Category Archives: Publisher

Tag, you’re it!

I’ve been tagged by my friend Alison for The Next Big Thing. At first I wasn’t sure what this meant until a little digging told me it’s also called the Work In Progress Challenge, where you’re asked a few questions about the book you’re writing.

Sounds like fun, so here we go!

What is the working title of your book?

Taboos. It’s Book 1 of 7 in the Malaysian Dark series, but self-contained. I just completed the outline, and am now halfway editing/polishing Book 1.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

It happened one night around 2008, when I was driving home and shedding my secret identity as a journalist. The idea beamed into my head: “Saaay, Malaysia has a ton of ghost stories. What if we had a team to deal with these cases? They could be experts in supernatural folklore from every race. That sounds cool! Like Malaysian Ghostbusters.” Little did I know I would soon be buried under an avalanche of research 😉

What genre does your book fall under?

Urban fantasy. Someone once described it as “supernatural thriller noir”.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have three major characters. The main character, Arshad, would have to be someone who can fluidly speak two to three languages and basically kick ass.

Looks-wise, I would love to have him look like the hunky Bollywood actor, Arjun Rampal. Hey, I can dream, right? 😉

(Photos courtesy of http://www.beritaduniaku.com/ and http://www.cinemamalaysia.com.my/artist/gallery/?id=Ida_Nerina_Hussain_3254)

The dear late Yasmin Ahmad, an amazing woman and talented director, would have been perfect for my other major character, Salmah. As it is, an older version of the super hot Ida Nerina works too!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“A cursed man must save the world, threatened by demons and ghosts, by conquering his greatest enemy: himself.”

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Preferably through an agency, but I’m open to releasing it as an ebook if I cannot find representation!

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Three loooong years. I was also doing my MA in between, tackling a massive amount of research and planning out the characters, plot and settings for the whole series. Oh, and generally trying to survive and earn a living. I felt better when I heard it apparently took J.K. Rowling five years to write the first Harry Potter, as she was sorting out the other books. (Not that I’m saying I’m J.K. Rowling ;D )

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden File series. I was already working on the concept for my story when I picked up the very entertaining first book in his series, but Mr Butcher was definitely an influence. I would also compare my book to Vertigo’s graphic novel title Hellblazer, famous for its character John Constantine. (I still insist I enjoy Keanu Reeves’ portrayal of him in the Constantine movie. Hellblazer fans, don’t flame me)

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

I set out at first to create a fun, fantasy-filled adventure set in Malaysia. As I was writing, I also realised there were a number of socio-political issues playing in the background. You can’t help but notice them when the characters move around, trying to get things done. I love my country, but there are things about it that bother the heck out of me. However, the last thing I want is to hit readers on the head with a political message.

Instead the problems will rarely be addressed as I focus on telling a (hopefully) Damn Good Story. It helps that I have a main character who might represent the apathy, the silence, of many Malaysians about these issues. If you know what Malaysia is like, you’d understand there are a lot of things the authorities don’t want you to bring up as it might offend the so-called “sensitivities and feelings of the other races”. And so a number of us has grown up, I believe, tolerating the way things are, simply because we don’t know any better.

To be honest (or long story short) I would never have finished the book if not for my friends and the lecturers of my Creative Writing MA programme. They actually believe I had something to my crazy story!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s got kickassery. Banter and bumblings. Malaysia. Characters I will put through the meat grinder. Gangsters and goons. Malaysia. Spooky shacks and haunted highways. Ghosts and scares. Did I mention Malaysia? 😉

Anyway it’s time to tag others and pass on the Luurv…

…Actually, I was supposed to find five people to tag about their Next Big Thing, but could only find the awesome bloke Jon Jon Fagan at http://deadsaukko.wordpress.com/

I ran out of time before having to rush off to Europe (I wrote this post early and set it to post on Wednesday. Sort of like writing a love note to Marty McFly in the past… or was it Back to the Future? 😉

Anyway, tag, Jon, you’re it!

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Publisher, Writing

Interview: Malaysian thriller writer John Ling

Meet John Ling. He’s a particularly rare breed – a Malaysian thriller writer! – currently based in New Zealand. His second book, The Blasphemer, is scheduled to be out Christmas 2011 and touches on a potentially provocative topic – Islamic fundamentalism, among other things. It’s not the first time he handled anything this explosive. In 2005, John published Fourteen Bullets, an action-packed anthology of his stories set in war zones across the world. Marilyn Henderson, editor of PendulumPress.com, described John as “a powerful new voice in adventure stories.”

