I fell in love with the cover and then I read the first lines… “One evening, my father asked me whether I would like to become a ghost bride. Asked is perhaps not the right word.” That was it – the voice, the premise, the lingering meaning behind those words… And then I finished the book and was so jealous of its writer: Choo is one talented lady, so what else could I do but beg her to answer some of my questions?
1) The story is so rich in folklore, how much comes from your own heritage and did research bring unknown elements to light?
I had heard a lot of these tales as a child from friends and relatives and also as an avid reader. I think many people in Malaysia have some idea of this tradition, although the practice varies tremendously. Later on, when I started writing the book in earnest I found the National Archives in Singapore to be invaluable, as well as Harvard’s Widener library which had lots of out-of-print books written by British colonials. Going down to the stacks to do research was always a bit nerve-wracking, because Widener has these automated book shelves that can move around at the push of a button. There’s always the possibility of getting stuck down there!
2) You make quite a compelling ghost story, but do you believe in ghosts? And if so, how much of the ghost bride tradition do you think is true?
As much as I enjoy reading spooky stories, I’m really quite a chicken. That’s why I prefer books to horror movies, because I can always flip past pages or cover the scary parts with the judicious use of a peanut butter sandwich. I’d prefer not to believe in ghosts if possible (though I do believe in Heaven!) but they add a great deal of literary richness. The older I get, the more I can’t help but wonder what happens to us after death. It puts a lot of things into sober perspective.
3) If you could be anyone’s ghost bride – beside your hubby, obv – whose would you be?
Yipe! I think that I’d rather not be anyone’s ghost bride! The character of Lim Tian Ching in the book is in some ways every woman’s nightmare. When I was a little girl, I heard stories about how pre-WW2 Chinese society thought nothing of arranged marriages, often at heartbreakingly young ages for the girls. Some were taken into families as young as 6 or 7, ostensibly to be groomed as future daughters-in-law, but in reality used as child servants. This happened to one of my mother’s relatives. She was sent from China as a bride and her husband and his family treated her very badly. I was always secretly terrified that such a thing might happen to me, and when I was writing the book, I bundled together a lot of these ideas into Lim Tian Ching – with the added bonus that he’s already dead, so there’s no escape from the relationship even after death.
I’m currently working on my second novel, a mystery also set in colonial Malaya, but this time during the 1930s. Hopefully, there’ll also be a graphic novel adaptation of THE GHOST BRIDE with Eisner-nominated comic book artist Sonny Liew. Sonny is Singaporean and I’m excited to see what he comes up with in terms of character design and setting. As for five years time… I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to write, and if in 5 years I’ve written books that people enjoy, I’d be really happy about that! In the meantime, if you like books and eating, please come visit me at my blog http://yschoo.com/
April 29th, 2014 at 4:03 pm
Fascinating interview! Ghost brides…creepy! There is so much to Asian ghost stories that I think many of us in the West don’t appreciate.
April 30th, 2014 at 7:07 am
I feel just the same, Adam ♥