Tag Archives: hantu

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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A Bridge at last, or Day 8 NaNoWriMo

A breakthrough in the Malaysian Dark novel!

I finally figured out the scene that bridges where my characters are now, to where they could rush towards the ending. It has taken weeks, months even, of pondering, scowling, pacing and hair-pulling. No matter what I did, nothing felt right. I was in despair.

I was ready to wash my hands of this entire mess! Apparently this is a normal stage for novelists. In the end, what I finally did was tell myself: Let the characters breathe. Let them act as they would in this crazy world you’ve crafted for them. Maybe an answer will come.

Mind you, it is a shaky, rickety bridge, with the most tenuous of supports. But at least it’s a damn crossing good enough for Indiana Jones.

I made my NaNoWriMo word count, and wrote 1,600 words of Malaysian Dark.

A game, a line dance, or video game?

I had another strange dream last night. Which is odd, because I don’t usually have many like those the same week.

I was involved in a massive game, where at least a hundred people were assembled in orderly rows to form a huge square. I got the sense that I was in a large open space, possibly a stadium or obstacle course or even haunted house.

And for some reason, some of us making this invisible square were all boxed within the confines of maze-like corridors resembling a Pac Man arena. Some of these corridors had holes in certain corners.

There was an announcer overseeing the lot of us, and he would yell into a loudspeaker things like, “LEFT! FORWARD! RIGHT! BACK!” And at his instruction we would all move one step left, right, front, back. Every once in a while, people would take a step that sent them disappearing into a hole, like a silver pinball dropping into its target.

One by one, as the game wore on people vanished down these holes, until it was MY turn to fall in. I dropped a short distance to the level below, and a golden neon arrow flared above my head going, “Congratulations! You won!”

And then my dream self would stand aside, feeling somewhat pleased, as the rest of the winners waited for the ones above to fall into the hole so we could all collect our prizes.

The funny thing is? When I woke up, my first thought was, “Eureka! I could start a game like this! It will work! I will make money!”

…I am wondering now if people like being shunted into dubious looking holes as they bingo-line dance for shiny prizes.

Ten-thirty am. A bit later than usual. Time to zzzz!

14052 / 50000 words. 28% done!

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Winter is Coming

Have you ever woken up in the wee hours of the morning, brain refreshed and renewed, and turned on your computer enthused about churning out page after page of glowing text from that novel you’ve been neglecting lately?

Only to find yourself going: Wait, I must check Facebook, ooh I must twitter this, look shiny interesting blogpost must read–screw you novel, stop pouting at me, you will keep!

My life feels a lot like that lately.

Zing

The weeks have been whizzing by pretty fast! First of all, the bookshop job has been demanding a lot out of me, but I’m immensely grateful for being employed. The first few weeks, taking the bus to work, I was on cloud nine.

Now it’s a bit shocking to realise how easy it is to take a job for granted. When I stumble home, body aching, the last thing I want to do is work on the novel – and this inspires a new range of feelings: a kind of resentment at the new distraction, guilt for procrastinating and not writing more, and a deeper self-loathing along the lines of Why-Can’t-You-Be-More-Disciplined-and-Get-Your-Life-Together?

My friends tell me that I am just too hard on myself, that the brain needs rest and time to simmer over plotlines and ideas, so on and so forth. But deep down I feel that I myself should get some words down at the end of the day, to feed that writing habit.

Also, best friend Liz (with her usual brand of tough love) reminds me that I should focus on the positive side of things and what I’ve achieved so far (she suggested making a list, which I thoroughly and honestly plan to do one day). And that I should shift my mindset from ‘I must finish this’ to ‘I should aim to…’

This way, writing becomes less about about the stick-and-morningstar, ahem, but more goal oriented.

I Not Been Idle!

In any case, the writing bits are coming along – just not much on the novel.

Besides deriving (probably too many!) hours and hours of pleasure MUSHing, I have sent a story for a writing contest, edited someone’s synopsis, and been wistfully eyeing yet another anthology called ‘Dark Tales of Lost Civilisations’.

I wish I knew about this one sooner, rather than just two weeks before the deadline! I do have a possible story in me head, but it requires a ton of research, more thinking, and certainly a more stable environment considering I am supposed to be finally moving back to our flat next week – now that repairs are (supposedly) done after a nasty flooding incident last December. (Good lord, still can’t believe my poor landlady has been out of her own home since last year!)

Anyway after a bit of soul searching, I’ve decided to sadly give this intriguing-sounding anthology a pass, although it doesn’t mean I will not work on that germ of a story someday.

At the very least, the past month I also sat down and fleshed out the villains that might appear in my Malaysian Dark series. Yes, the eternal novel I’ve been working on has actually sprouted babies. I always knew Malaysian Dark would make a good series, considering the limitless possibilities of its folklore. It’s just a question of how I can develop all the pieces together in the beginning, and not tack on some convenient piece of lore as an afterthought (*cough* George Lucas *cough*).

Winter is Coming

But time is of the essence. I should aim to finish (see what I just did? ; ) most of the novel by the end of this month, because November is NaNoWri. I’d been toying whether to actually commit myself to it, since my US friend Ashley has been fired up about churning out that 50,000 word novel.

If I do decide to do it, I’ve even got an idea on what to write. It would, surprisingly, be a Young Adult novel, which I realise could be such a pleasure to do. It would get my head out of the Malaysian urban fantasy morass that is Malaysian Dark, and make for a lovely change of pace. I’m actually excited about writing it too! Funnily enough, it was the bookshop job that inspired it.

Argh, but…should finish Malaysian Dark! Winter is coming, and knowing me, if I’m too damn cold, I cannot write. (I still remember shivering in my room last year because my fingers were half frozen, despite the gloves).

Plus, next month is when I start on the new Christmas mail sorting job, God willing.

November be coming, and I must make a decision soon.

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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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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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