John and journalist Elizabeth Tai are some of the Malaysian writers or publishing veterans I’m interviewing to gain insight into current local perceptions of fiction writers, particularly genre fiction, in my country. Along the way, I hope to learn more about others in the industry and ask their views on the troubled state of literature, publishing and censorship in Malaysia today.

Tell me about yourself! And how did you end up in New Zealand?

I grew up in a working-class neighbourhood, and not surprisingly, I had a wayward lifestyle as a child. I got into my fair share of vandalism and fights, which were often exacerbated by racial tensions between Malay gangs (who were the minority) and Chinese gangs (who were the majority). But after one too many bloodied noses and run-ins with the police, I decided that enough was enough.

I have always loved reading, both as an escape and a distraction, and it was only natural that I turned to writing. My early work was clumsy, a pastiche of Enid Blyton and Charles Dickens, but it helped me stay out of further trouble by the time I left high school. By then, I had graduated to writing thrillers. I first arrived in New Zealand in 2003 for university studies, and it wasn’t hard to fall in love with the country and its people. What I found really inspiring was the creativity and ingenuity of this small Pacific nation. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in sheer bigness of spirit, producing talent such as Booker Prize-winning writer Keri Hulme and Academy Award-winning film-maker Peter Jackson.

Yes, there’s more to New Zealand than sheep and pastures and mountains, and I decided to stay on. Being here has made me feel like I could be than just a lost soul, which is what almost happened to me back in Malaysia.

How did your first anthology Fourteen Bullets come about?

Between 2003 and 2004, I had several stories published in American and British periodicals. Believe me, this was a big boost for someone who had never considered himself all that good at wordsmithing. In 2004, I came across an indie publisher called Silver Lake Publishing. The editor was calling for submissions, and I thought it might be a good idea to compile my stories into a single collection and give it a go. She liked my pitch, offered me a contract and Fourteen Bullets was born. I went on a short Malaysian tour to promote it in 2005. Visiting bookstores and schools and community centres about the lessons to be learned from ethnic conflicts in places such as Kosovo and Bosnia. It was a memorable if short-lived experience. Silver Lake Publishing, which operated on a shoestring budget, soon went into financial difficulties and went insolvent. Fourteen Bullets, unfortunately, went out of print.

Looking back at it now, it’s amazing how I even got these stories published — by any standard, they were clumsy, unfocused and lacked depth and maturity. But it was a start, and it did lay the foundations for everything that came after.

Tell me a little about your novel, The Blasphemer.

The Blasphemer is a thriller that asks a loaded question, ‘How far would you go to protect one man’s right to speak?’

When Abraham Khan releases a controversial book with a liberal interpretation of Islam, his message ripples throughout the Muslim world. He condemns fanaticism. Raises the possibility of healing the rift between East and West. Ending the War on Terror once for all. Unfortunately, his message also rubs fundamentalists the wrong way. They see it as sacrilege. A threat to their entrenched authority. And they set out to kill him, bringing their war to the streets of New Zealand. It falls on Maya Raines and her team of close-protection specialists to protect Abraham Khan. But their task isn’t going to be easy. They not only have to contend with a constantly shifting threat level, but mounting political pressure from their government. A government that is unsure of just how far it should go to protect a man who is openly defiant and refuses to keep silent.

On your website, you mentioned concerns about the book’s subject matter. Could you elaborate?

When I first started work on The Blasphemer, I originally envisioned it as taking place in a world where Osama bin Laden had died of natural causes. In the aftermath, fundamentalists and progressives were scrambling to fill the ideological void; trying to sway the Muslim community in one direction or the other. This, I felt, was a realistic scenario. One that had true dramatic weight. To my astonishment, actual events caught up with my fiction. The American raid on Bin Laden’s hideout on May 2nd meant that he had died a most unnatural death. And Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s notably less-charismatic number two, is now indeed engaged in an effort to fill the ideological void. I’m therefore in the process of rewriting The Blasphemer and bringing it up to speed. Will it still be provocative? Incisive? I think it will be, but in a different way than I originally imagined.

You don’t hear of many Malaysians writing thrillers. Why do you think that is?

Thrillers, at their best, not only convey danger and menace, but do so in a way that comments sharply on the issues that concern us. Crime. Religion. Politics. International relations. These are difficult topics, and they take time to research, collate and understand. And when you are turning the microscope on reality, the last thing you want is for someone like a bona fide policeman to drop you a line and say, ‘Hey, I’ve read your work, and you really screwed up. That’s not how we operate.’

