How is it possible to write a horror story about peace, and make sadness sublime? Look to all the beautiful things.
I worked out the plot for A Request For Betrayal as soon as I published the e-book The Tiger-Man and His Constant Companion. That was way back in October 2022. I knew I was going to start the follow-up novel with this character Yamashiro, or Arshad. I mentioned this earlier here and here. He has this mysterious affinity with the Tiger-Man, the were-tiger the Raden family keeps as a servant.
For the prequel, The Keeper of My Kin, I introduced an upset that jump-starts the saga. You stroll along nicely reading the first part, The Red-Haired Gurkhas, and suddenly, it’s slash-and-gore in the second part, The Tiger-Man and His Constant Companion. The third and final part, The Night of the Flying Blades, needs no explaining. Actually, anything you write about a period between 1938 and 1945 will be a rupture anyway.
But for the sequel, A Request For Betrayal, I wanted the story to close with peace.
So this was my dilemma: it’s a horror story. Can I write about peace using horror as my literary device?
So this was my dilemma: it’s a horror story. Can I write about peace using horror as my literary device? Making extra work for myself and my poor editor, I also chose a turbulent period which is hard to explain. It may be of interest to students of diplomatic studies but might bore the horror fans to bits. The period was such a powder keg in Southeast Asia that it inspired Peter Weir’s 1982 film about Indonesia, The Year of Living Dangerously. But that’s just his Hollywood take on it.
‘So how do I do this?’ I asked myself, ‘Write a horror story about peace?’ I found that I was having to work harder on my research, spend a bit more money travelling to Japan and Thailand looking for answers, and look at sources not to do with horror to weave my story together.
Michael Rosen saves my story
It was a cold spring in 2023; the flat was freezing and I had a writer’s block. I bought Michael Rosen’s Getting Better because I wanted to get better after a bad Covid episode. I had suffered a crippling frozen shoulder after picking up Covid in 2022 during my holiday. It was my second Covid infection in three years and by far, the worse. To get my mind off the excruciating pain, I read books.
I’d already read Rosen’s Many Different Kinds of Love and Sad Book, and I love the way he visualises words into imagery in his poems. Getting Better is not about how to write but how to get over things. In that book, Rosen looks at the trauma of his Covid episode by looking at other past traumas. It’s a compassionate reflection of his life, full of hope. I read Getting Better and shortly after, I got over my writer’s block. I got going with my story. I decided to look at history in a positive light.
I read Getting Better and shortly after, I got over my writer’s block.
The poetics of rice
My mother’s family has been growing rice for generations. It’s a rare thing nowadays to grow rice. Sadly, today it’s exclusive to landed people in rural areas. It’s scary the way it’s becoming a social habitus.
I was researching methods of rice harvesting when I came across a historical gem about Malaysia’s hybridised rice varieties. We’d been harvesting rice only once a year for millennia – until the Japanese came in 1942. They thought: we have to harvest rice twice a year, otherwise we starve. So they imported their japonica rice, which can grow twice a year. The war ended and they left their rice behind. We continue harvesting rice twice a year. Decades later, we hybridised the japonica rice with our indica rice. We created super-hybrid double-cropping varieties called Mahsuri and Malinja.
What I found poetic is the name that my countrymen chose for the variant Mahsuri. She did exist. Her actual story was one of betrayal, curses, murders, enemy invasions, utter destruction and, finally, the prosperity that ensued afterwards.
I like what the rice symbolises: the cycle of life, death and re-birth. That went into my story, of course.
I like what the rice symbolises: the cycle of life, death and re-birth.
I nailed the ending during Yoshiki’s concert
I don’t know much about the rockstar Yoshiki and his super-band X except that he survived a tragic childhood and that he’d lost a few band members. My editor, a fan, bought us tickets to his classical concert, Requiem, at Royal Albert Hall, the day we submitted The Keeper of My Kin to Fulham Library. It was Friday, 13 October 2023. She thought it was a good way to celebrate.
At this point, I was close to finishing the second book. But I was still considering a few alternative endings. The editor wasn’t impressed with the first draft so I was in the middle of a painful second draft. At the concert, I was surprised by how good Requiem was. I could tell Yoshiki was feeling sad. He talked about his late mother, his home and his band members. I didn’t know one of them, Heath, was already terminally ill (he passed away soon after). Yoshiki and the orchestra dished out one haunting song after another: Amethyst, Tears, Angel, Miracle, Swan Lake, Red Swan, Requiem, Endless Rain….
There is beauty in sadness. And Yoshiki made it so.
And this whole picture appeared in my head. Ghosts. Watery deaths. Grief. Hope. There is beauty in sadness. And Yoshiki made it so. So it was a gig by an artist I hardly knew that finally spoke to my muse.
So I went home and rewrote the second book. I kept the big reveal to myself until a week later. My editor read the manuscript. She went quiet as she read the third chapter, The Tiger-man Returns. She said the chapter The Hunting Ground is really sad. The bit where the warring factions get their peace in one of the final chapters is surprising. Even to me when I researched the history of it. Yes, the victory is Phyrric. But via that tortuous route, my protagonists get their peace, and I get the ending that I wanted.
A Request For Betrayal is now available on Amazon. This article first came out on the author’s website on 15 November 2023.
More on The Constant Companion Tales
- A Request For Betrayal (Paperback: Part Four & Five, Amazon Kindle, £9.99);
- The Keeper of My Kin (Paperback: Part One, Two & Three, Amazon Kindle, £9.99; Waterstones, £9.99; Barnes & Noble, $9.99)
- The series: The Constant Companion Tales (E-book, Amazon Kindle)
- Part One: The Red-Haired Gurkhas (E-book, Amazon Kindle, £2.99)
- Part Two: The Tiger-Man and His Constant Companion (E-book, Amazon Kindle, £2.99)
- Part Three: The Night of the Flying Blades (E-book, Amazon Kindle, £2.99)
- Part Four: The Brotherhood of the Tiger-Men (E-book, Amazon Kindle, £2.99)
- Part Five: A Truce Made In Blood (E-book, Amazon Kindle, £2.99)