Author Yangsze Choo on How Walks Help With Her Books

This New York Times bestselling author of two novels was born in Malaysia.
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Yangsze Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian who lives in California. To coincide with the release of her second book, The Night Tiger, Yangsze wrote for us this piece on how walks influence her writing and thought process. It was first published in the March 2019 issue of Her World. Yangsze’s first book, The Ghost Bride, is being turned into a Netflix series.

Deputy editor, Adelina, with Yangsze

On Walking and Writing

Many years ago, I went for a walk beside an inlet of sea in Sweden with my dad. It was bitterly cold. So cold that the snow wouldn’t pack into snowballs because the temperature was too low for it to melt and cling together. Instead, it trickled through my gloved hands like soft powder. And as we walked, I heard a faint ringing chime, like clear bells.

“That’s the ice,” said my father. Part of the sea had frozen, then broken up again into chunks. Driven by the wind and currents, the sea ice was ringing unceasingly against the frozen shores. We stood and listened for a long time. I wondered if I would ever hear that sound again. It haunted my dreams, just as the memory of that crisp snowy walk did.

Memory is a strange beast. After a while it takes on a life of its own, so that certain incidents linger, appearing suddenly at odd times. I’ve found that walking in particular seems to kickstart my thought process, perhaps unsurprising since studies have found that moderate exercise helps with memory and cognitive thinking.

In any case, whenever I’m particularly stuck, I find there’s nothing like a long walk to clear my head. Even such mundane exercises as trotting over to the grocery store or walking around the corner for a cup of coffee have helped me work out chapter endings and which character did what to the other.

READ: Do These Trails When In New Zealand’s South Island

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A keramat animal is a sacred beast, a creature with the ability to come and go like a phantom, trampling sugarcane or raiding livestock with impunity. It’s always distinguished by some peculiarity, such as a missing tusk or a rare albino color. But the most common indicator is a withered or maimed foot.

Set in 1930s colonial Malaya, The Night Tiger explores the rich world of servants and masters, ancient superstition and modern ambition, sibling rivalry, and unexpected love.

We recommend it to: Those who like folklore, or stories set during the colonial era in Malaysia/Southeast Asia.

The Story: When 11-year-old Ren’s master dies, the gruesome task of finding his master’s severed finger falls on the young boy. Ren has 49 days to accomplish this, or else his master’s soul will roam as a restless spirit.

Ren’s path crosses with that of Ji Lin, an apprentice dressmaker who was forced to give up her dream of becoming a doctor. To pay off her beloved mother’s mahjong debts, Ji Lin secretly moonlights as a dancehall girl, where she comes across a severed finger.

What follows is a lushly written story of superstition and modern ambition; sibling rivalry and first love. With Chinese folklore, Malayan beliefs, and a tantalising mystery braided through.