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The Mesmerisings of Tunku Halim

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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:

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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?

The Virus and I

As the Covid-19 death toll reaches 10,000 and the number infected nears 250,000, I went to the supermarket.

It was an eerie feeling as all the shops were closed except for two or three restaurants doing takeaways and, of course, the supermarket. The supermarket was fairly busy and I wondered if people were shopping because of fear of a total lock down rather than just the present Movement Control Order.

The number infected in Malaysia is moving towards a thousand. There is much uncertainty, even fear, since the MCO came into place. It has affected me too as I watched my fellow shoppers with suspicion. Who has the virus? Am I particularly afraid of foreigners? I tried to keep a distance, telling myself I shouldn’t linger here.

An old school friend of mine is infected. Who’s going to be next? They say that in 80 per cent of cases, the symptoms should be mild. This is the optimistic view. They say that young people will not be severely affected. Neither case might be true. So, there’s more uncertainty.

The stock market has plunged dramatically and so we have people worried about that too. Many businesses may be in trouble because of the MCO. People may lose jobs.

There is an old Chinese curse: may you live in interesting times.

These times are most definitely very interesting.

May they turn boring quickly.

Another News Story

Following on from my past post, I just remembered another news story about me (of course!) that came out towards the end of last year.

So here it is …

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THOUGH most of us associate Tunku Halim Tunku Abdullah with his horror tales, this Malaysian novelist, writer and former lawyer has, in fact, written books in other genres.

Tunku Halim, 55, is a member of the Negeri Sembilan royal family. He was born in Petaling Jaya and went to school at St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur.

He studied in the UK for more than a decade, and lived in Australia for a while before finally moving back to Malaysia.

Tunku Halim was at Times Pavilion KL recently to give a live reading of his latest book, Scream to the Shadows, featuring 20 of his best short stories.

In an interview prior to the reading, he said: “I actually didn’t start off with horror.

“I wrote a book on how to buy condominiums in Malaysia.

“It was called Everything a Condominium Developer Should Have Told You But Didn’t. It came out in 1991.”

This was during the early days of the condominium boom in the Klang Valley. At the time, Tunku Halim was working for a property developer, and was also a practising lawyer.

There were many issues when it came to buying condos then. “I thought, let me put my thoughts down, and then it became a book,” he recalled.

Around that time, he was also writing stories. “The first one wasn’t even a story, it was a description of a road,” he said.

“I had no creative writing experience. I thought I should just try it out, [and write] about Jalan Damansara which links Bukit Damansara with Section 16.

“[The road] was really winding and people would say it was haunted because there was a jungle on both sides, and it was dark. That evolved into a story, a very dark story.”

After that first story, he started on another.

He added that he likes the horror genre. As he put it, Malaysians love ghost stories.

“If I told a story of how I fell in love, nobody would be interested. But if I told a story about what I saw among the trees, everybody would go: ‘Really?’ And then, they would start coming out with their own stories as well.”

Tunku Halim’s first work of fiction was The Rape of Martha Teoh & Other Chilling Stories (1997), which helped give the local English-language literary scene a much-needed shot in the arm.

“My publisher back then (Pelanduk) did not do fiction, but I convinced [the bosses].”

His foray into fiction proved successful, and this was followed by other books including short-story collections such as BloodHaze: 15 Chilling Tales(1999), Horror Stories (2014), Horror Stories 2 (2016), The Rape of Nancy Ng – 13 Nightmares (2018) as well as novels Dark Demon Rising (1997) and Vermillion Eye (2000).

He also wrote a biography about his father titled Tunku Abdullah – A Passion for Life (1998), that was reissued as A Prince Called Charlie (2018); and several books for children – A Children’s History of Malaysia (2003) and History of Malaysia – A Children’s Encyclopedia (2009) with a second edition in 2016.

Being an advocate for healthy living, he also wrote a book on how to lose weight called So Fat Lah! – 30 Perfect Ways to a Slimmer You (2016), and cookbook titled So Fat Lah! Cookbook with Christina Hiew (2018).

