Folk horror, memory and dark traditions stir up Malaysian author’s fiction debut

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Author Kopi Soh’s Looking After The Ashes is perhaps a piece of fiction, however for readers who grew up with the superstitions, previous wives’ tales and tales talked about on this e book, it’ll really feel like residence.

How many instances have we heard from our mother and father or older relations to not clip our nails at night time, to complete all of the rice in your bowl lest you finish up with a pockmarked face, or to not level on the moon or threat getting your ears chopped off?

Well, Kopi Soh (aka Cheah Swee Lian) nonetheless has each her ears however they’ve felt the wrath of no matter it was she angered, when as a child, she pointed on the moon.

“I experimented a few times and yes, my ears almost always get cut when I point at the moon and I don’t know why!” she says.

Unsurprisingly, this has caught together with her all through her life, alongside different gems like asking permission from the spirits earlier than relieving your self behind a bush or by a tree within the forest, or whereas swimming within the deep blue sea.

In this e book, she recollects lots of the taboos and superstitions she grew up with, for instance the “Hantu Tek Tek” story her father used to inform her.

“I have memories of my dad warning me that if this infamous lady with humongous breasts who lives in the longkang (drain) were to catch me, she would ask me which one I wanted, the breast with sweet milk or the other one with sour milk. He said if I made the wrong choice, she would never let me go.

Kopi Soh shared her childhood and family memories with KULit Baru, who later translated them into black and white drawings for the book. Photo: KULit Baru.Kopi Soh shared her childhood and family memories with KULit Baru, who later translated them into black and white drawings for the book. Photo: KULit Baru.

“The thing is, he never told me which was the right choice! But because of this tale, I dutifully stayed away from the drains for the longest time. For one, being offered some strange lady’s breast milk was not an appealing thing to me. And secondly, I didn’t want to be caught and never let go. I think this was sort of my father’s version of The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” she says.

Looking After The Ashes (printed by Penguin Random House SEA) was a challenge that Kopi Soh had been engaged on for over a decade, though it was not initially meant for publication.

Apart from writing, she can be a disaster counselor and self-taught artist, who is understood for her optimistic therapeutic doodles.

Looking After The Ashes presents a glimpse right into a Malaysian Peranakan household’s previous, with the dialogue and incidents not completely fictional judging by a few of Kopi Soh’s inspirations. It goes past the Malaysian folklore, and presents real-life familial bonds retold with a “creepy” twist.

Without a deadline, these tales grew naturally because the creator discovered her momentum. They had been initially written as her private recreation. When she was overseas and lacking her household and residence in George Town, Penang, Kopi Soh began placing these tales collectively. She was born in Kelantan and grew up in Penang.

“I was homesick a lot and in those days I didn’t have access to video calls, plane tickets were not so affordable and international phone calls were super expensive. My late father and I would communicate via Aerogram which took ages to reach. Through the years, I added more stories and it grew from writing to ease my own loneliness to sharing my childhood with my son,” she says.

Kopi Soh’s 'Looking After The Ashes' is based on the stories, taboos and superstitions she heard growing up. Illustrations were done by KULit Baru. Photo: KULit BaruKopi Soh’s ‘Looking After The Ashes’ relies on the tales, taboos and superstitions she heard rising up. Illustrations had been accomplished by KULit Baru. Photo: KULit Baru

In extra methods than one, Looking After The Ashes is a vital story for her to inform.

“It is mainly for entertaining purposes. However, I do hope to create an awareness especially for my international readers that there is such a people as the Peranakans, a product of hybrid cultures. In the ravages of war, some Peranakan families fell into poverty and debt, forcing them to sell off many of their family heirlooms.

“During these perilous times, daughters were also hurriedly married off to non-Peranakans thus eroding our identity. Today, the future of our language and culture hangs in the balance. To ensure the continued existence of these people, I would like to tell their stories through this book,” she shares.

Looking After The Ashes is her first fiction title, which comes after the publication of two books, Oh, I Thought I Was The Only One and Oh…I Thought I Was The Only One 2, in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

The illustrations on this new e book had been drawn by veteran artist KULit Baru.

“For me, this book is for anyone who wishes to glimpse into a life that may be different or similar to theirs. People who have migrated away from Malaysia or who have left their homes might enjoy it because these tales remind them of home.

“People who are of a different culture may perhaps find it interesting and think about their own superstitions and cultural practices while growing up. Each family has their own practices and stories, not all families do culture the same way,” she concludes.



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