Malaysia’s ‘Stephen King’ is scared of poodles

He has conjured demons and dark fates in his creepy tales, but Malaysian horror writer Tunku Halim is scared of dogs.

“I’m not talking just about big dogs which might bite, but cute little poodles too,” says the self-avowed cynophobe in an e-mail interview.

The 55-year-old, who has been described as “the Stephen King of Malaysia”, will be at the Singapore Writers Festival to give talks and a workshop.

He will also launch Scream To The Shadows, a new collection of 20 short stories.

Part of the first wave of titles from Penguin Random House South-east Asia, the new Singapore-based arm of the global publishing giant, it has already spent eight weeks on The Straits Times fiction bestseller list in recent months.

Halim, a member of the Negeri Sembilan royal family, was a lawyer before he turned to writing.

He is engaged and has a son and daughter from a previous marriage.

He has published about 25 books, including the novels Dark Demon Rising (1997), which was nominated for the International Impac Dublin Literary Award; and Vermillion Eye (2000), which has been used as a study text in the National University of Singapore’s language and literature course.

He never meant to write horror, he says. “It just happens that when I write fiction, it almost always goes in this gothic, paranormal, dark-thriller-type direction. If you asked me to write a romance, it would be something I just wouldn’t be able to do.”


  • WHAT: Book launch

    WHERE: Discovery Room, Asian Civilisations Museum, 1 Empress Place

    WHEN: Saturday, 10.30am



    WHAT: Dialogue on how to kill off your characters, with Tunku Halim, American author Brittany Cavallaro and Singapore-based British writer Neil Humphreys

    WHERE: Chamber, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: Saturday, 1pm

    ADMISSION: Festival pass, $25 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to


    WHAT: Dialogue on horror writing with Halim and Singapore writers S.J. Huang and Ng Yi-Sheng

    WHERE: Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium, National Gallery Singapore, 1 St Andrew’s Road

    WHEN: Sunday, 4.30pm

    ADMISSION: Festival pass

    • For more information, go to

His brushes with the supernatural include the time he stayed at a hotel that used to be a jam factory in the 1800s. “When I was sleeping, the lights in the room began to blink on and off all night long. Then, when morning came, the blinking stopped. I looked up TripAdvisor and found that others had experienced the same thing.”

He gets his ideas from all over the place. “Sometimes, a story title might come to me out of the blue, which then inspires me to create a tale out of it.”