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Young writers explore bizarre, morbid and horror themes in Malaysian anthology

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

PETALING JAYA, Feb 27 — A crowd was forming at the entrance of BookXcess, Tropicana Gardens Mall, where the launch of The Eye: A Young Writers’ Anthology was being held.

Shelves upon shelves of books surrounded two easels with the posters of The Eye’s front and back covers perched atop. Chairs were placed in front for the growing crowd to gain a better view. A photographer was seen snapping pictures of the memorable day.

The book launch saw some writers reading excerpts of their stories and others sharing their writing experiences. The writers were buzzing as they couldn’t wait for the book to be launched.

The book features stories by 20 young writers aged 12 to 16 who took part in writer, editor and trainer Brigitte Rozario’s seven-month Junior Writers Programme this year.

The programme teaches participants about the basics of fiction like plot, introduction, descriptions, dialogue, drama, conclusion, plot holes and even editing. The stories in the book feature the bizarre and morbid and even a few horror tales. Among those plotlines, a few writers explored the mystery genre.

One of those writers, Naga Pranav Patcha, 15, wrote the mystery of a boy’s missing eye.

Throughout the story, the boy and his best friend investigate the loss of his eye, determined to find out who took his eye and why.

“The element I took major inspiration from is the sense of uncertainty,” said Pranav, an avid reader of thriller, mystery and horror stories. He decided to incorporate a few elements of mystery books in his story, The Fourth Victim, hoping to keep the reader curious.

Despite being an Indian citizen, Pranav didn’t find it particularly tough to incorporate a Malaysian setting and characters.

”I’ve been living in Malaysia for the past 15 years, after all! I’ve taken that time to familiarise myself with the cultures, lifestyles and celebrations that paint Malaysia’s uniqueness.”

His father works in the IT industry here. Pranav conveyed Malaysian elements through conversations and behaviours that he had picked up from his friends.

Naga Pranav Patcha, 15, wrote the mystery of a boy’s missing eye. — Picture courtesy of The Eye: A Young Writers’ Anthology
Naga Pranav Patcha, 15, wrote the mystery of a boy’s missing eye. — Picture courtesy of The Eye: A Young Writers’ Anthology

Naga Pranav Patcha, 15, wrote the mystery of a boy’s missing eye. — Picture courtesy of The Eye: A Young Writers’ Anthology

Pranav explained that his passion for writing has always come naturally. His dedication and interest in writing the story provided him with the mental strength to overcome any distractions.

“I used to keep my phone in the cupboard while working on this story, so I didn’t get distracted by notifications,” he explained. Besides boosting his productivity, Pranav admitted that time management is a crucial skill when writing, especially with other activities demanding his attention too.

Bertilda Wong Jia Yin, 14, also wrote a mystery. Hers is titled I Spy With My Little Eye. It’s about a girl trying to figure out the truth about her parents with the help of a mysterious person.

“When I was younger, I used to read thrillers and detective stories,” Wong said. Those genres helped with her writing, evident in the breadcrumbs she leaves for readers.

“I had to do a lot of research on the parts I was unsure of, like the car chase. I’ve never been in a car chase, so I don’t know what it’s like,” she added. Wong drew inspiration not only from web searches but also from action movies to capture the intensity of the car chase.

She admitted that the process of writing a story isn’t easy. “It was super stressful,” the young writer revealed. She started with a more complicated story, before realising it was impossible to keep it within the word limit. Between schoolwork and writing the story, she found herself procrastinating. However, she still managed to pull through and deliver an intriguing story.

While Wong’s story is shrouded with mystery and suspicion, Chong Jun Hao’s story takes on a more supernatural approach. Chong focuses more on the spiritual world but with the aspect of unsolved puzzles still intact.

“I decided to include spirits in my story when I remembered the Hungry Ghost Festival,” he explained.

He was inspired by the Chinese festival observed by his family, and the stories his grandparents told him about it. "While I was writing my story, I also decided to add in sacrifice as a cost for doing bad deeds and to remind readers that no bad deed goes unpunished.”

Chong took inspiration from movies — specifically The Conjuring and others that include ghosts.

His story was derailed by exams and he found himself stuck intermittently as he tried to figure out how to unravel the mysteries. “I overcame these obstacles by taking a break and forgetting about the story for a while. After that, I got back to it and continued writing.”

Explaining the theme, editor Rozario said, "The previous four books have been realistic, and this is something I emphasise to my writers all the time.

“However, realistic fiction tends to appeal to adults, not necessarily to a younger audience. That’s why I decided to make this year’s theme more imaginative and to suspend reality, although the stories still need to be plausible.”

Every year, the royalties from the published book go to charity. The royalties from The Eye will go to Yayasan Chow Kit, a non-profit organisation that serves the needs of the children and youth in Chow Kit.

The Eye is available at BookXcess and priced at RM31.90.