“Fish Bowl” by Zen Cho features in The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic.
Tell us a little about yourself and what you like to write.
I’m a lawyer and writer living in London. The two main things I write are Malaysian fantasy (i.e. speculative fiction featuring Malaysian characters or settings or both), and a made-up subgenre I like to call “fluff for postcolonial booknerds”.
What was the idea behind “Fish Bowl”?
I had a maths tuition teacher once who had a fish pool inside her house in which she reared koi – quite an extraordinary thing to find in your standard suburban house. The idea for the story grew out of that. It also ended up being about the pressure on kids, especially girls, in a certain kind of middle-class, high-achieving household to be perfect. (That’s obviously a stereotype associated with Asian families, but I think it has as much, if not more, to do with socio-economic background as culture.) When I wrote the story I was thinking about how it is possible to be very, very sheltered as a teenager, but very, very unhappy.
How urban do you like your fantasy and who are your must-read authors?
I’m more into suburban fantasy than urban fantasy – I’m quite interested in what happens inside people’s houses, and like speculative fiction with a fairly intimate, domestic scope. Edith Nesbit and Diana Wynne Jones spring to mind.
You’ve listed Malaysian SFF writers on your website – do you have particular favourite stories or authors?
I’m a bit hesitant to play favourites – there’s a lot of interesting stuff on my list and everybody should go check it out for themselves! So I’m going to cheat and name someone I haven’t even mentioned in the list yet: Zedeck Siew. As far as I know Zedeck hasn’t had any speculative fiction published, but he’s active in the Malaysian arts scene and has put out a lot of work of various kinds over the years. Currently he’s working on a compilation of short speculative stories which I’m really looking forward to.
What are you up to next?
Besides “Fish Bowl”, I’ve got short stories in three other publications out this year: LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction from Singaporean publisher Math Paper Press, The End of the Road from UK press Solaris Books, and Love in Penang from Malaysian indie press Fixi Novo.
I’m also working on revisions to what might be my first novel (if my agent can persuade someone to publish it!). It’s a Regency-set fantasy of manners about England’s first black Sorcerer Royal. It’s basically a mishmash of everything I like from Georgette Heyer and PG Wodehouse, plus magic, written with a post-colonial sensibility.