• When someone asked me why I started writing fiction, I realised it was because of my daughter. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
When my daughter was finally old enough to read my books, I gave her a copy of each one. I have never been more scared about a reader’s feedback my whole life.
By
Kristyn M. Levis

7 Sep 2020 - 10:23 AM  UPDATED 28 Apr 2021 - 2:40 PM

It was when my daughter turned two years old that I realised she will never enjoy Philippine mythology in books, comics and TV shows like I did while I was growing up in Cagayan de Oro.

As a parent of a multicultural child, I feel that it is my duty to ensure she knows about my half of her heritage. Not just about the Adobo and the Balut, or our love for Christmas Carols the moment Ber season arrives. I want her to know about our stories, our mythologies, our alamat

Although fiction writing wasn’t really what I was trained to do (I have a Bachelors degree in journalism), transitioning to it almost felt like a natural step. When someone asked me why I started writing fiction, I realised it was because of my daughter.

I started to think of all the stories my mother told us as kids. We couldn’t afford books then because, like many Filipinos, we were poor. Mama would make up stories for us before bed, and we hung on to her every word.

The story that started my fiction writing path was The Dragon and The Lizard. Self-publishing that kidlit story fulfilled one of my goals in life – to preserve Mama’s creation.

The Dragon and the Lizard was one of our favourite tales as kids. We were so fascinated by that story that we’d ask Mama to tell it to us before bed every single night.

The Dragon and the Lizard was one of our favourite tales as kids. We were so fascinated by that story that we’d ask Mama to tell it to us before bed every single night. The purpose of that first book is to ensure that even when my sisters and I are long gone, the story that my mother told us will continue to live on. 

But I did not expect the snowball effect it would have on me when I finished that project. Months after The Dragon and the Lizard was released, I then wrote a second book – a children’s picture book called We Have It All.

This book is a true story based on our childhood in the Philippines, living without TV, computer games, books and toys, in a house with only half a roof and half a floor. I wrote it in the three languages I speak - English, Tagalog and Cebuano – to encourage my daughter to learn Filipino.

This second book inspired me to write in longer form. I had no experience writing a novel, but I didn’t let that stop me.

My first ever attempt at writing a novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, was born out of my desire to introduce the Philippines’ mythological creatures to my daughter. It started with a question that I asked myself as a migrant in Australia.

My first ever attempt at writing a novel, The Girl Between Two Worlds, was born out of my desire to introduce the Philippines’ mythological creatures to my daughter.

What if a Manananggal* can travel overseas? What if your Filipino neighbour actually was a Kapre*? What is stopping these creatures, who can look human during the day, from migrating to, let’s say, Australia? The story slowly grew from there.

The second book, The Girl Between Light and Dark, allowed me to create the fictional world where all the creatures lived. I had all these questions to answer. Do I base it on all the other Engkanto stories that came before mine or do I create my own? I wanted it to be as close to the stories I grew up with, to give my daughter an idea of the world I loved reading about when I was young.

The third book, The Search for Adarna, is a retelling of a classic Filipino folklore, Ang Ibong Adarna (The Bird Adarna). My daughter was already familiar with this story because when she was young, a company in the Philippines created an app for it, which we replayed around a million times. My version, however, brought the classic story into the 21st century.

When my daughter was finally old enough to read my books, I gave her a copy of each one. I have never been more scared about a reader’s feedback my whole life. 

When she finished reading, she came up to me and said that she loved it – and not just because she was my daughter. She even wrote this review on Kobo without my knowledge.

When she finished reading, she came up to me and said that she loved it – and not just because she was my daughter. She even wrote this review on Kobo without my knowledge.

“This amazingly written novel is a journey that portrays many amazing genres of books, and features the thrilling mythology of the Philippines, which is the home of the author K.M. Levis herself. I am the daughter of K.M. Levis and I am not just saying this because she is my mother. READ THIS NOVEL!”

She loved the Manananggal. She loved the Kapre. She loved the Tiyanak*. The pride in her eyes was the most precious gift an author could ask for. 

Writing these books was a bittersweet experience for me. But I loved being able to share it with her and to show her how rich our culture is. I hope that other Filipino parents out there can use my books to do the same with their children.

*Mananangal – a beautiful woman during the day that turns into a fetus-sucking monster at night. It’s torso separates from its lower half. It grows huge bat-like wings to fly into the night. It comes from the word tanggal, which means to remove or to separate.

*Kapre – a giant that sits on top of a big tree smoking cigar. Not necessarily evil but likes to play pranks on humans.

*Tiyanak – a vampiric creature that can transform itself into a helpless baby to attract good samaritans. The moment it is picked up, it turns into a monster and eats the human.

Kristyn M. Levis is an author and freelance writer.

RECOMMENDED
I was wrong to assume my Filipino lineage was rooted in homophobia
Despite all my millennial insight and understanding, my mother has possessed queer consciousness long before I did.
What growing up in a Filipino matriarchy taught me about feminism
Filipinos grow up in matriarchal networks, where women make decisions about most things including money.
Thanks to these Filipino women, basket weaving is revolutionising entire communities
For women of the Tagbanwa tribe, bags and baskets weaved entirely by hand form the lifeblood of their livelihood.