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Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Linn Shekinah, author of several Asian-flavoured picture books. By that, I mean spiced up with Star Anise, Chilli and other flavourful characters. Linn was a winner of the Book Council’s First Time Writers and Illustrators Publishing Initiative with The Watchtower Warrior. She is presently publishing her 5-picture book Asian Spice Kids series, which is sponsored by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism.

Linn (2nd from left) with preschool educators

Linn (2nd from left) with preschool educators

1. When did you decide that you wanted to be an author of children’s books? Was there one particular moment that sparked that?

Linn: Well, no, not one particular moment. In fact, there are several defining, revelatory moments. It will take a book to capture all these milestones and epiphanies. To be a writer and an author is a calling.

Dou-Dou

2. Your books—The Watchtower Warrior, Dou Dou, The Imperial Chef and Asian Spice Kids— have Asian flavour. What inspires that aspect of your writing?

Linn: Oh it is not deliberate. I love arts, culture and history especially everything pertaining to Asia so I guess it comes out naturally in my writing. Asia offers a treasure trove of content ideas waiting to be mined.

Asian Spice Kids book 1

Asian Spice Kids book 1

3. Congratulations on your Asian Spices series! What was the inspiration behind your characters?

Linn: Thank You! What inspired me to create the Asian Spice Kids characters? Food, glorious food, the multifaceted beauty of ingredients, friendships and self-absorbed brats…oh, I mean, challenging children.

4. What are some of your favorite books from childhood? Why?

Linn: Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It is magical, whacky and of course the irresistible chocolates and candies. St. Clare Series and The Malory Towers Series by Enid Blyton. The romantic idea of boarding school—midnight feasts, playing pranks and living with friends rather than parents—fascinates me.

5. What is your hope for children’s books from Asia?

Linn: I hope children’s books from Asia will be tomorrow’s classics and our books will find a place in the hearts of reviewers, educators, parents and children – globally! And not resting on some dusty bookshelf of some obscure library.

 

Asian-spiced kid during food tasting

Asian-spiced kid during food tasting

Mummum: Linn, you certainly captured the hope of many of us in Asia who look forward to our books travelling into the hands of children around the world. Read a review of Star Anise, Superstar! here and also check out the Linn Loves Little Lit blog.

 

What do children’s picture books, early chapter books and poetry have in common?

From picture book Tibby & Duckie

From picture book Tibby & Duckie

This Saturday 1st November, the Singapore Writer’s Festival’s panel on Animal Attack will discuss how our works have everything to do with animals!

I will be on the panel with Eliza Teoh, bestselling author of her Ellie Belly series and publisher of Bubbly Books, and Marc Nair, prolific poet and photographer. We’ll be attacking the subject of animals in children’s content.

Animal Attack!
1st November
4-5pm
The Salon, National Museum of Singapore

Festival Pass Event

Come immerse in art at the National Museum venue and stop by to join Eliza Teoh, Marc Nair and me in the conversation with us about all things wild and furry!

SWF panel 2012: David Almond, Me, John Dougherty, David Seow (credit: Catherine Carvell)

SWF panel 2012: David Almond, Me, John Dougherty, David Seow (credit: Catherine Carvell)

Today, Mummum has the pleasure of speaking to seven-times New York Times bestselling author, educator and writing coach Emma Walton Hamilton. Her full bio extends pages, so I will just point you to her website. Did I also mention that she is daughter of Hollywood actress Julie Andrews and both mother-daughter team have written several immensely popular children’s books together?

New York Times bestselling children's books author

1. You have a stellar career in the children’s books market, as bestselling author, educator and writing coach. What would you say has been two most satisfying moments in your involvement in this market?

New York Times Bestseller

New York Times Bestseller

Ans: Of all the fields I’ve worked in, I find children’s lit to be one of the most rewarding. Unlike much adult literature, no matter how dark the subjects that children’s books tackle may be, they are ultimately, inherently, hopeful… offering some sense of resilience, or championship of the human spirit. And the people who write them and illustrate them and publish them and sell them are some of the nicest people in the world – which makes it a very lovely world to be a part of. It’s hard to narrow all the satisfying moments down to just two specific incidents, so I’ll give you one general and one specific one.
First of all, there is nothing more rewarding for a children’s book author than doing a school visit, and seeing the joy or interest on children’s faces as you read a story you have written for its intended audience. The questions, comments or enthusiasm of even just one young reader can provide me with enough energy to go back to months of sometimes solitary slogging away at the computer.

