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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Malay Magic And Divination

Malay Magic and Divination

The long awaited talk on Malay Magic and Divination by Dr Farouk Yahya from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), of the University of London and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford University finally took place this afternoon (16 July 2017) at the Ilham Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. The hall was packed, and I recognised several friends from the writing community: Sharifah A. OsmanNinot AzizRJ Es RJ IbrahimSquareMean Burhan, Lokman Hakim, Heidi Shamsudin and Amir Mohammad (publisher and film producer.)

Dr Farouk's talk was based on his research for his PhD. He studied over one hundred illustrated manuscripts from this region (all written by men for sure because most women were probably illiterate at that time.) Many of these manuscripts are found in the SOAS Library, the Ashmolean Museum and also thankfully, the National Library of Malaysia.

I can't help feeling a tad disappointed though. Oddly enough because it was too 'high brow' - a study of hand written and illustrated manuscripts based on Indian and Arab knowledge available at that time.  No doubt the educated intelligentsia of that time regarded folk knowledge as too low brow to be included in the manuscripts. Therefore, No rituals, no jampi (spells and incantations), no love potions (although there was a mention of a hate potion) and no descriptions of djins/demons. 

However we did learn a rather unpleasant curse and the ancient Indian and Malay divination method of choosing an auspicious house based on measurements of the width of the house and the land area, the right colours for the house (?) and the best time to see the king etc And there were some interesting information about Nagas. Dr Farouk showed a slide of a stone with inscriptions on it dating from the Sri Vijayan period with seven nagas surrounding it.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Commentary on Nights of the Dark Moon by Zozan Abrams

Commentary on Nights of the Dark Moon by Zozan Abrams

Zozan Abrams (real name Susan Abraham) wrote a commentary on of my book, Nights of the Dark Moon. I call it a commentary because she said it was not a review. But it is intriguing and gives a different perspective of the book.

Zozan is an avid reader and extremely au fait with the literature of  the Arab speaking world. She is also an author and a poet, having published two volumes: Call the Ships of Dar-es-Salaam and The Weather Peddler. You can visit her blog at:

