Heidi Sham­sud­din

Time Out Malaysia Kids - - Culture - Nawaf Rah­man


Heidi Sham­sud­din is a chil­dren’s book au­thor at heart. She won the re­gional prize for the Eye Level Chil­dren’s Lit­er­a­ture Com­pe­ti­tion in 2012 with her very first short story ‘Jo­han the Bee Hunter’, and she hasn’t looked back since. Her lat­est series of books tell the story of three Malaysian chil­dren who go through a magic door and meet Malaysia’s his­tor­i­cal fig­ures and heroes, help­ing them get out of sticky sit­u­a­tions. The books are a fun way to in­tro­duce the kids to per­son­al­i­ties who fig­ure greatly in our na­tion’s his­tory.

How did you get into writ­ing and why did you choose to write chil­dren’s books?

When I left the res­tau­rant busi­ness in 2012, I was free to de­cide what to do next and it’s al­ways been my dream to write a book. One of the first sto­ries I wrote was ‘Jo­han the Bee Hunter’, so when I won the award, I was thrilled! This gave me the con­fi­dence to con­tinue writ­ing. At first, I didn’t start off writ­ing for kids but some­how, all my sto­ries were re­lated with young peo­ple and all the ex­pe­ri­ences I had when I was a kid, and that’s how it all started.

Would you say your en­vi­ron­ment and up­bring­ing have coloured your writ­ing?

I spent most of my child­hood in Seat­tle. Then I came home and spent my teenage years here, sur­rounded by sto­ries told by my par­ents, my grand­par­ents, my aunts and un­cles. Right after I fin­ished my Si­jil Pe­la­jaran Malaysia (SPM), I stud­ied and went on to work in the UK for 15 years be­fore re­turn­ing home again. Dur­ing all those years, I was in­flu­enced by my en­vi­ron­ment, which taught me to ap­pre­ci­ate our coun­try’s colour­ful and eclec­tic his­tory. That’s when I was in­spired to write a book series based on Malaysian his­tory.

Mov­ing around a lot must have ex­posed you to a great num­ber of books. What are some of your child­hood favourites?

My choice of books was in­flu­enced by where I was at the time. My fam­ily couldn’t re­ally af­ford many books back then so I got most of mine from the li­brary. On my ninth birth­day, my fa­ther got me a book by Roald Dahl called ‘The Won­der­ful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More.’ Un­like his other sto­ries, this book was aimed at slightly older chil­dren be­cause the sto­ries were a bit darker, scarier but funny. We also had an old, bat­tered copy of ‘Har­riet the Spy’ by Louise Fitzhugh; the story of a girl called Har­riet who des­per­ately wants to be­come a fa­mous au­thor and de­cides to prac­tise her ob­ser­va­tion skills by spy­ing on all her friends and fam­ily. I think this may be the book that made me want to be­come an au­thor. I also love CS Lewis’s ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ which was my first fan­tasy book. I like the idea of a door that can trans­port you to an­other world!

You must have been in­spired by that when you were think­ing about ‘The Door un­der the Stairs’ series. Tell us about it.

It’s about three Malaysian kids who find a magic door un­der the stairs at their school. The door takes them back in time where they meet our coun­try’s heroes. In the first book, they meet Malaysia’s first Prime Min­is­ter and help him solve a mys­tery when the na­tional an­them goes miss­ing. They even­tu­ally meet other heroes like movie star P Ram­lee and foot­baller Mokhtar Da­hari, and they even go back in time to when Sin­ga­pore was a Bri­tish colo­nial port. There are eight books planned for the series and four are al­ready out, which are ‘The Mys­tery of the Miss­ing Na­tional An­them’, ‘The Case of the Tal­ented Trio’, ‘The Case of the Foot­ball Cham­pion’ and ‘The Case of the House at No. 74’.

That sounds ex­cit­ing. Are the books sup­posed to stand on their own, or are you build­ing a body of work with con­nec­tions between each book?

Tech­ni­cally each book can stand on its own, but there is an­other layer of mys­tery run­ning through the series fo­cus­ing on who is con­trol­ling the door and why are they chang­ing his­tory, so it makes more sense to read it in chrono­log­i­cal or­der.

What has been the proud­est ac­com­plish­ment in your ca­reer?

My proud­est mo­ment is when a boy wrote a re­view of ‘The Mys­tery of the Miss­ing Na­tional An­them’ on a piece of pa­per. His dad sent it to me and this is what he wrote: ‘What I love about “The Miss­ing Na­tional An­them” – one word to de­scribe this book: AMAZING.’

It’s nice when young peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate your work. What are your hopes for the scene for kids like him?

I hope for more qual­ity books from Malaysian au­thors, fea­tur­ing Malaysian themes. Apart from that, I wish that more lo­cal pub­lish­ers would con­sider pub­lish­ing chil­dren’s books be­cause per­son­ally I think the lo­cal chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture scene is rich, thriv­ing and im­prov­ing every year. Do you have any fu­ture projects lined up?

As for my fu­ture projects, it’s go­ing to be a busy year – I have a young adult novel set in Mount Kin­a­balu, a pic­ture book out this year ti­tled ‘Chick­a­boo the Ostrich’, a few pic­ture book projects, a short story com­pi­la­tion, scripts for a po­ten­tial TV series, and two po­ten­tial an­ime projects.

Per­son­ally I think the lo­cal chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture scene is rich, thriv­ing and im­prov­ing every year

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