Have you ever wondered if you could buy a demon from a regular shop? Writer and theatre playwright Terence Toh says you can.
He conjures up a creepy world of demons, bomohs and the supernatural in his debut book Toyols ‘R’ Us.
This comedic thriller was picked as the winner of the first Fixi Novo Malaysian Novel Contest in February.
“I’ve always been fascinated by Malaysian folklore, particularly the idea of the toyol (undead infant demon/servant). I heard rumours that you can buy a toyol in the black market, and I thought, what if these toyol sellers went mainstream?
“What if they became a big company offering toyol deals and promotions for all? Like a Shopee or Lazada, but for bomohs. And the story sort of wrote itself. It started off as a short story, but I later realised there was a lot of potential in it. It soon grew into a novel, ” says Toh, 34, who also dabbles in local theatre.
Last July, he picked up the Best Original Book and Best Original Score awards at the 17th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards. He won the Best Original Book award (musical theatre category) for The Working Dead, a full-length musical about corporate zombies.
The horror comedy genre is a perfect platform for Toh's works, loaded with twist endings and (pop culture) homages aplenty.
Toh, who is an editor at a regional publication and short story writer, shares that he had the idea for a toyol novel for some time but was too lazy to do anything with it until Fixi Novo launched the novel writing competition in June last year.
“This finally gave me the motivation to actually start writing during the first movement control order. I had a lot more free time.
“In a sense that’s the only good thing about this pandemic. It gave me time to sit down and finish this novel!” recalls Toh, who submitted his manuscript mere days before the deadline last December.
Toyols ‘R’ Us centres around Inspector Khairul, a policeman who is investigating a series of murders in KL. All the victims are found completely drained of blood, usually from one of their fingers or toes. The victims have nothing in common except that they were all suspiciously wealthy.
Khairul meets Fara, an occult investigator, who shows him the hidden world of toyols, bomohs and the Malaysian magic society. They have to hunt down the killer, and meet a lot of colourful characters on the way including a mysterious company that “makes” toyols – Toyols ‘R’ Us.
“I called them Toyols ‘R’ Us because I really liked the pun!”
Toh, who names authors such as Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, China Mieville and Stephen King as his idols, says there were a few challenges in penning Toyols ‘R’ Us.
“For one, it was getting the police procedure parts right. My main characters are investigators and my only previous experience with how the police worked came from the Brooklyn Nine-Nine TV series!
“Another tough part was when the book touched on heavy issues such as pregnancy and the unborn. I really wanted to make sure I handled those issues in a sensitive and accurate manner.”
Toh is not showing any signs of slowing down. He is already working on his next book about a “holiday gone horribly wrong” and hopes to complete the final draft by year end.
“I was also supposed to stage a musical this year called Fortune Kooky, but the pandemic has put things temporarily on hold.
“There also may be a few scripts coming, as well as some short fiction, but we will have to see when all that will be finished, ” says Toh.