The book is available at

Nights of the Dark Moon by Tutu Dutta


Not any kind of review but just some thoughts on a young adult storybook, I read recently. I had placed this post on my Facebook Timeline and I thought that it would serve as a kind of incentive… a motivating factor to get me blogging about books again. This would be a one-off as my love of books lie in serious fiction that focus on relationships. I am not a fan of horror or supernatural elements. I do love talking about my favourite books. I just need to recall the discipline:
‘I ferried Malaysian writer, Tutu Dutta’s newest storybook called Nights of the Dark Moon, published by Marshall Cavendish Editions in Singapore, to Dublin, a few days ago. It will prove an enthralling addition to my library. It is a beautiful looking book comprising 13 gothic Asian folktales. These also include two from Africa. I feel like a child again.. ready to cherish the glossy cover, thick cream pages & illuminating b/w sketches that enfold the start of every tale. These are from Dutta’s own talented hand.
At just RM49.90 (Malaysian Ringgit), Nights of the Dark Moon is no less, a great gift for an older child. After having read it all, I would term the collection as grim fairy- tales; some even signifying high mystery and adventure. All stay riveting, captivating and gripping in their context. Each tale offers stimulating wisdom for a lifetime. Tutu Dutta narrates her stories with an engaging vocabulary, a great love for thoughtful storytelling and also, with painstaking affection.
Just think of the few ugly demons that pop up as more of witches & wizards bent on their missions of hell.
My favourite stays the first one, The Haunted Bridge of Agi. Possibly because, an older Malay friend with great knowledge of Malay culture, told me two years ago, about a true and eerie ghost tale… this very kind of bridge is said to exist somewhere in Perak state of the Malaysian Peninsula. There are said to be night ghosts on the bridge and the only ones that they will not harm – that are allowed to make a return crossing safely – are those holding a royal Perakian bloodline. Otherwise, you will be faced with a devil in front of you at some point, and your wily, frightening escape, will then depend on how bravely you handle the shock.
Although the tales in the book are ancient Asian folklore in retrospect but they appear to hold a distinct European flavour in parts, especially with the dramatic but tragic love story gone wrong in India’s The Weeping Lady. It was so romantic, I even forgot it was a ghost story and supposed to raise the hairs on my neck.
Then, I found another Indian tale, King Vikram and Betaal the Vampire to be truly ticklish. I mean, when you think about it, these days, we live in such an evil world that even the Vampire here, appears a real gem. It knows how to hold a civil dialogue with an irate King and unlike many today, practices its own serious moral code of ethics and integrity.
The stories although nicely arranged, proved a rather tame read but then, that is understandable as I am now an older adult and have already devoured hundreds and hundreds of similar tales like these, as a child. It would be a natural effect. Hang Nadim – the legend of old Singapore’s swordfish battles, was narrated to me in the classroom at nine; by our Primary School teacher, who loved oral storytelling. She was called Cikgu Norsiah. When I first heard it, I was held enraptured to my little, wooden chair in Standard 3.
I also know of the Yoruba tale, The Curse of the Iroko Tree, that originated possibly from Ibadan. I don’t know if I had read this from some African literature in my library or picked up the tale of a child found in a tree and had to be returned to it as an adult, from some Yoruba classic film which I would have watched. A lot of Yoruba films rely on proverbs and oral-storytelling of old but I can’t remember the source, now.
Still, another two elements I strongly feel, that might have removed any possibility of a chilling fear could also have been the following: One: With the exception of the illustration, heralding The Shapeshifter of Co Lao – a clearly ghostly drawing, all the rest of the sketches were pleasant and pleasing. Maybe in future, Tutu Dutta could challenge herself to create more frightening images. That would help the ‘ghostly flavour’ of the book by leaps and bounds.
Also, in real life, I’ve found with a few good supernatural encounters of my own – incidents that defy logic – that fear pops up suddenly from sideways or behind a person, without warning. It’s almost lawless, there’s never a perfect timing or order. In the Nights of the Dark Moon, where the moon becomes the motivating element for a ghost to appear, after a while, there this a strong chance that this may appear predictable and formulaic with its tidy and orderly protocol.
The child might know what to expect in advance, further down the pages and so, both excitement and anticipation, could be sadly curbed.
I think that Nights of the Dark Moon would be a wonderful meditation even as parents or grandparents choose to read to a child or to have chats with then, either a 10, 11 or 12 year old. Not as a bedtime read of course, but as something far more ruminative. Where the child could absorb good judgement ie. foresight and understanding, about people in the real world today – both good and bad. Some evil can be eliminated, some others like bullies or thugs – well… it’s best to keep a careful distance.
Perhaps, more importantly also, on how not to be naive or to trust just any stranger too easily and also, to recognise that time is probably the best teacher in the aspect of studying human characterisation. Also, many other lifelong and necessary ethics that may be drawn upon, to make the child rise as a fabulous thinker turning it eventually, into an adult reader, holding profound intuition.’
Further Reading:
How to Purchase Nights of the Dark Moon from Malaysia
Note: Speaking from my own experience, MPH Bookstores in Malaysia are excellent with international courier deliveries and I have received my book parcels here in Europe in the past, in record time.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC 2017)

AFCC 2017 Singapore

The country of focus this year was Indonesia and events at the National Library of Singapore was as multifarious as this amazing archipelago.

The guest of honour, however, was the distinguished PJ Lynch, the na nOg or Children's Laureate of Ireland. In his keynote address, he made the point that a small country like Ireland found a way to stand out in the world through literature... and also thanks to the rock band, U2.

In The Presence Of Greatness: P.J. Lynch, Multi-Award Winning Illustrator and 
Ireland's 4th Laureate for Children's Literature
Enchanted by P.J. Lynch's illustrations during his Children's Literature Lecture tonight. He has won many awards including Hans Christian Andersen Award, Mother Goose Award and the prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal on two occasions, amongst others. Text and montage from AFCC 2017

Also present was the noted illustrator, James Mayhew (I honestly thought he was related to Jonathon Mayhew, the YA writer from UK) who came as a speaker and participated in the dueling artist event as well.

James Mayhew illustrates the story as recounted by Rosemarie Somaiah, to the accompaniment of Gamelan music.

I can't deny that AFCC 2017 has been a momentous event for me, not least because I presented two papers, Folklore Finesse and Hidden Elements, which I will talk about later.

First and foremost it was a great opportunity to network. Among the people who were there: Heidi Shamsuddin and Teoh Choon Ean, two prominent children's writers from Malaysia. Heidi was there as a speaker and also to launch her new books, published by her fledgling company, Paper Moon; while Choon Ean was there to launch her latest books.

Another surprise was bumping into Quah Sze Mei, General Manager and Lilian Ng, Marketing Executive, both from MPH Publishing (Malaysia). Interesting bit of news from Sze Mei was the fact that MPH Malaysia has bought over MPH Singapore. The year before, we heard that MPH also bought over Pelanduk, one of the oldest publishing houses in Malaysia.