New York Times bestseller too

New York Times bestseller too

I am also fortunate in that I work as a teacher, editor and coach for aspiring children’s book authors, and I get so much pleasure out of seeing a student or client achieve their dream of getting published! Just recently, a former student and editing client of mine (and also a good friend), Susan Verde, had her first picture book, “The Museum,” illustrated by one of my favorite author/illustrators, Peter H. Reynolds, and published by Abrams. Because I introduced Peter to Susan, his dedication in the book was to me. I felt like the world’s happiest midwife. Talk about a thrill!
2.When did you first decide that you wanted to be an author? Can you name a specific moment that triggered that?

Ans: I wrote prolifically as a kid – poems, stories, novels – yet whenever someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said things like “a vet,” “an actor,” etc.

My Mom would always counter, “She says that now, but she’s going to be a writer.”

I ended up being an actor for a while, and then became a director, and a producer, and an arts educator (never a vet, though!). But all the while I kept writing, mostly children’s books.

18 years ago, my Mom and I started writing together, and I’ve never looked back. To date, we’ve written close to 30 books for kids of all ages, and all those other jobs (with the exception of arts education, which I still do) fell by the wayside.

 
3. I have to ask this question. What’s it like writing books together with your mother?

A discovery of self and one's gifts

A discovery of self and one’s gifts

Ans: Mom and I are both enormously grateful for the joy our collaboration brings us… we didn’t necessarily know that would be the case when we first started writing together, although we had worked together successfully in other mediums, such as film and theater. But we’re both fairly opinionated ladies (read: bossy!) and we were well aware that it could be problematic.

Happily, we have found we have different and complementary strengths, which seems to be the main factor in keeping the collaboration smooth, and our professional relationship has also done wonders for our mother/daughter relationship. We’ve been very aware of the benefits of time spent being creative and brainstorming together, as opposed to indulging in less productive mother/daughter stuff, like discussing health issues, weight management, or family dramas!

Generally speaking, when we begin a new story, we brainstorm the big idea first. We talk about theme, and dramatic arc – the beginning, middle, and end – what the central problem is, and how it gets solved. If it’s a chapter book or novel, we’ll do a chapter breakdown. Then we start writing. At that point it becomes a process of finishing each other’s sentences. We literally think out loud, and I take it all down on the computer – I’m the scribe. Ideally, we’re in the same room together, but we often work via Skype or iChat. At the end of every session, I’ll email the day’s work, which we then review and edit separately. We compare notes at the beginning of the next session, and press on from there.

Emma with mother Julie Andrews

Emma with mother Julie Andrews

Can you share one golden moment when you were completely in sync and one moment where you had divergent views on a story? 

In terms of moments of being particularly in sync, it happens all the time. As I said before, we typically finish each other’s sentences when we’re working, and often shout out the same word at the same time if we’re searching for something specific. I think that comes from being mother-daughter, and also from the longevity of our collaboration now.

We rarely have really divergent views – but if we do, we have a sort of tacit agreement that “the best idea wins.” That means if one of us is particularly passionate or articulate about a certain idea, then the other one generally defers. There’s a lot of give and take, and a lot of mutual respect – and as I said, we are very aware of our differing strengths. So far, that system has really worked for us and we’ve never (touch wood!) really come to blows.

 

4.What is your favourite book from childhood? Why?

Amazon.com #1 Bestseller

Amazon.com #1 Bestseller

Ans: The book I returned to most often as a kid was Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth. It was my rainy-day book – I loved nothing more than curling up with it in front of the fire on a rainy day. It’s about a bored little boy named Milo, who one day discovers a tollbooth in his room, drives his toy car through it and embarks on a great adventure. The book is a total celebration of language. Milo visits places like Dictionopolis and Digitopolis, where he literally “eats his words” and “jumps to Conclusions” and befriends a Watch Dog named Tock, among other strange and wonderful characters. All the abundant wordplay really captured my imagination, and thinking about it now, it may well have been one of the contributing factors to my wanting to be a writer.

