There can be no doubt that Malaysians are fascinated by the supernatural – just consider that you yourself have probably heard at least one, if not more, stories or urban legends about supernatural beings like toyol, orang minyak, and the ever-popular pontianak, as well as the regular ghosts, or hantu.
So it’s no surprise that editor and writer Daphne Lee was inspired to put together a collection of local horror short stories in English called Remang.
“I conceived of it a couple of years ago because I figured Malaysians like horror stories – it’s something that is eternally popular in this part of the world.
“And it’s not only popular, but it seems so much a part of our lives that we have no problems believing it – we can talk about ‘my grandmother experienced this’ or ‘my father has a penunggu’, and no one bats an eyelid, we just accept everything,” she says.
“It’s not only something that entertains, but it is also something that is familiar, which I think is an interesting combination.”
The short story anthology format was chosen because “I think it is quite interesting to explore a range of different ideas centred around the same theme,” says Lee, who wrote the “Tots To Teens” column for more than a decade in The Star.
Despite admitting she has no head for business, Lee, 50, decided to go ahead and put out the call for stories because “if I don’t do it, nothing is going to happen, so I thought, ‘do it and the book will find its way’.”
It was, she says, “a kind of impulsive, romantic, idiotic idea that I had”.
“I thought if I called for the stories and managed to get quite a few, I could then pitch the idea for the book to one of the local publishers,” she adds.
Over a period of about six months in 2015, Lee received between 30 and 40 stories, which were then trimmed down to the final 16 that appear in the book.
She shares: “I wanted some variety, and I wanted stories that I could actually work on with the authors, because what you will get in a collection are very uneven styles and quality of writing, and also, you wouldn’t want 20 stories all about langsuir or pontianak.
“So you have to balance all these different things.”
She adds that many of the submissions were also more anecdote than actual stories.
“They were urban legends with no actual plot – for example, we were driving and saw a woman carrying a baby along the side of the road, we gave them a lift and when we reached our destination, they had disappeared.
“There was no story per se – it was just a scene, a spooky happening.”
Although she had approached a few publishers while she was editing the collection, nothing panned out.
Lee considered crowdfunding as well but she felt that there aren’t enough people who love books and reading in Malaysia to achieve the necessary amount of money to publish the book.
Then, help came from an unexpected direction.
Chua Kok Yee was one of the writers who had submitted stories for Remang.
After one of his stories was shortlisted, he did not hear back from Lee for several months, so he contacted her to ask whether the collection was going ahead.
At that point, Lee had despaired of finding a publisher and told him that the book might be cancelled.
“Just out of curiosity, I asked her who the other authors involved in the project were,” he says.
As an active writer in the local English fiction scene for the past decade, the 40-something Chua was familiar with many of the other Remang contributors.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with and reading the work of some of these people, so I knew the writing, the quality and the imagination was there.
“So I thought, what a waste if this project doesn’t go ahead,” he says.
And that’s when he decided to throw caution to the wind and publish the book himself, “although the businessman in me kept on crying and saying, ‘No, no, please don’t do this, book publishing is only going to lose you money!’” he says, with a laugh.
The finance director for a retail pharmaceutical chain then founded Terrer Books Publishing just to publish Remang, although Chua does not discount publishing a sequel if it does well.
“Because this is a labour of love, I also built a website and created a Facebook page just to help promote the book,” he says, adding that some of the authors from Remang have also helped provide content for the website.
Chua also likes the fact that the authors in the anthology are a mixture of established writers – of both horror and other genres – first-timers, and those who are making a name for themselves in local writing circles.
Says Lee: “I think we have a collection of strong stories that are quite entertaining.
“I envisioned a collection of tales written by Malaysians, partly based on Malaysian ghosties or supernatural creatures, and that is what we got.
“If you are interested in Malaysian stories and you want to explore some new writers and some old writers trying their hands at something new, Remang is something you should pick up.”
Remang will be launched on Aug 26 at 3pm at Silverfish Books, Lot 20-2F, 2nd Floor, Bangsar Village, Bangsar Baru, Kuala Lumpur; 03-2284 4837; firstname.lastname@example.org; silverfishbooks.com.