I wrote a letter to The Star regarding its review of 44 Cemetery Road and it was published today. Whilst the review gave the book a thumbs up, there were a couple of things I took issue with. If you’ve read my blog post on this, my apologies, as my letter is very similar.

By the way, I’m grinning right now as the review, my response and the subsequent discussion all helps with the publicity of my cherished child: 44 Cemetery Road! So again I want to thank Michael Cheang because if his review was positively glowing, I wouldn’t be able to write to The Star, now could I?

Here’s the published letter:

Shock and horror at review

MY book 44 Cemetery Road was reviewed by Michael Cheang (Alamak, goosebumps, Reads Monthly, StarMag, May 27). The verdict was generally good proclaiming that the stories are “pretty well written”, are “fascinating”, “intriguing” and my “style matured” with each new book and that the collection’s greatest asset is the “nostalgia it evokes”. I would like to thank him for his positive comments.

It is thus with some reluctance that I take Cheang to task on the negative aspects of his review. He has stuck his neck out and claimed that I use “very similar plot devices” and that some of the earlier stories are “predictable”.

This is a serious allegation indeed against any writer and I wish to state my case. Here it is and right to the point: the stories are NOT predictable, nor are they similar in terms of plotting.

If Cheang thinks otherwise, he should have elaborated, pointing out the offending stories and also to explain why. Such a flippant comment can easily be thrown in, particularly by a reviewer who readily admits from the start that he regards horror stories as often “cheesy”. Yet what he claims is “predictable” is extremely difficult to justify unless we do a test.

After reading say 25% of the story, Cheang should then tell us what exactly is going to happen. I doubt he can. This also leads me to the question of predictability or, its opposite, the unexpected ending. It is the journey rather than the destination that matters.

If you watch any Hollywood movie you more or less know the good guys are going to win. Yes, predictable. But how? The journey that gets them there is what counts. That’s what you enjoy. It’s the detail of the story, the suspense, the action, even if you know the outcome, is what makes for good entertainment. So predictability should not be an issue. Having said that, my stories are not predictable.

For an odd reason I cannot fathom, other than Cheang’s clearly stated prejudice against ghost or horror stories, he felt let down by the title story 44 Cemetery Road. Yes, it is a vampire story and this in itself tends to constrain the plot. You can just bet someone is definitely going to get bitten! This in itself does not make a story predictable.

But as I said, it’s good for us to remember, whether on holiday or when reading, it’s the journey not the destination that counts. With that particular story, Cheang sees problems in the writing – “Elaborate descriptions, overdone superlatives and textbook-style plotting abound” he pontificates.

Again, I would like him to please explain. Which paragraph is he referring to? Where are the “overdone superlatives”?

And what does he mean by “textbook-style” plotting? Again, comments are thrown in with no examples, no justification. Such criticism without elaboration is not constructive but rather destructive.

As a writer, I am willing to accept negative comments but these need to better thought out and justified rather than just chucked in because it sounds as if the reviewer knows something the general public doesn’t.

Perhaps Cheang had a tight deadline and had to produce a certain number of words before venturing out to the hawker stall, but this is no excuse.

Overall, Michael Cheang (if that’s his real name) was prejudiced by a rather negative view of the particular genre I sometimes choose to write in, and this led to his less than exemplary review of my book 44 Cemetery Road. It certainly would have tarnished his sense of balance and fair play. Surely local writers deserve better?

Tunku Halim, Hobart, Australia

n Michael Cheang writes under his own name and he stands by his review.