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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Writers' Circle Meeting

September 8, 2007
I finally attended a Writers' Circle meeting, organised by MPH at 1 Utama (a frighteningly gigannormous and somewhat user-unfriendly shopping complex!) As the speaker was children's book reviewer Daphne Lee, whom I had wanted to meet for some time, I just had to turn up. The moderator was Sharon Bakar, a book editor and self-confessed bibliophile.

Daphne was speaking on the daunting topic of "How to write good children's books"! In general, I agree with most of the points she made. The gist:

Daphne's advice was first of all, not to dummy down a book as she believes children should read above their level ( I agree). She also does not believe in teaching or preaching in her books - if a certain moral position occurs naturally that is fine but she will not write for the sole purpose of preaching (absolutely!). However, according to Daphne, writers should not be afraid to address serious/thorny issues or bad behaiviour in their books. Her advice is to know what you want to say and to be true to the story and the characters and also to yourself.

There was a lively discussion after the talk. One of the members of the audience asked if one should write about topics of current interest or follow certain popular trends etc According to Daphne, one should alwys write about something we are passionate about otherwise we will not give our best to the book. Point taken, but it doesn't hurt to keep an eye on current trends!

The topic than turned towards marketing books. Eric Forbes, from MPH publishing, gave the advice, that from the marketing point of view, it was better to publish a series of books on the same subject or with the same characters. We all agreed with this as a book will be "lost" by itself among so many books in a bookstore. I also pointed out the fact that my daughter, who is an avid reader, often said that she preferred books with several sequels! (She also thinks a book with less than 200 pages is not worth reading) From the psychological point of view, I think we grow to like a certain character in a book and regard him/her as a friend and therefore want to 'visit' them often!

Another participant thought that children's books should be published as cheaply as possible and should not be too good in terms of quality! Naturally, this was a position I totally disagreed with. I said children's books should be as high quality as possible because they are treasured and read and re-read for a long time. Adults fiction, on the other hand end up in the bin after one reading!

As I had to rush off to pick up my daughter, I didn't get to meet Daphne after all.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Rumah Ku Book Group

I belong to a Children's Book Writers' Club and we meet once a month to read and critique each other's work. We always meet on the last Thursday of the month at the same time and place.
I've only been a member of this club for about six months and I was introduced to the club by Eleanor, who is an old friend of mine.
Apart from giving constructive criticsms, members of the Club also act as a support group and try to help each other get our works published. Hyacinth has already found a publisher (SASBADI) and her series of books for young adults should be out soon!

August 30, 2007: Gwen presented a story about a child's birthday party and a clown who had brought rabbits with him to entertain the children. Hyacinth liked it but I thought that Gwen should make the relationship between the children/characters clearer. Gwen said that she wrote from a child's point of view.

The members also gave their comments about a folktale I rewrote called Manohra. Hyacinth thought that the ending was too abrupt, as if I wanted to end the story as quickly as possible! Eleanor agreed with Hyacinth and commented that Manohra changed her mind and accepted the prince back too easily after she had decided to leave him. I had to admit that they were right as I had left out the seven years of hardship the prince had to go through to win her back!

I also announced that Kim's book "Ah Fu, the Rickshaw Coolie", published by MPH, is already out in bookstores. Interested readers can refer to her blog for more information regarding this book.

July 27, 2007: All of us were present except for Eleanor. Gwen presented a story about a child who was not happy with the present his grandfather had bought him. However certain events proved how useful the present was. We all liked the story.

The group also critiqued my story "The Sister", which was based on a Korean folktale. Judy didn't like it and said there was nothing she could take from the story as it was too depressing! Hyacinth liked it however and said it was characteristic of Asian folktales which often have sad endings. Gwen asked if the story was about a werewolf and Hyacinth siad it was about a werefox (a nine-tailed fox demon, actually!)

Other comments: Gwen said that pollen (like fish) is always singular! She also pointed out that landowner has a different meaning from landlord (a landowner works his own land, a landlord rents out his land to others). Judy said that the expression "at the end of her tether" is too obscure for today's children and I should change it to something simpler e.g. "at a loss"!
I had a lot of corrections to do!