I also met Emila Yusof on the first night. Her gorgeous picture book, How Rooster Became the Zodiac Animal was shortlisted for the Scholastic Asia Picture Book Prize. The prize however, went to a book called, The Little Durian Tree, written and illustrated by a group of Singaporean college students, much to everyone's surprise.

Tan Vay Fern and I also made a submission, entitled, Meng the Tiger, but alas we were not even shortlisted. Apparently, there were around 130 entries this year and competition was really stiff.
Among the Singaporeans, were Kenneth Quek, Festival Director and his mother, Susannah Goho, a noted Malaysian children's writer and illustrator. Also the talented storyteller/writer Rosemarie Somiah, the moderator for Folklore Finesse and Darel Seow, the moderator for Hidden Elements.

Dave Liew and James Mayhew
Dave Liew's masterpiece. These illustrations will be worth a lot at some future time!

Not forgetting Alycia Teo, the super efficient Festival Manager and the affable and talented Dave Liew, one of the speakers from Singapore. Dave was also one of five Festival Artist. This year, he did not participate in the Duelling Illustrators event - that stage was held by Briony Stewert and Festival Artist, Stephanie Raphaela Ho. I vaguely remember, they had to illustrate a story being read aloud about a lonely steam bun who was befriended by a cockroach. It ended with them walking into the sunset to live happily ever after... of course someone in the audience had to mention, 'Until the cockroach eats the steam bun...'

Kenneth Quek, Heidi Shamsuddin and Dave Liew. Picture stolen from Heidi's FB page...
Heidi had a very interesting discussion/debate about "Who Gets to Write Asian Stories?" She brought up the point that writers should 'Decolonise' our writings, which was an idea the speakers and audience picked up. This sketch by Favian Ee, summarises the debate:

Great advice from everyone! Picture by Wanda Nazri - procured via Heidi Shamsuddin
Incidentally, Irwan Junaidy, from The R&D Studio, an outfit specialising in VFX and animation also attended AFCC 2017. Apparently, R&D Studio is now a sister company of PaperMoon and they are pitching to Nickelodeon. Wow! Wish them luck. Fantastic if they pull it off.

Illustration by Favian Ee, one of five illustrators assigned to
capture the scenes at AFCC 2017. 

I also said farewell to Emma Nicholson, a writer/illustrator, whom I first met at the Bookaroo Children's Literature Festival in Kuching in 2016. Emma is returning to the UK in July.

Emma reading from her book, Princess Petunia's Dragon at the official bookstore -
Closetful of Books

Singapore author Don Bosco had a book launch for his latest books: The Blade Quest Series, which promises to be a huge hit!

Don Bosco signing books at his publisher's booth at AFCC 2017

Teoh Choon Ean had a book launch as well:

Last but not least, I managed to have a chat with Sayoni Basu, Publisher at Duckbill Books, someone I first met all the way back at AFCC 2012 (my very first AFCC.) I think she had just started her publishing company with Anushka Ravishankar then. Anyway, I've watched with amazement as Duckbill grew into a leading publisher of children's books in India.

The eye-catching books published by Duckbill. They were on sale at Closetful of Books as well.
Among the participants who introduced themselves to me were: Sierra Mae Paraan, an Education Specialist, Author and Children Storybook Researcher from the Philippines; Srividya Venkat, a Children's Writer, Storyteller and Blogger from India & Singapore, Fanny Santoso, an illustrator from Indonesia; Amelia Jaishree, a Lecturer from Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore; and Afiyon Kristiyan and Veronica Indrayati from Sekolah Terpadu Pahoa from Indonesia.

Now back to my papers:
Folklore Finesse: Retelling and Synthesis of a Contemporary or an Original Story based on folktale(s).
Or How to incorporate folklore into the plot of your original story? Or use a storyline from an ancient folktale and turn it into a contemporary story?

This paper was not all that difficult to put together because it was more or less based on a paper I had presented much earlier in 2013. I just had to update and refine it. In fact, the distance afforded by time gave me a clearer picture of what I had wanted to bring across.

The session was moderated by Rosemarie Somaiah, who brought her own insights into the discussions.

Rosemarie Somaiah and I

Hidden Elements:
Hide-and-Seek: Hidden Elements from Asian Folklore in Children’s Literature and Popular Culture. In this paper, I talked about Dragons, Pheonii, Nagas and Fox Demons! This paper required somewhat more research but then I've done quite a bit of it in the past as background research for my books on folktales.

This session was moderated by Darel Seow, who was brought his interest in animals into the discussion.

