In case you didn’t see it, I was in The Star on Sunday. What wonderful publicity for 44 Cemetery Road and such great timing too as the book only came out a few days earlier. Certainly this is a great start to what I hope it will help make the book successful!
Publicity is the key to a book selling well. So says Lydia Teh, and we know its true!
You’ll also find an article on me at Yang-May Ooi’s blog – Fusion View. (My thanks to her and Daphne Lee)
Here’s the Star article:
YOU’RE GOT TO START SOMEWHERE
By DAPHNE LEE
IN a 2001 article at arts portal kakiseni.com, writer and indie filmmaker Amir Muhammad called Tunku Halim Tunku Abdullah “Malaysia’s Stephen King”. A compliment indeed!
We caught up with Halim (as the unpretentious writer prefers to be called) recently when he was in Kuala Lumpur and asked him what he makes of this comparison.
“King is a wonderful author,” Halim says.
“Many of his works are full bloody horror stories: Salem’s Lot, Carrie and Pet Semetary. Yet, some of his tales, like Dreamcatcher, are closer to science fiction. Some are also pure fantasy: The Dark Tower series, for instance. Some are even quite literary, like Bag of Bones.
“And he has very mainstream work, like his short stories, The Shawshank Redemption and Standby Me, which were turned into movies. So, yes, to be called Malaysia’s Stephen King is an honour. I think it’s a pretty good description as my writing also crosses different genres.”
Unlike what many readers think, Halim does not just write horror fiction and thrillers, having published titles as diverse as Everything the Condominium Developer Should Have Told You, But Didn’t (1992), The New Golf Paradigm (with Kris Barkway; 2001), and A Children’s History of Malaysia (2003). However, the bulk of Halim’s work comprises tales of the macabre.
“Most people would use the term ‘horror’,” he says, “but I don’t actually like that expression as it is simplistic and conjures up images of blood and gore. There’s also the expectation that the stories have to be scary. Recently, the term ‘supernatural thriller’ has been used for certain horror movies. This is a small improvement as the viewer or reader no longer expects blood and gore, but the expectation of fear or suspense remains.”
He concedes that some of his stories are “rather ghastly”.
“Some can induce fear. Many don’t. But what is common is the supernatural element. I prefer the (Edgar Allen) Poe-like phrase ‘tales of darkness and imagination’ or the more succinct but less accurate ‘dark fantasy’.”
His latest book is a “best of”, comprising 21 “tales of darkness and imagination” (as the back cover blurb proclaims) from three previous short story collections, plus three new chilling tales, including 44 Cemetery Road, from which the book takes its name.
“‘Four-four’ and then ‘cemetery’,” grins Halim with a wicked twinkle, referring to the fact that, in Chinese, the character for the number four and for death is similar. “What an unfortunate address!”
He refused to divulge what the story is about, but readers can rush out and get the book now as it was published earlier this week.
The 43-year-old Petaling Jaya native (who is the youngest son of Tunku Abdullah of the Negri Sembilan royal family) now lives with his wife and two young children in Tasmania. He is a lawyer by training, but has been writing full time since the late 1990s.
“There is a vibrant writing culture where I live,” he says. “There is a writing centre that organises talks for budding writers on how to write and to get published. There is a lot of sharing and encouragement. The community spirit is strong, which is important as writing can be a lonely activity, and yet the fruits of writing depend on others’ notice to thrive.”
He feels that Malaysian writers could benefit from a stronger writing community to support them. He suggests the formation of a “writers society”. “Through such a society, ideas and skills can be exchanged. It will be supportive of local writers and their writings. The society can, once established, also offer writing courses to members.”
Halim feels that a variety of writing courses should be offered. “Not just a standard creative writing course. How about offering courses for the short story, the novel, non-fiction, poetry, popular fiction, plays?”
He laments the fact that in Malaysia, budding writers don’t really have much to aspire to. “Their work gets scant publicity,” he says. “Unlike fine art and theatre, local writers and their books seem to be hidden in the background. When was the last time a local writer gave a talk at a school near you?”
Halim remembers entering a writing competition organised by the New Straits Times and Shell. “I didn’t win but it was exactly the spur I needed to get writing. Young writers need incentives like that.” (The competition ran for several years but is now defunct.)
As for already published authors, Halim suggests a “best book of the year award, from a recognised body, even if it’s only at a municipal level, for example, the local library.”
He also believes in mentorship. “It would be good for experienced writers to work with those who are just starting out,” he says, adding that local publishers may be able to act as “networking vehicles for all writers”, putting published and experienced writers in touch with those who are still aspiring to the craft.
He is willing to help other authors in any way he can and has set up a blog, Write lah! (tunkuhalim.wordpress.com), expressly to share writing and publishing tips with younger, less experienced writers – specifically Malaysian writers, as the blog’s subtitle is “Writing for Malaysians”.
A recent post even features a scanned copy of a short story. The story, type-written on a piece of yellowing paper covered in stains (one blotch looks suspiciously like blood!), is called The Thing in the Jungle and features a vampire – Halim was writing horror when he was 14, it seems!
“It’s not a particularly good story,” says Halim in the blog, “nor well written. But you’ve got to start somewhere!”
His latest project is an encyclopaedia of Malaysian history, for children. “It’s a huge project and it’s taken me three years to get to the point where I can say it’s almost complete.
“Other than commissioning the illustrations, I’m doing all the work myself – from taking photographs, Photoshopping (touching up images with Photoshop software), graphic design and layout. Of course, I do the writing too,” he says.
The book, which Halim is publishing himself, comprises 26 topics and covers the history of this country from the first century to the present. It will be available at the end of this year.
Halim reckons it’s a natural progression from the book of Malaysian history, A Children’s History of Malaysia, he published four years ago. To him history is exciting and interesting but often suffers from by being presented in a dry and colourless manner. With his book and the encyclopaedia, he hopes to excite enthusiasm for Malaysia’s fascinating past.
Surprisingly, however, he has not read A Children’s History of Malaysia to his children. “This reminds me that I should,” he says. “I try not to foist my writing on them!
“My daughter, who’s 10, has read Chapter One of the book. She’s intrigued. But she’s been distracted by other more riveting fantasy books!”