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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.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Nights of the Dark Moon

Nights of the Dark Moon

I'm thrilled to announce the publication of my 9th book: Nights of the Dark Moon, published by Marshall Cavendish Editions. Edited by She-Reen Wong (Editor) and designed by Bernard Go (Creative Manager), who also designed the cover and digitally put together the illustrations. The Associate Publisher involved in the project was Lee Mei Lin.

Photographic elements incorporated into the back cover and some of the illustrations were used with the kind permission of an old friend from Universiti Putra Malaysia, Chee Keong Choy, a passionate traveller, photographer and foodie, who divides his time between Portland, Oregon; Bali, Indonesia and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

 It will be sold in major bookstores towards the end of April 2017, in both Malaysia and Singapore, and can be ordered online from:

Nights of the Dark Moon took a really long time to see the light of day - the first story to be written was probably King Vikram and Betaal the Vampire (classic folktale from India) in 2005 and the last to be written was The Strange Tale of Chief Naam (an obscure shocker from Negeri Sembilan,) in 2015. 
It went through many rejections - first by Marshall Cavendish Malaysia in 2011, then Jacaranda Literary agency, Hachette India (they were interested at first), MPH Publishing, Oyez!Books (almost gave me a contract but a disagreement over the illustrator blew it - reminder to self, don't argue with the publisher) and Scholastic Asia (through Daphne Lee). 
Linda Tan Lingard from Oyez was still interested in the manuscript and passed a copy to Raman from  SilverfishBooks. However, they took too long to reply, by then the contract with Marshall Cavendish Asia had already been signed. I was back to square one as Marshall-Cavendish was my first publisher, they were the people who published Timeless Tales of Malaysia. Many thanks to Christine Chong and Manjula Aryadura for this.

Over the years, all the stories had gone through major revisions so this version of the manuscript is quite different from the original submissions. In fact, I was making revisions to the text at two weeks before printing...
Some of the comments I've received: 'dark and disturbing, but I can't stop thinking about the book,' 'stories are good but written in a childlike style... ' and 'The stories are horrific but the marketing team likes it so we will publish it!'

The tiny figure holding a lamp on the book cover is this mysterious creature. The creepy effect is enhanced by the ghostly plants in the background - taken from a photograph of grass flowers glowing in the winter sun by Chee Keong Choy. MC's design studio turned the cheerful scene into an eldritch one...

The Curse of Miryang was one of the most difficult story to write in the collection. The story went through several revisions through the years as I uncovered more facts about this Korean legend, mainly from Internet sources. Even the illustration was fraught with difficulties and went through a several revisions. The final image appeared somewhat stiff but it was the best I could do, short of tearing the whole thing up (which happened a few times) and starting all over again.  

The Tiger of Flower Hill is dark and funny. A group of young scholars have a penchant for picnics on a picturesque hill, where they amuse themselves by composing (bad) poems. Unbeknownst to them, a tiger (with a fine sense of poetry) is lurking in the shadows...

The Seven Princesses of Ulek Mayang - the story was inspired by the song, Ulek Mayang, from the East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia (I've blogged about this before - The Mystery of Ulek Mayang) and based loosely on a story I read on the Internet.

One of the folktales in the collection, Princess of the Bamboo, has been published before in Nin Harris'Truancy:

Friday, January 27, 2017

TRUANCY Vol 3 : 26 December 2016

TRUANCY Vol 3 is out!

Truancy is a microzine, helmed by Nin Harris. Check out my story, Princess of the Bamboo, described by Nin as 'a gorgeous revision of the Malay folktale and an Indian folktale.'

Truancy 3, December 2016