Here’s an example of how easy it is to fall into that trap. We are all familiar with the classic scene where a detective searches a house. Stumbles upon a bag of suspicious-looking white powder. He tears it open, dips his finger in and takes a taste. His eyes go eureka, and he says, ‘It’s cocaine!’ But wait. Putting aside the fact that he has just tampered with evidence, a cop would have to be foolish to actually take a taste like that. It could be rat poison. It’s such a simple and logical thing, and yet, we’ve seen this scene being replicated over and over, in one guise or another. So much so that it’s become part of popular culture. But what’s prevalent is not always authentic, and getting the details right does take a lot of time and patience and effort.

As a nation, Malaysians are hardwired to expect immediate results and quick turnarounds. So the idea of spending a year or more to research and write something without an immediate financial windfall is tough to stomach, and that may be one reason why we find so few Malaysians willing to tackle the thriller genre.

Another reason may well be a lack of willingness to directly tackle topics that are taboo or incendiary. The thriller has always served as a contemporary morality tale on what a society should or shouldn’t be; what it should or shouldn’t do. And perhaps Malaysians are apprehensive about tackling a genre with a text and subtext that can often be read as anti-establishment. What you’re more likely to see, I think, are Malaysians making tentative forays into the mystery and suspense genres instead of full-blown thrillers. Even then, they hold back and don’t necessarily write what they actually have in mind.

As far as you know, how is genre fiction perceived back in Malaysia these days? Do you keep track of what’s going on there?

I don’t think the Malaysian public necessarily makes a distinction between ‘genre fiction’ and ‘literary fiction’. What’s more likely to happen, though, is that they tend to overlook a local writer until he or she has achieved success overseas.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that the average Malaysian only reads two books a year. With an unconscious quota like that, there really isn’t much room to play with. Given the choice between a local genre novel and an international one, the Malaysian reader has a tendency to go for the latter. In that sense, public perception hasn’t changed all—local material is almost always perceived to be inferior in quality compared to their international counterparts.

You do a lot of research on world conflicts and war. What draws you to this topic?

Ever since the first human being discovered the killing power of a lump of rock, violence has always been a form of communication. A forceful of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is, if you will, the ultimate accelerant; the ultimate stressor. It pummels and strips a person bare and reveals his and her character. Most people, thankfully, will never have violence visited upon them. So it’s hard for them to fully appreciate the weight of it, the consequences. What they think they know about violence is often gleaned from movies and games created by people with cavalier and blinkered attitudes. People who have no real appreciation of what violence actually entails. So, as a writer, I’m always conscious of the fact. I want to deconstruct violence. Dissect it. Deglamourise it. And understand the why and how of it. Why, for instance, despite our thousands of years of civilisation do we still revert back to violence as a way of saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’?

My day job at Television New Zealand offers me the chance to dig deep and gain insight. I’m most fascinated by the men and women who call themselves ‘quiet professionals’. Operators who work in the front lines of law-enforcement and intelligence and counter-terrorism. You get a sense, when you sit down with such people, of how intimately familiar they are with violence. They know what it means to shoot someone in anger and to be shot in anger, and they are very frank about what violence is and what violence isn’t. Multiply that many times over and you’ll see that Violence — or even the threat of violence — is the single biggest arbiter of geopolitical power today. And yet the general public seems to understand so little about it, which leads to flawed and uninformed choices on so many levels within society. But I always believe that before you can understand global stories, you have to first understand individual stories. Which is where fiction comes in. It’s an excellent vehicle which I can use to explore a complex topic without sounding draggy or preachy.

What are your views on censorship to preserve the racial harmony of a country? Some might argue this is necessary to prevent ethnic conflicts as seen in certain Asian nations, after all.

There are two issues at play here. One, the idea that you can totally eliminate criminal activity. And, two, the suggestion that any response, no matter how extreme, is justified in pursuit of that goal. But let’s stop for a moment and actually think this through. Do the ends really justify the means? Is it feasible? Is it desirable?

North Korea is a good real-world case study. There is no terrorism there. Why? That’s because the government has completely and utterly eliminated terrorism by, ironically enough, taking on the role of the terrorist. It locks its citizens down tight. Shuts them off from the outside world. Imprisons them with impunity. Executes them profusely. Censors and manipulates all information. Promotes its own pervasive brand of propaganda. As Nietzsche so aptly said, ‘He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.’ The role of government is to regulate and minimise criminal activity to the point that it doesn’t threaten our way of life. And it has to do it in a fair and balanced manner. Go beyond that and a government risks going beyond the point of no return. It ends up becoming the very thing it set out to eradicate in the first place.