5. What are your first words of advice to aspiring authors?

Ans: OK, here are the essentials, in my opinion:

1) Read. Steep yourself in the culture of the world or genre you are writing for by reading everything you can. That’s not to say you should imitate anyone else – but it is a business, and I think it’s hugely important to really know and understand what the standards, formats, and market trends are… and, as Billy Collins says, to think about what you can contribute to the ‘conversation.’ People often make the mistake of thinking “I was a kid once, and I know what I liked” or referencing books from their childhood, but children’s publishing has changed dramatically in the last 20 to 30 years. You have to know what the market is like today, and stay plugged in as it evolves – no matter what genre you write for.

2) Hone your craft. Take classes and workshops, attend conferences. Keep stretching, learning, sharpening your skills – even (or maybe especially) after you’ve sold your first manuscript.

3) Find community. Writing can be a solitary business. I’m lucky – I write with a partner, work for a graduate writing program and host a membership site for children’s book authors, but it’s really important to find your tribe and connect with them regularly. Find a supportive critique group, join forums, take classes, attend conferences, whatever it takes to connect with other writers. It will keep you sane, and honest.

4) Diversify your strengths. It’s the rare writer that makes a living solely from writing. Even the most successful writers in the world have to augment their income with things like teaching, editing, or speaking engagements. Find ways to support your writing habit. Be willing to have a day job, to do whatever it takes… but whenever possible, try to make those other sources of income writing-related, such as freelance writing, editing, teaching, etc. It makes it easier.

 

Future Mum-and-son writing team

Future Mum-and-son writing team

Mummum: Emma, thanks for a treasure mine of practical advice. I’m at the final lesson of your on-line 14-week Just Write for Middle Grade course. It’s been so valuable in helping me shape, frame and structure my Big Idea for my manuscript. I love the worksheets, questions and bite-size worksheets which stretch my mind and yet, does not overwhelm me. That really gives me a good foundation given that I’m trying to expand from 500-word picture book manuscripts to 20 times the number of words in chapter book writing! Read more about Emma here!

Today, I am taking part in the It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? meme hosted by Jen of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee of Unleashing Readers.

mondayreading1

Monday Reading2

 

I have not been able to blog on my Monday Readings over the past few weeks with various things happening. For starters, my latest picture book is out. Yay! Tibby & Duckie will be launching at the Singapore Writer’s Festival in early November.

Friendship, discovery and swimming!

Friendship, discovery and swimming!

Over the weekend, I read A Boy, A Bear and A Boat.

Early Chapter Book on Journeys, Patience & Perspectives

Early Chapter Book on Journeys, Patience & Perspectives

 

* Winner of Branford Boase Award

Published by Corgi Yearling, Random House

7 years & up

I bought this book on the cover, the title and John Boyne’s front cover praise which said “One of my favourite books of the year”. Yes, book covers make all the difference in being picked up and bought!

On reading, I then realised the entire book is literally about a boy and a bear on a boat.

A bear picks a boy up on shore and captains him to his destination. Except they get lost and learn to get along with each other on a tiny rowboat. I was intrigued by where this was going so I finished the book in one read.

This is a chapter book/early reader (one level below middle grade). It has juicy verbs and fun language and I love the illustrations sprinkled every 5-10 odd pages throughout. I have to say the author masterfully pulled off quite a difficult premise by coming up with enough challenges in a single scene book. Very clever and original for sure.

A Boy A Bear on a Boat page

I like the characters who are very strong. A ukulele-playing, tea-sipping bear who takes great pride in rowing his boat, with his captain hat and briefcase of weird flavoured sandwiches (eg. one sandwich had broccoli, sherbert and gooseberry). A young boy who was bored to tears by the days of nothing but seamless blue skies, blue seas and no entertainment beyond getting along with an eccentric bear who enjoys the nothingness of the sea.

It’s a fun and well-written read with certain chapters that I really like. But towards the end, it felt a bit long for me and I kept wondering when they will get off the boat. (Think Sandra Bullock in Gravity and Tom Hanks in Cast Away.)

