A masterpiece of horror

18 Sep 2019 / 10:01 H.

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.

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