What issues are most important to you?

(1) Freedom of speech, (2) Freedom of religion, (3) Freedom from want, (4) Freedom from fear.

Now for a break 😀 What do you do for fun or to relax? Any geekish interests?

I’m a news junkie. Can’t get enough of global events.

What titles are you reading nowadays?

I’m currently revisiting Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. (Chris: See? That is geekish 😉 ) It’s a delectable masterwork, and ample proof that comics and fantasy can be literature. Anyone who says otherwise must be dense!

Chris: Thanks for reading!

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Filed under Books, Malaysia, Publisher, Thriller, Writing

My First Writer Interview!

In my quest to speak to various Malaysian writers and publishers about the industry back home, I got hold of Elizabeth Tai. Besides being a close friend, Elizabeth is a voracious reader (her library definitely trumps mine!) and she has also been a features and entertainment journalist for nearly 12 years. She claims to get dizzy flying to exotic locations like Japan and California (I hate her), and has interviewed local and international authors, celebrities, and a dizzying array of personalities both weird and diva.

Give her a hand, and more interviews to come, I hope!

Tell me about yourself.

I’m a journalist @ The Star newspaper, a national English daily in Malaysia. I’ve always been a writer; I created my first graphic novel when I was 11, wrote my first non-fiction booklet about astronomy when I was 12, started writing short stories when I was 12 and later novels in my teen and young adult years. Ironically, when I started writing professionally as a journalist, my fiction endevours fell on the wayside…

What sort of books did you read as a child?

The Johor Baru public library had a curious children’s section. It only had biographies, non-fiction books and Shakespeare (children’s version of course), so that’s what I read as a child. My first book was a book on Mathematics. Loved it on account of the colourful pictures. I only read Enid Blyton in my teen years!

What genres do you read and why?

Well, I’m an omnivore. I read EVERYTHING. Which makes it difficult sometimes to make a choice. But if I were to pick a favourite, fiction = sci fi and fantasy. What I read depends on my moods. Right now I’m reading lots of non-fiction books, especially on languages and religion. Studying Christian theology is fascinating to me.

What do you write for enjoyment?

Fanfiction. Because it’s effortless and all the characters are there already for you to play with 🙂

Tell me what you think about the state of literature in Malaysia nowadays.

It’s growing, I suppose. Though the quality of the writing and packaging (I’m big on fonts and covers, being a former subeditor) ranges from good to abysmal. I feel that writers need to put more quality into their work and also be able to take criticisms more!

As far as you know, what is the Government doing about it?

Nothing as far as I’m concerned. Much of the initiative to encourage writing comes from private enterprises or companies such as Silverfish and MPH.

Are there any suggestions or measures you think Malaysia should be doing to promote literature and reading?

For God’s sake improve the libraries! We need to have more libraries – at least one library in one suburb area etc, not one library per city. There should be more funding to create writer’s festivals in Malaysia.

In 2003, the National Library reported that Malaysians only read two books a year on average. In 2010, Deputy Information, Communication and Culture Minister Heng Seai Kie said Malaysians read an average of eight to 12 books a year. Are you surprised? Glad? Sceptical?

In the urban areas, the figures are probably better. If you visit book warehouse sales or bookstores, you’d notice it packed with people. The concentration of reading Malaysians differ from rural to urban areas and this is simply due to the availability of books, methinks. I think in rural areas, the availability of books is simply dismal. We’re really spoiled in KL (Kuala Lumpur).

Tell me your views about Malaysian authors today.

There are some that are really enthusiastic about the craft, but I’m a perfectionist … I feel that they can improve their craft more. Some can’t even take criticisms, and feel that just because they’re Malaysian writers, Malaysians should support them. There are also some who are elitist … who believe that “literary” fiction is the only fiction worth considering. This is just my impression, however.

Do you believe they are being given enough Government support or encouragement? Eg Book festivals, grants, literary events?

NOPE.

How do you think this could be improved? As a developing nation, the priority for the Budget seems slanted towards infrastructure and urban development, after all.

Well, they could stop using the money for rasuah for one. 🙂 (Chris: *Coughs* Rasuah means bribes)

Do you think Malaysians have greater respect for literary fiction than, say, genre like crime, fantasy, science fiction, romance?

