from Sarawak, Borneo, starts off with:
“Kill me and eat my flesh,” said the monkey on the tree. Kasaan happened to be standing under the tree.
“I have no intention of eating your flesh,” said Kasaan.
“Don’t waste time, kill me and eat my flesh, hurry!” said the monkey.
They tell this to children? COOL.
Oh, and the book No Plot? No Problem! is an awesome read I would highly recommend 🙂 Lots of tips on writing around family commitments, distractions and other forms of *cough* procrastination.
My Increasingly Swelling Library
It feels damn good to add all this to my meagre stockpile of research material here in Edinburgh. Here are some of the awesome titles I took with me from Malaysia:
That and the small mountain of feng shui books I keep borrowing for research! Too many to list 🙂