Posing with my books at Closetful of Books

Incredible! Seven of my books were on sale at Closetful of Books!
And of course, I must not forget to mention, Denise from  Closetful of Books, who is the most amazing bookseller I've ever met.

Finally, many thanks to the Singapore Book Council for inviting me as a speaker at AFCC 2017!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Don Bosco: The Author Entrepreneur

Don Bosco: Author and Publisher Extraordinaire, and Founder of Super Cool Books

Don Bosco is a rarity, at least in our part of the world. The children’s book author from Singapore is a full time writer and Indie publisher. He started Super Cool Books in 2011, to self-publish his books and to date his company has produced 16 books, in collaboration with established publishers, and 30 ebooks and paperbacks. Even more astonishing, Super Cool Books is basically a one-man outfit, with some assistance from his two young sons. He accomplishes this by outsourcing some of his work through an international network, in a Herculean feat of organization and multi-tasking.

He also does not fit the traditional profile of the author as a solitary person, driven to perfect his craft and appears to be more of a businessman, albeit a creative one. Well we’ve heard of the Hybrid Author, now meet the Author Entrepreneur.

Find out how he did it…

1    Q1.Tell us about yourself: when you first started writing, why and if you have a day job etc

Hello! My name is Don Bosco. I write and publish adventure and mystery books for children. These are mostly inspired by Asian legends and pop culture. I have a small publishing company for this, it's called Super Cool Books. This is basically a virtual team of occasional consultants and assistants around the world who help to put my books together, produce online posts, connect with distributors, etc.

I started this in 2011 as a project to help my kids appreciate books better, and since then we have produced around 30 ebooks and paperbacks under our Super Cool Books imprint, plus 16 or so titles in collaboration with bigger publishers, and also launched our own iPad ebookstore with exclusive digital editions. As you might expect, this takes up all my time, so it's become my day job.

2.      Are you the only one behind Super Cool Books or do you have other partners?

               Super Cool Books started as a publishing project with my two sons. We have partners for each book series, and for  
               individual projects, but not at the SCB level.

3.       I'm guessing the consultants are paid on a project basis?

Yes, and more often on a task basis. There are lots of freelancer websites you could use for this. Sometimes you might need an expert to fix one small thing in order to have the whole production proceed smoothly. I do feel like I should mention this, because sometimes people say, "I thought you published this yourself, but actually you had so much outside help." I used to feature our editorial and creative freelancers and consultants on our blog in the earlier days, but not so much the marketing and business people.

Here are some:

— John Rickards, UK, EDITOR, read about how I found him

— Faye Stacey, UK, illustrator, there's an interview with her inside the PDF comic (free download)

— Milan Misic, Serbia, illustrator, incredible talent

— Natalie Baker, US, designer, great sense of product making

— Tusitala, SG, app development team, they made our iPad app ebookstore

4.       Tell us about your books. Also, when did Marshall-Cavendish acquire the rights to your books and how this came about.

       We launched Super Cool Books in the second half of 2011, with a time travel adventure series called The Time Talisman. This was an ebook published by Select Books. With their generous help and advice, I slowly learnt about the children’s book publishing business, from printing to distribution to international sales to handling bookstore returns. The next year, we started to print our own books and sell these through the commercial channels. The main title we promoted was our Sherlock Hong series, which is about a young Chinese detective in colonial Singapore, back in the year 1891. As a small self-funded startup, you can imagine, we didn't have the staff or marketing resources to compete with bigger publishers. But the response was always enthusiastic, and there was potential to take this series further. 

In 2015 we had a chance to expand the series through Marshall Cavendish. We have been doing a lot more books with them, from our Lion City Adventures series, to the new Superkicks series, as well as the YA thriller Magicienne, which I co-authored with celebrity magician Ning Cai, and also the non-fiction book, Imagine All This: How to Write Your Own Stories. Another series that I started in those early years, called My Blade Quest, has been recently picked up by Armour Publishing, and we're launching the first two books at this year's AFCC.

This article very nicely explains our publishing development process:

5.      And the publishers you team up with get a percentage of royalty?

       Every situation is different.

6.      Why did you set Sherlock Hong 100 years in the past? Did this create problems in some of the storylines/plot?
How much research do you do for your books? Where do you get your materials from?

I had spent many years in school studying Singapore history, and world history, and so I was quite familiar with the landscape, cultural background, political situation, economy, and so on. As the decades go by, people here tend to play down Singapore's colonial past more and more. I thought it would be fun to use this story to help my kids imagine what life was like back then, and think about how it is that we have English as our main language.

