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Asia's answer to Harry Potter

Asian readers seeking thrills of ghouls and haunted houses no longer turn to Western favourites.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2006 16:24 IST

By Melanie Lee

Young Asian readers seeking the thrill of ghouls and haunted houses no longer turn only to Western favourites to satisfy their itch. Asia's answer to the record-selling British boy wizard "Harry Potter" is the "Mr Midnight" series of books.

It has sold more than one million copies in Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Hong Kong and Indonesia, says Alex Chacko, of the books' publisher.

Full of ghosts, dark closets, witches and creepy things, Mr Midnight is a heartbeat-racing hit that has been translated into several different languages.

The appeal, says Mr Midnight author Jim Aitchison, is the books' ability to address an Asian child's values and sensibilities.

"Asian kids are very different from American kids. They have different values," says Aitchison. "The kids in Asia are a lot more innocent ... what would shock an Asian kid in a book, an American kid will think, 'That's it?'," he adds, chuckling.

The first of the Mr Midnight series. Asian kids identify with Mr Midnight a lot more than they would with Harry Potter

Having spent 20 years in Singapore, the youthful-looking Australian deems himself qualified to write about Asian children.

"I lived here long enough and I have seen enough kids and I have talked to enough people," Aitchison says.

Mysterious about his own age, he says "you sort of understand the (child's) mindset after a while, but it comes with age".

The books, with their candy-coloured illustrations and gothic script, are set in high-rise flats, steamy jungles and other familiar Asian surroundings, contrasted with the occasional ghoulish surprise.

"All urban kids in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur live in flats," Aitchison says, explaining how young readers connect with his books.

The protagonists are all Asian children who display forgiveness, team spirit and other values highly prized in Asian society, Aitchison says.

"Even in the food they eat, they don't eat cucumber sandwiches. They are eating noodles and I guess there is just this feeling that 'it is in my city'," he says of the Asian connection.

Aitchison wears an earring and a wide smile.

Since quitting his lucrative advertising executive position 10 years ago to become a writer, he has written numerous books on advertising and is most well-known for his Sarong Party Girl series. The trio of tongue-in-cheek books mocks Asian women's shallow fascination with Caucasian men.

"A good story is universal," he enthuses. "It will sell anywhere."

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