Some years back I was invited to the Singapore Writer’s Festival to talk and to give a couple of creative writing workshops. I also took the opportunity to do an interview with Singapore’s CNA938 radio station.
They have recently put it up on their Page Turners Podcast which “presents conversations with bestselling authors – from Singapore and the world …”
The podcast is presented by Melanie Oliveiro, avid bookworm and collector of rare vinyl records!
I bumped into Shazmin at the Georgetown Literary Festival some weeks back and she asked me if I’d like to do a podcast with her at the new outfit she’d recently joined. So I went over to The Vibes office to do it. She did her job very well and I was put at ease and enjoyed the session.
I’ll be chatting about My Lovely Skull & Otheer Skeletons, Horror and writing generally together with film maker, publisher and writer, Amir Muhammad. You’ll need to register before hand. The cost is RM10 which I think is a good deal (they do reimburse you the money if you buy a book from them on the day, I believe)
I just flew in to Penang today from Australia, where I attended my son’s graduation, to find my book reviewed by Elena Koshy of the New Straits Times. And, I must say it’s a rather good one!
WHAT scares you?
It’s a question worth pondering on. In a world where truth is often stranger and a lot scarier than fiction, there could be many things that truly keep us awake at nights. Let’s face it: rising inflation, political mayhem and natural disasters can be downright frightening.
But wait just a second.
Let the dark descend. In that creeping quietness where even the cicadas fail to sing their nightly song, your daytime nightmares can take a chilling turn.
Dark things come alive and that pin-prick of terror quickly turns into a shrieking howl of unspeakable horror. These are the stuff horror stories are usually made of. And telling a dark tale is what Tunku Halim does best.
Fifteen stories from our very own Malaysian “prince of darkness” speak of unspeakable things, monsters, vampires and even vengeful canines (we’ll get to that part, later).
My Lovely Skull & Other Skeletons is Tunku Halim’s latest dark offering of nasty tales for horror fans everywhere. “What skeletons hide in your cupboard?” he asks in his introduction. “I have a few,” he goes on to declare. “I turn them into stories”.
And by George, does he churn out some pretty decent (but macabre) stuff.
Great horror writing is so much more than cheap scares, howling monsters and bloody fingerprints. When it’s really good, horror can push you up against the hard questions of existence.
Nothing clarifies your relationship to other people and the world around you, to your future and your past, quite like a dystopian tale where climate change comes packaged with a nefarious monster lurking beneath flood waters.
And yet, physical pain isn’t the point. We’re spectators, after all, experiencing fear without actual danger. What we get from horror is an appreciation for human resilience, and the gobsmacked realisation that it’s a miracle anyone survives in this cruel world at all. If there’s a writer out there worth surviving for, it’s probably Tunku Halim.
For over two decades, he has written a series of horror novels and short stories that have earned him the title — one that alternately annoys and flatters him — of the Stephen King of Asia.
His novel, Dark Demon Rising was nominated for the 1999 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, while his second novel, Vermillion Eye, is used as a study text in the National University of Singapore’s Language & Literature course. His short story has also won first prize in a 1998 Fellowship of Australian Writers competition.
There are no heroes in My Lovely Skull & Other Skeletons, and certainly no happy endings. Instead, you’ll stumble upon quite a number of hapless people fighting against a dark tide of darkness, idiosyncratic characters, echoes of genre fiction standards and memorably creepy creatures.
Tiny geckos scuttling through the ear, inducing insanity and unspeakable pain; a wing chair that drives a man to madness; a vampiric “baby” who’d sooner kill than cuddle you; a dark demon who can teach you to sing like an angel — if you’d pay the right price; these are the monsters that you’ll soon be acquainted with as you turn the pages.
If you — like me — have a pet dog, The Festival would get you wondering what really goes on in your pooch’s head. Is your pet poodle really happy being your pet? Truly happy?
When animal lovers and pet owners rush to protest at a “dog-eating” festival, they find out (much too late) that things aren’t exactly what they seem. I won’t give away any spoilers here, but I’m going to be looking a little closer at my dog Abby after this!
The titular story, My Lovely Skull, is a love story with a twist. Boy meets skull, falls in love and gets drawn into its grinning madness resulting in mayhem and murder. Not your typical love story by any means, but in Tunku Halim’s dark world, nothing is as it seems.
Not even little old ladies are spared. You ought to think twice before meeting an aged aunty in her solitary, ramshackle house. Chances are, she might be very hungry and you might just feature on her menu.
Forget ghosts, vampires and other typical hantus. In The Garden, there’s a new wave of evildoers waiting to step in: cannibals.
What lurks behind the banana tree? A woman caught up in her own marital woes would soon find out. “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor Hell a fury like a woman scorned” is a familiar quote taken from William Congreve’s The Mourning Bride. In The Elevator Game, a jilted lover can be worse and even more horrific than a haunting, as an ambitious YouTuber would discover a little too late.
Be careful when you go for a walk up a familiar trail. Hiking becomes a perilous undertaking when you encounter a ghost. In every hotel worldwide, there are some rooms that are never let out to guests.
These are problem rooms where strange things occur with no natural explanation. In Room 511, a man soon discovers why certain rooms remain unoccupied even during peak season.
While grotesque creatures and plentiful gore — complete with some rather unsettling descriptions — feature in the stories here, the real horror often lies in what’s left unsaid.
It’s ultimately a book about how many things in life are inexplicable and how sometimes there’s no resolution. Feels particularly appropriate now.
So, what keeps you awake at nights these days? What really scares you?