Up until now, I’d resisted the urge to write a vampire novel. Not because I don’t enjoy them (I like them a lot), but because I’m neither an authority on the topic nor did I feel I had anything original to offer the genre.
While researching ghost stories from around the world, I happened upon two Asian vampires: the Krasue and Penanggal. I remembered the latter (also referred to as a penanggalan) from teenage role-playing games, so decided to dig further. What intrigued me about the penanggal especially, was her daytime mortal existence. Penanggals are women who meditate in vats of vinegar and are able to detach their heads and connected viscera, which float within a mist of lights. Malaysian Will-o’-the-wisp sightings are often attributed to them in folklore. Penanggals feast upon the unborn and children in ‘Kampung’ villages. Any pregnant woman who loses her foetus to a penanggal, wastes away to nothing. Anyone who comes in contact with the flesh of a penanggal, suffers horrendous open sores.
I liked the concept of a monster who appeared normal by day, because the scope for intrigue and an interesting backstory was huge. A penanggal could literally be the person sat next to you, and you’d have no idea.
Being an English horror novelist, I wanted the bulk of the tale set in the UK but still connected to the beast’s geographic and cultural roots. I opted to lean upon overseas missionary experience as a vehicle to launch the story. A minister returning on furlough from Malaysia with his new bride gave me a good springboard.
In Malaysia, penanggals are supposed to flit beneath stilted village houses, sniffing for prey. That’s a big ask in England, since we don’t have such structures. The massive network of caves under Nottingham provided an excellent solution. They pop up in cellars and back gardens right across the city and number more than five hundred. It also enabled me to incorporate popular local spots associated with the labyrinth, such as that wonderful, haunted inn, ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem.’ Nottingham’s twin universities and cosmopolitan demography made it the perfect setting to include a resident Malaysian community of students and immigrants. Thus the Malaysian flavour of the myth is maintained, rather than nicking the monster and anglicising it.
‘Penanggal’ will be available in Kindle and Paperback formats like my other novels. The Kindle version is available for pre-order, ahead of its 23rd September release date. Once the paperback and Kindle versions are live, the Kindle page count will correct on Amazon to 360.