Unlike his previous works which were all published by local publishers, his latest book is published by Penguin.

“I think [that came about] when I published my first novel, Dark Demon Rising. I had an academic, a professor with NUS (National University of Singapore) who contacted me and said: ‘This is really good, and could you write an article for our journal?’

“Then when I published my second novel Vermillion Eye, I sent him a copy and he looked at it and said: ‘I think this is a masterpiece’.”

Vermillion Eye is currently part of the language and literature course at NUS. This achievement attracted the attention of Penguin, and that was how Penguin came to publish Scream to the Shadows.

When asked about the fact that he is considered a groundbreaker in the Malaysian literary scene, Tunku Halim replied that he just wants to write.

“Globally, we have [writers for literature] like Tan Twan Eng and Tash Aw, but not for popular fiction.

“So I am quite pleased, and yes, I hope it opens the door for more popular fiction writers to be published internationally, or be taken up by international publishing houses.”

Tunku Halim’s Scream to the Shadows is currently available in major bookstores nationwide.

 

Writing Whatever I Fancy!

I was recently interviewed by Terence Toh for The Star newspaper and what came out was an in-depth view of my writing and my books.

Anyway, here’s the news story which I hope you find interesting …

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He’s probably one of the most prolific authors in Malaysia. Not just in terms of the number of titles he’s written (about 20 and counting!) but also in the range of areas he writes in. Tunku Halim is one of the few authors who commonly writes both fiction and nonfiction.

You might recognise his name from his bestselling anthologies Horror Stories (2014) and it’s follow-up Horror Stories 2 (2016), or his dark novels such as Dark Demon Rising (1997, reprinted 2017) or Last Breath (2014). Younger readers may know him as the writer of A Children’s History Of Malaysia (2003). More recently, you may have seen his name on So Fat-Lah: 30 Perfect Ways To A Slimmer You (2016), a uniquely Malaysian guide to losing weight, or on A Prince Called Charlie (2018), a biography of his late father, Tunku Tan Sri Abdullah ibni Almarhum Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

Now that’s a diverse range of books – hard to believe they’re all from one single mind! For Tunku Halim’s writing, however, it all comes down to a single letter. And that letter is “H”.

“It’s in my name, after all. Looking back at my writing career, I call it the four ‘Hs’. I started out with Horror. Then I went on to History. And then to Health, with the So Fat-Lah books. And what’s the next ‘H’? I want to write about Happiness!” said the man with a laugh when we met in Kuala Lumpur recently.

Dark Demon Rising was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The Tunku is also the three-time consecutive winner of the Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards from 2015 to 2017. And he’s been described as Asia’s Stephen King – in person, however, Tunku Halim is nowhere as dark as his stories. The 55-year-old is jovial and friendly, always dressed smartly with his trademark hat that he is rarely seen without.

He cracks jokes as he speaks about his latest book, Scream To The Shadows, published by Penguin RandomHouse.

“Penguin approached me, and they said they want to do a retrospective collective. And I said, go away, please, don’t disturb me. OK, no I didn’t. I said of course! I was so excited!” Tunku Halim laughs.

Scream To The Shadows contains 20 stories written over the course of the author’s almost three-decade- long writing career. It contains older gems such as “Biggest Baddest Bomoh” (from his first ever short story anthology, 1997’s The Rape Of Martha Teoh And Other Stories), “Mr Petronas” (1999’s BloodHaze: 15 Chilling Tales) and “Malay Magick” (2001’s The Woman Who Grew Horns And Other Chilling Stories).

 

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The book also contains some of Tunku Halim’s newer works, such as “The Black Bridge”, first published in The Best Asian Speculative Fiction (2018) anthology.

According to Tunku Halim, he wanted this collection to stand out, and to do that, he arranged the stories not chronologically but thematically.

“I had four stories set in a graveyard, so I call them ‘Graveyard Voices’. I had some stories with Malay myths, such as orang bunian and orang minyak, and that’s ‘Malay Shadows’. Then I watched Netflix’s Black Mirror, and that’s what inspired the ‘Dark Technology’ section, ” Tunku Halim explains.