June 17, 2007. The group met at Rumah Ku and was joined by John Lee from Sasbadi and S.K. Maniam, a noted Malaysian writer. John Lee briefed us about the kind of stories Sasbadi is looking for: books for young adults focusing on social problems. Not exactly our cup of tea as the club members write stories for younger children, while I write stories for young adults based on folktales.

Judy asked S.K. Maniam if he wrote books for children as well. According to him, even novels for adults requires one to be able to write with a child's voice as there are many characters in a book.

When the gentlemen left, the group reviewed a story by Gwen about an excitable child. Everyone liked it but suggested that the ending needed to be jazzed-up a bit. Eleanor presented her story (in rhyming verses) about elephant poachers in Borneo. We suggested a more plausible ending for the story. We were fascinated by the fact that elephants ate durians by swallowing the entire fruit!

The group also reveiwed my story, "Bawang Putih And Bawang Merah". Most of the group had heard of the story before in one form or other.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


This blog is named after the four symbolic plants of Asia:

BETEL - Known as 'sirih' in Malay and 'paan' in Hindi and Bengali. The leaves of the Betel vine is chewed with slivers of Areca nut with a dash of white lime. The Betel leaf and the Areca nut has been associated with marriage and friendship throughout the Tropical Monsoon lands of Asia; from India all the way to Vietnam and the Philippines! In the past, a marriage proposal in these countries must always be accompanied by a tray of betel quids.

According to Mabel Cook Cole, a Philippina folklorist: 'The betel-nut is the nut of the areca palm. It is prepared for chewing by being cut into quarters, each piece being wrapped in betel-leaf spread with lime. It produces a blood-red spittle which greatly discolors the teeth and lips, and it is used extensively throughout the Philippines. While it appears to have been in common use among the Tinguian at the time these stories originated, it has now been displaced by tobacco, except at ceremonies when it is prepared for chewing; it is also placed on the animals offered for sacrifice to the spirits. Throughout the tales great significance is given to the chewing of betel-nuts before names are told or introductions given, while from the quids and spittle it appears to have been possible to foretell events and establish relationships.

BANYAN - This is the tree most favored by the Buddha as a resting place and is believed to be blessed. The Banyan tree, also known as the Bodhi, is found all over Asia and is believed by many to harbor benevolent tree spirits. The Banyan and the Sacred Fig are revered by Buddhists.

BASIL - The Asian Basil is also known as Holy Basil (Tulsi) and is the plant most favored by Vishnu; any offerings to Vishnu must include a sprig of Tulsi. Holy Basil also plays an important role in Buddhist rites as the Buddha is believed to be an avatar of Vishnu. The leaves of the Holy Basil is also widely used in cooking in Thailand and Myanmar.

BAMBOO - Bamboo is one of the four noble plants in Chinese culture and is thought to represent the quality of endurance and steadfastness. The Bamboo is important in both a symbolic as well as practical way. The beautiful plant appears in many paintings and as decoration in art and household objects. The stem of the bamboo is also important for making furniture, household items and even musical instruments. The Bamboo plants only flowers once in its lifetime of about 50 years and dies immediately after that.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


As they say in Lagos, "My friend, you are welcome!"

I welcome any comments from friends and family, book writers and readers, and in particular members of the children's book writers group, I belong to: Eleanor, Gwen, Judy and Hyacinth. My old friends from the JAL 78 group are also very much welcomed for their unique 'outsiders' views!

I had some help from fellow blogger and children's book writer, Kim ( in creating this blog. Thanks Kim! As I haven't quite mastered the fine art of blogging, it will be a shaky ride in the begining!

This first 'issue' will be about my first book - Twelve Treasures of the East (by Tutu Dutta Yean & Lucy Bedoya Maire) - as there are some ready reviews and write-ups of the book. I can't talk about my second book as I am still struggling with the concept!