I think Malaysians in general do not think that way; the tastemakers, however, seem to. But this is a question that’s hard to answer with any certainty as I can only glean from what I read from their blogs etc.

Here is your soapbox! What is the one thing would you like to see changed, or done differently when it comes to writing and literature?

My needs are simple. I just want a library for each residential area. I want more Malaysian publishers like Amir Muhammad (through his publishing house Fixi) who will publish genre fiction. People look down on Genre fiction, but it actually takes great skill to write one as they need to keep readers entertained. Also, genre fiction is literature for the masses; Malaysians will find it more easy to digest. I want the glorification of literary fiction to stop – it’s highly annoying and obtuse.

What was the last book you enjoyed and why?

I would say Sergei Lukynenko’s urban fantasy series (Day Watch, Night Watch, Last Watch etc). I wept when I read the last book because I knew there won’t be anymore.

And last, but not least, what titles are you reading at the moment?

Gee. Like I said, mostly Theology books. 😉 I tend to read several books at once, so here goes:

1. God is nearer than you think, John Ortberg

2. Shadow Prowler – Alexey Pehov

3. May want to attempt Shantaram. Because it’s just sitting on my shelf scolding me for ignoring it.

4. Unlocking the Bible by David Pawson

5. The Bible. 😉 Book of John, to be specific.

6. Michael Connelly’s Lincoln Lawyer (starting this week!)

Thank you for reading 🙂

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Filed under Books, Malaysia, Matahari Books, Publisher, Silverfish, Triumph, Writing

Hope for Malaysian Genre Fiction

In my quest to talk to more Malaysian writers, especially those who write genre, I found that I was not alone!

I came across the very friendly Ika Koeck, whom I started corresponding with on Facebook. Ika writes fantasy too, and in fact is in the midst of revising her manuscript (she’s already written the drafts of two books!). She’s also looking for an agent to represent her, like myself. She even told me of another friend who writes science fiction, so this is all very exciting.

Even more intriguing is what I learnt on support for genre fiction back home. According to various sources, it seems there is significant local encouragement from fellow writers and readers of those who write genre fiction. Brian Gomez, for instance, wrote a thriller ‘Devil’s Place‘ which was very well-received, and John Ling who is apparently based in New Zealand has been writing kick-arse thrillers.

The bulk of local creative support, however, is naturally focused in Kuala Lumpur. Led especially by the very prolific Sharon Bakar (her blog is amazing, with posts I have referred to in my course essays) who organises monthly readings of local writers, poets and other performers. It’s nice to know that when I go back to Malaysia, there will be a group of peers and veterans I can hang out with.

Questions, Questions

Why all this focus on genre, one might ask?

Because frankly I have been operating under the view that more attention (respect?) was being given to Malaysia’s ‘literary’ fiction, comprising the many, many short story anthologies, plays and the novels produced by Tash Aw, Rani Manicka, Khoo Kheng-Hor and many more authors I know I’ve left out. Am I wrong? Perhaps it is unfair to single out Malaysia, because frankly genre fiction has also been getting the cold shoulder worldwide from the literary establishment.

How many fantasy and science fiction books have been written by Malaysians? There has to be some out there! Pardon me, let me clarify that, how many of these books that are written in English? Because I do know there is a wealth of these works in Malay, which sadly I cannot comment on as I’ve not read any of them. But what about the English ones? Where are they?

Is it because writers think they won’t find a market in Malaysia? Or because they believe Malaysian fantasy and science fiction fans will always go for oversea titles, perceiving them superior to local titles? I hate to think people are turning up their noses at fantasy / scifi just because they think it is “childish”. What about Ursula K LeGuin? David Gemmell? Michael Moorcock? William Gibson?

Back to the Beginning

I think part of this is simply because finishing a novel takes a mammoth amount of work, not to mention finding someone to publish your book. A friend of mine, for instance, has  a post-apocalyptic series long brewing in her head. She’s told me of characters and hints of the plot, which I think is simply brilliant, and I would love to read them if ever the books come out.

But back to the topic of local creative support. I’ve heard stories also of Malaysian genre writers, when all is said and done, getting the most encouragement from other writers overseas, from people who know the business and are more aware of how to make it. Perhaps I need a mentor, someone who can prod me gently and show me the path. It can be a bit intimidating, being on your own.

Or perhaps I just need to keep plodding along this fascinating, murky tunnel, step by step, with a friend zooming past on butterfly wings every now and then to cheer me on, as I search for that light in the distance.