Here's a funny incident: after Book 2, The Peranakan Princess, came out, I met a friend for dinner and I passed him the book. He read the first line and then his eyes glazed over. He stared over my shoulder for a long time. I was worried. I waited and waited. "What's wrong? Is the book bad?" I finally asked him. "No," he replied impatiently, "the first line says 'The year is 1891', and so I want to picture Singapore in that era before I continue." To have one short sentence like that inspire five minutes of active imagination. That's the kind of vivid reading experience I really want to create for children.

7.      Do ebooks do better than physical printed books?

Depends on the genre, age group, and most importantly, the sales territory. My best results for my own fiction ebooks, so far, seems to be crime thrillers for older female readers (retirees) in the UK.  I wrote and self published these books under pseudonyms.

For children's books in Singapore/Malaysia, ebooks are not worth considering. Thanks to internet analytics, we can now experiment and get accurate information for ourselves, instead of relying on opinions from industry experts. I encourage all writers to learn more about setting up their own analytics tests. Just a few simple ones will do. You'll get some authentic insights about your sales potential. Don't rely on opinions, whether good or bad. Test.

8.      Has the AFCC had an impact on your writing career?

I first attended the AFCC three years ago, to talk about how I used digital publishing resources to develop and promote my books. Many of the people in the audience ended up chatting with me afterwards, and I've ended up working with them, or being interviewed by them, and I've also featured their books on my website. It was also at AFCC that I learnt about the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and so of course I had to join that group. Now I have a nice network of creative friends who are fun, have diverse interests, and really enjoy engaging and entertaining kids through stories.

In short, the answer is "yes”, it has had an impact on me. At AFCC 2015 I met a young comics publisher from KL, named Irfan Foner, and he ended up translating a few of my blog posts about writing stories, so that young comics writers in Malaysia could benefit from the tips.

And thanks also to Linda Tan Lingard of Oyez!Books, who sells some of our paperbacks, and also introduced me to Heidi Shamsuddin for this interview on the Super Cool Books website:

9.      What do you think of the Singapore children's publishing scene? Has it changed through the years?

I think for children's books, Singapore has a very strong and innovative library culture, but the publishing side is still modest and cautious. This is slowly growing, of course. Hopefully I can do something to help with the development.

10.   Question - one of the biggest challenge facing Malaysian writers is getting Malaysian readers to purchase/support our books. How did you manage to overcome this in Singapore?

The internet! Through my blog and other social media activities, I've been lucky to connect with supporters and readers in Singapore, Malaysia and around the world. Also, you should give yourself time. Super Cool Books started in 2011, and it was only last year that I felt the results were encouraging. In contrast, I know of some writers who only try for a few months, or one or two years, and then give up. So my recommended formula is:  Internet + longer time.

For the benefit of the Malaysian Writers FB page

I really appreciate the interaction and support from the Malaysian books community so far, since Super Cool Books started. Some examples:

When we started self-publishing paperbacks for the first time, in 2012, I contacted a few websites in Malaysia about sending them review copies. Brigitte Rozario was running ParenThots back then, and she actually replied. She gave us our first proper review. I was so thrilled. And later on she featured my books in The Star too. Here's that first review:

In 2013 I received a surprise email from a producer at The Breakfast Show, on ntv7. She invited me down to the studio for a live interview about my second Sherlock Hong book, The Peranakan Princess. Again, I was so excited. I wasn't able to travel then, but we did give away some of my Sherlock Hong books on the show that week. I watched the show every day on their website, just to see the giveaway segment. I became a big fan, heh.

We have an education partner in KL, Brain Bytes, who promotes our paperbacks and sells them online. Thanks to them, in 2014, my Diary of Young Justice Bao book was used as the main text for an extended literacy programme at CLiC (Creative Learning and IT Centre, Level 2, UTC Sentul in Sentul Perdana) @ Sentul Raya. This space used to be an old neighbourhood library, and it's been upgraded with Chromebook laptops, internet stations and lots of new books.

Guests at the launch included YB Senator Dato' Dr. Loga Bala Mohan; Secretary General, Ministry of Education Tan Sri Dr. Madinah Mohamad; Chairman of Sentul Raya Sdn Bhd Y.Bhg Dato’ Suleiman Abdul Manan; Executive Director of YTL Foundation, Y.Bhg Datin Kathleen Yeoh; and FrogAsia’s Managing Director, Yeoh Pei Lou.

Top of Form

My links:




Plus, Two FREE E-Books from Don Bosco:

My simple PDF guide to creating and marketing your own ebooks. It's free. Get it here.

A creative writing framework for fleshing out your story concept, based on the basics of dramatic structure and creative journalling. Also a free PDF. Get it here.