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The Mesmerisings of Tunku Halim

Midnight Children Trilogy in The Star 25/4/21

Tunku Halim’s ‘The Midnight Children’ trilogy is a series of dark fantasy novels for children combining Asian mythology and Gothic elements.

When you think about horror fiction and dark fantasy in Malaysia, Tunku Halim is a name to crop up first on any blood-stained list.

Since the 1990s, the 56-year-old author – with a legal background – has been spooking readers with his brand of “world gothic” tales and collections, including Dark Demon Rising, Horror Stories and Scream To The Shadows

In these pandemic times, Tunku Halim has put on a new – frightful -mask and taken on the challenge of writing stories for children.

He has written for a younger demographic before, focusing on history in books such as History of Malaysia, A Children’s Encyclopedia and A Children’s History Of Malaysia.

With the recent release of The Midnight Children trilogy (published by Penguin), Tunku Halim has turned his attention on spooky-based fiction for children.

“It all began when my publisher told me that her daughter had said that she really wished I wrote children’s stories. I thought it would be wonderful if her daughter could read a children’s story of mine,” says Tunku Halim in a recent interview.

“But I’d never written a story for kids and I wondered if I could do it. So I sat down one morning after breakfast and wrote a story about a vanishing dad, ” he adds.

Three books, pandemic productivity

To Tunku Halim’s surprise, the story not only took on a life of its own, but started to multiply. The author ended up writing three short stories, before realising he could expand the collection.

“About three quarters of the way through, I thought it would work better as a novel. After, all I had been using the same characters throughout the stories, and all I needed was an overarching narrative to link them all together.

‘Gothic elements are found in mystery, the unknown, a hidden secret, an old mansion, omens, a female in distress, all of which unfold in the trilogy. So there’s a lot to enjoy!’ says Tunku Halim about his new books for children.


‘Gothic elements are found in mystery, the unknown, a hidden secret, an old mansion, omens, a female in distress, all of which unfold in the trilogy. So there’s a lot to enjoy!’ says Tunku Halim about his new books for children. Photo: Filepic

“And then as there was so much exciting stuff happening in the first novel, I realised that it would have to be a three novel series, ” he elaborates.

The Midnight Children comprises (in order): The Vanishing, Cemetery House and The Moonlight World. Tunku Halim wrote the first two books during the first movement control order last year.

Each book follows the stories of teen siblings Zak and Min, and the strange adventures they get into after their father mysteriously vanishes one morning.

In The Vanishing, Zak is trapped in his bedroom by vicious snakes, while Min encounters scary spider-like creatures. To make things worse, a man gives them a box with a finger bone inside!

Things get scarier in the next book, where Min is forced to move to the mysterious Cemetery House, while Zak, chased by terrifying creatures, can’t get home.

It all builds to a climax in The Moonlight World, where the two siblings face off against creatures known as Yak-Yaks, and their king.

“I used creatures and spirits from Malay and South-East Asian myths in the three novels. But you’ll also find unique creations from my own dark imagination. I won’t want to go into the details as I don’t want to spoil the story for readers, ” says Tunku Halim.

Enough to scare, not scar.

A child-friendly Tunku Halim

While Tunku Halim does have a daughter and a son, he insists he didn’t base the characters of Zak and Min on them. They did, however, give him great insights on writing the sibling dynamic.

The author assures us that his new books were more in the realm of spooky fantasy rather than being outright horror.

He is mindful that he is writing children’s books, and did not want his readers to get nightmares.

“Having said that, the wonderful thing about books, compared to movies, is that if things gets too scary, we can always skip a paragraph or page which you can’t do with a movie.

“Nor are there any jump scares in books, which I think is a cheap way of scaring viewers. But I don’t think there’ll be any reason to skip paragraphs in the Midnight Children trilogy, ” says Tunku Halim, who as a child enjoyed the Narnia Chronicles before moving on to the Lord Of The Rings and Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant in his teenage years.

In many nostalgic ways, he adds that it was a fulfilling experience to realise his new children’s book project.

“I enjoyed reading about what Ragdoo gets up to, a character that doesn’t appear until the third book. I also quite like the horrid Uncle Obb, whom we don’t really get to know until the second book, Cemetery House. I like the way how everything comes together in the last book.”

The feedback for the Midnight Children has been encouraging, and Tunku Halim admits “it is better than for my adult tales.”

Which does the author find harder: writing for children, or writing for adults?

“Both have their own set of challenges and I wouldn’t say one was harder or easier than the other. You have to be disciplined when writing for kids. You have to stay within the boundaries of children’s expectations, comprehension, and values, ” says Tunku Halim.

“You have to write from a children’s point of view, which means often having to recall your own childhood. You have to be very focused when writing for kids which makes it harder but also, in some ways, easier too.”

In a time-tested book industry observation, Tunku Halim also feels children are more unforgiving than adults.

“If kids don’t like a book, they’ll just put it away, never to return to its pages. Adults, having paid good money for the volume, will try to finish it, ” he concludes.