It’s been a while since I counted my blessings here. But with such an eventful past week, I thought it was a good time to pause and thank God:

1. Littworld 2015

Recently, I had the privilege to be invited to serve on the Asia board of trustees for Media Associates International. We had our first new-board meeting over the weekend and I will be part of the Host Committee making preparations for Littworld, a key Christian publishing conference to be held in Singapore for the first time next year. More on that soon.

One Big Story - artwork by Malaysian Illustrator Emila Yusof (AFCC 2013)

One Big Story – artwork by Malaysian Illustrator Emila Yusof (AFCC 2013)

2. AFCC 2015

As part of the programme committee for the Writers and Illustrators tract of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC), we had a meeting this week to discuss speakers for next year’s festival. I wrote my first children’s book manuscript Prince Bear & Pauper Bear as a result of my Book Council’s First Time Writer’s Publishing Initiative in 2007 and the support of its Executive Director Mr Rama, who is also Founder of the AFCC. Being able to now assist Mr Rama, for whom I deeply respect, in whatever small capacity I can, is something I am thankful to do.

3.Tibby & Duckie

I’m thrilled and thankful for my latest book Tibby & Duckie, which I wrote earlier this year. It was the fastest manuscript which I have written and revised with the most number of critiques in the shortest time, thanks to my amazing critique group from the 12×12 community (all the way across the world in the U.S. and yet just one email click away!) and Singapore writer friends.

 

4.The Word in Finding My Voice

And finally, something completely unexpected. A church friend texted to tell me that her 14-year old daughter’s Secondary 2 listening comprehension exam in school last week was on my personal story of how I started writing after struggling with a rare voice disorder Spasmodic Dysphonia.

Finding My Voice – a true story of setbacks, new beginnings and toy characters was my memoir which I had been apprehensive to write. It’s one thing to write allegorically using stuff toys as characters. It’s something else writing in first person about things personal.

Thank God for encouragers like Geraldine who gave me a timely reminder that my small seeds of writing do serve a purpose though I sometimes forget and recently burrowed myself back into a big rabbit hole!

P.S.
Had dinner with some friends last night and they told me that their daughter’s Sec 2 listening comprehension exam (in a different school from the first friend) also had an excerpt based on my personal story. Looks like it may have been standardized use and not set by one school?! I’m surprised, amazed and humbly honoured if that is the case.

 

Today, I celebrate Happy Hatch-Day for Tibby & Duckie, my sequel picture book to Tibby The Tiger-Bunny. I picked up my copies from my publisher Epigram Books shortly after they received it hot off the press today!

Friendship, discovery and swimming!

Friendship, discovery and swimming!

 

Tibby & Duckie Hatch-Day

Tibby & Duckie Hatch-Day

Now comfortable in his own skin from his journey in Picture Book 1, Tibby the Tiger-Bunny lends a paw to Duckie, one very confused sinking duck! Tibby finds ways to help Duckie swim – but nothing works. Tibby wonders if Duckie is a swimming kind of duck and helps his friend discover who she really is.

Tibby & Duckie will be launched at the upcoming Singapore Writers Festival on Saturday 8th November 2014  at 2.30-3.30pm. I’m excited to be doing a joint launch with fellow Epigram author Jason Erik Lundberg and illustrator Patrick Yee and their new books too! Details here.

 

Free downloadable children's e-bookAlmost two years ago, I was approached by a creative agency to write stories for their client’s new Canon Pixmatown website with a variety of arts and crafts available by several well-known artists for an Asian readership.

When I asked how they came to know my books, I was told my name had come from a senior agency person. As it turned out, his daughter loved Prince Bear & Pauper Bear, my debut picture book. I was thrilled to hear that it came from a reader :)

I have since written several e-picture books for Canon Pixmatown:

- Little Kancheong Spider

- Kuching & Kura

- The Colours of Tao Huay

- Tiger Tiger!

- The Giving Garden

- Jaja’s Treasure (out end of this year)

The first 5 stories can now be downloaded and printed out for FREE from the Canon site.

As an aside, there are other printable crafts which the Canon Pixmatown printer can execute as well.

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