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Filed under Fantasy, Malaysia, Photography, Publisher, Science Fiction, State of Mind, Writing

Things that Go Bump in the (Malaysian) Night

For once, last night I actually slept at a decent hour (10pm as opposed to 6am) and woke up feeling much better compared to yesterday.  Body less achy, yay!

In fact, I even dozed off browsing the Malaysian Book of the Undead, a compendium of ghosts, spirits and jins benevolent or otherwise, for character ideas for the Beastly Babes anthology. Yup. I know how to choose my bedtime stories.

This is as good a time as any to share some of the wonderful illustrations of this book, which was published by Matahari Books and compiled by Danny Lim. Artist Mohd Kadir did the illustrations, and I have to say he really outdid himself. I wish I could see more of his work.

Those of faint stomachs should probably look away now 🙂

Euw. The Penanggalan is a species of female vampire said to detach her head from her body, entrails dangling, to fly around searching for women about to give birth.

I love the dogs! The Hantu Gerasi is accompanied by spectral hounds and is said to have a voracious appetite...for us.

The call of this serpent-eagle spirit, the Moyang Lang Kuit of aboriginal Mah Meri folklore, is thought to be a bad omen - signalling either someone's death, or that one's village will soon be abandoned.

The Jin (Jinn / Djinn) in Malaysia are difficult to define. They could be free spirits or bound to the will of a shaman. From my own research, there's even mention of complex societies and cases of them marrying humans. I wonder if they're the same?

Toyol - Awww. Looks like a goblin, doesn't it?

Awesome stuff. At 116 pages, I wish this compendium had been longer! There are many entries with single sentence explanations, with the most amount of pages given to popular supernatural beings like the Bunian and the Toyol. At first I thought it was simply the lack of research available, but I could find other references to Hantu Keramat, for instance.

There are also times throughout the book when Danny Lim demonstrates what a wicked wit he has, and I would have loved to have seen more, like what he wrote on the Pontianak, another lovely female vampire said to find her victims by hitching a ride on lonely roads:

“The lucky man who manages to vamoose before she can attack will usually fall ill with fever for several days, but at least live to tell the tale so that all beautiful female hitchhikers will always be forced to walk alone at night.”

And then there are ghosts that just BEG for elaboration:

Hantu Gulung – a river ghost that rolls up its victims.

Hantu Kangkang – the ‘straddling ghost’; male counterpart of the Hantu Kopek. This ghost uses his private parts to attack victims.

…Wha?

Seriously, this is not the sort of thing superstitious Malaysians laugh at. Heck, I’d gladly read about serial killer cannibals but when it comes to our own ghost stories, I’m a chicken! (Hey, I have to live there after all).

And lastly I leave with the Malay cover version of the book 🙂

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Filed under Books, Contests, Fantasy, Matahari Books, Publisher, Writing

Add Oil! Add Oil!

Beautiful old children's books at an Innerleithen bookstore.

‘Add Oil’ is a literal if amusing translation of the Chinese phrase ‘Jia Yu’. In sports events, students in Malaysian Chinese schools would cheer and scream this line to their team mates, basically telling them to GET A MOVE ON!

I have a new goal. I have decided to aim for the end of July to finish Malaysian Dark, and to finish revising the second draft by September.

It seems there is increased interest among publishers and agents for genre fiction, although the line between genre and literary works has been blurring for some time now!

These are exciting times. As soon as I finish various writing commitments this month, I plan to surge on with the writing. And then when I’m done, I am going to write Prince of Engmar as I’ve always wanted. Someone today told me they were intrigued by the premise of this fantasy world I’ve built, which is absolutely encouraging to hear. It’s nice to know I’m not barkers for going for it 😉

Yes! I am psyched! I can do it!

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Filed under Books, Fantasy, Malaysia, Novel, Photography, Publisher, Writing

Ghostly Research Ahoy

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:

This is a lovely encyclopaedia of Malaysia's spirits and demons. Very interesting reading! A bit thin, though.

A lot of it is fluff, but charming reading nonetheless.

This was to help me get an idea of the bewildering array of gods and mythology within Hinduism. It broaches more on Hindu concepts however.

Since one of my characters is sort of trained as a Taoist medium, I had to learn what their philosophies are (Man do I know how to pick them ;). Good book. Clear and straightforward.

That and the small mountain of feng shui books I keep borrowing for research! Too many to list 🙂

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