The Midnight Children Trilogy

As a nine-year-old, I loved the Narnia Chronicles and then, to win a prize of 10 chocolate Mars bars, I read the Lord of the Rings in record time in high school. In my late teens I came to enjoy the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I enjoyed reading fantasy and watching fantasy movies too. But I didn’t think I would be much good at writing fantasy.

(I must confess I’ve only watched the first season of The Game of Thrones. I’m waiting for you to invite me over to watch the rest of it!)

I also enjoy writing for children. It began with A Children’s History of Malaysia, followed by History of Malaysia – A Children’s Encyclopedia. But I never thought about writing stories for kids.

Then, a couple of years ago, my publisher at Penguin mentioned that her daughter wished I wrote stories for children. That set the ball rolling. I wondered if I could write a story for her daughter. I ended up writing several stories and these stories came together as a novel called The Vanishing.

Photo taken after receiving the books from my publisher a few weeks ago

Then I decided the novel shouldn’t end there because there was so much more to tell. I still wanted to spend time with Min, who is ten, and Zen, who is twelve. And so I wrote two more novels Cemetery House and The Moonlight World which completed the Midnight Children trilogy.

(I wrote both novels during the first MCO in 2020. Not having any distractions really does help!)

The three books are best described as a spooky fantasy and I’ve received such great feedback. To be quite honest, I think the feedback is much better than for my adult tales!!

TH in NST

There was an article about me in the New Straits Times yesterday.

Here’s the link: https://www.nst.com.my/lifestyle/sunday-vibes/2020/11/645234/prince-darkness-malaysian-horror-doyen-sheds-light-his-dark

The printed article also featured a carcoal drawing of me by the artist, Miang.

TH in Nikkei Asia

My thanks to John Krich for his article which appeared in Nikkei Asia recently.

Here’s the link: https://asia.nikkei.com/Life-Arts/Arts/Malaysian-horror-writer-screams-from-the-shadows

Say ‘Hello’ to Halloween in Ipoh

I’ll be in Ipoh this Halloween.

Although I’m no big fan of this US import, with spirits and ghouls that pale in comparison to our horrific and most ghastly local ones, I do like to meet readers and fellow writers and so take this chance to do so.

Julya Oui will be joining me and she has a new book out. I’ll be reading from The Rape of Nancy Ng – 13 Nightmares.

This is, in fact, the first time I’m doing a reading in Ipoh in all of my 29 years of being published. So I’m looking forward to it.

Online Talk on Friday 26/6/20

I’ll be doing an online talk this Friday.

It’s a bit short notice, but I hope you can attend … it’s especially for kids age 9 onwards!

File_000-2 copy

Creative Writing Online Talk

With this virus hitting the world like a tsunami, Tenby Schools have very kindly invited me to give an e-talk this morning to their secondary students.

To supplement that talk, I have added a few resources from this blog. These are the posts I’ve previous put up on on creative writing:

  1. Why the craft is so wonderful

2. Where do I start?

3. Let’s get talking

4. Character building stuff

This mind map (I love mind maps!) might be helpful too:

CW-seminar-20Jan-color

The Virus and I … Part 3

One of the side benefits of this virus lock down, distancing or whatever you might like to call it, is a reduction in air pollution. I do believe, the sky around KL is looking bluer too.

But a great side detriment is all the food deliveries and takeaways which uses all those plastic containers. As you may know, plastic can take as long as a thousand years to decay, so using plastic is awful for the environment.

In normal life, I try not to get food delivered more than once a week for this very reason. I feel guilty about the plastic. I see it growing exponentially around the house. I call it “my empire of plastic”. I intend to return it all to restaurants who will take it. I hope they will take it.

I’m very pleased if food is delivered to me with a minimum amount of plastic and I’ll more than happy to order from restaurants that do that.

When at the supermarket, I try not to use those plastic bags to put vegetables or fruits in. I get the weighing guy to stick the price label on the fruit or vegetable itself. I try not to buy stuff that’s been packaged in plastic containers. And, of course, I try to bring my own canvas bags to the supermarket.

Though I’d share all this with you on another self-isolation day. Take care and wash your hands often!

 

The Virus and I … Part 2

So here I am, holed up in a house not being able to go out. Same as you, I suppose.

So instead of going out to work, meeting friends and relatives or going to some function, we’re stuck at home. You may be alone, like me, or with your family. If the latter, this is a good time to get to know them a lot better than before. Perhaps time to open up a bit. Time to talk about more important stuff.

If your kids are of school age, then it might be a good time to talk to them, to teach them something about life. Use that time well, for hopefully this virus-induced family time may never come again!

If you’re alone, like me, then perhaps it’s time for some introspection. A time of quietude.  To take stock of life and to see what we’d like from it for the rest of our days on this earth. And the thing about this Covid-19 thing is that we may not have all that long. I did take some stock from the fact that I’m not so old and therefore getting infected might not be fatal. But the news today says otherwise, people of all ages, including those between thirty and sixty have been dying. So, if I do get infected, I might die.

So, if you knew you had only say a month to live, how would you live it?

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