“I also had stories based on problems of the mind, with insanity and people going chaotic, and I called that ‘Fragmented Minds’. There were also more general stories, and I put those together under ‘Occult World’, just to show there’s another part of the world that we don’t see.”

It doesn’t surprise us to learn that the versatile Tunku Halim actually started out writing in a different area entirely: poetry. When he was in school, he would craft poetry, recording the dates when he wrote them at the top – almost like keeping a poetic diary. However, he stopped writing while at university in Britain, and when he came home, he ended up working in a property development company.

“I realised a lot of people didn’t know how to buy condos. They were asking all the wrong questions! So I thought, why don’t I write a book?” Tunku Halim recalls.

And that was how he came to write his first book, the thrilling Everything A Condominium Developer Should Have Told You But Didn’t, back in 1991. That experience infected him with the writing bug, and he began writing his first short story collection. The rest, as they say, is history.

At the time, Tunku Halim was a big fan of Stephen King and the horror genre, hence his foray into dark fiction. Ironically, he no longer enjoys horror today, for two reasons: One, he’s a self- confessed scaredy-cat, and, two, he’s been put off the whole genre by badly made horror films.

“They tend to be low budget. Lousy acting, and the plots tend to be rubbish. Usually some problem with a house. And the female lead always goes down to the basement in the dark. Who does that?”

The author’s next work will be on minimalism (a little ironic for a man who does so much) and he’s also working on a novel for children aged eight to 12.

It’s like Goosebumps, he says, referring to American author RL Stine’s famous series, but with spooky stories for Asian kids, perhaps with elements of local myth.

An unusual combination of books. But not unexpected, after all.

“They ask me, what areas do you like to write in? And my answer is always, whatever strikes my fancy, ” Tunku Halim says with a laugh.page6image3745312

2 Ladies and I

I was extremely lucky to do a book talk in December 2019 with 2 talented and lovely ladies:  Elaine Chiew and Laksmi Pamuntjak. We were at Kinokuniya, Takashimaya in Singapore.

I talked about my latest retrospective, SCREAM TO THE SHADOWS while Elaine and Laksmi chatted about their new books, The Heartsick Diaspora and Fall Baby respectively.

The three of us authors are published by Penguin SEA and other than discussing our books, writing in general, a writer’s life and our writing craft.

We were also lucky to have Desmond Kon as our lively and insightful moderator.

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That was my last talk of the year and I had never done so many of them all at once.

I’ve told friends that’s because I was making up for all the talks I didn’t do during my time as a writer!

Dancing those Short Stories

Today I was very pleased to be at the launch of Ronggeng Ronggeng: Malaysian Short Stories at the GeorgeTown Literary Festival.  I was delighted that Malachi Edwin Vethamani, the editor, of the book chose one of my tales (Mr Petronas) for inclusion in the book amongst so many luminaires of Malaysian literature.

There are 28 stories, spanning a period of 60 plus years of Malaysian writing, so it’ll be a very interesting read,

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I was sitting in the front row at the laucnch and so had the opportunity to take photos of all the writers who read their stories …

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Saras Manickam
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KS Maniam
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Shih-Li Kow
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Paul Gnanaselvam

 

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Noraini Md Yusof
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Pang Khee Taik

 

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Reading a story by the late Siew-Yue Killingley
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Dato’ M. Shanmughalingam

 

I didn’t manage to get a photo of myself  as I didn’t get a chance to do a selfie on stage!

Hear me TALK!

So how are you this lovely day?

If you’re feeling lonely or have nothing better to do with your precious time the you can hear me TALK!

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Me Talking. Courtesy: Lit Books

There’s not one but THREE interviews to listen to. So you can listen to one or all three … so don’t be shy, just listen!

There’s one from BFM for Halloween.

Another from one my favourite bookshops, Lit Books.

And from those nice ladies at Two Book Nerds Talking.

If you can’t get enough of me talking, then why not listen to my audio short story “Biggest Baddest Bomoh”. I recommend listening to it around midnight!

That’s it from me for now. Time to stop talking!

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