Archive for the ‘High Chair Conversations’ Category

Today, I am pleased to feature a special High Chair Conversation with former political journalist Hwee Goh. Hwee and I reconnected 8 years ago at the Book Council’s Asian Children’s Writers & Illustrators Conference in 2007 where I was just embarking on writing my debut children’s book Prince Bear & Pauper Bear. Like true blue Singaporeans, we bonded over Yakun kaya toast and teh si, immediately after lunch. That’s when we realised we had a similar appetite for things.

Hwee Goh photo

Timmy & Tammy Discover Series for Young Readers

Timmy & Tammy Discover Series for Young Readers

So I’m doubly pleased that Hwee has now debuted as an author with a first book that is right down her alley. Hwee was on the press corp that accompanied Modern Singapore’s Founding Father Mr Lee Kuan Yew on his overseas trips. Now, as mum to four kids, she is a walking repository on children’s books. She’s combined both experiences to research and write a kid-friendly book on Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

I asked her to give a sneak peek into her heady days of high-level news reporting and her current station with early readers.

1. You were on Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s press corps when he traveled overseas, in the years he was Senior Minister from 1997-2002. 
a) How did you feel on your first overseas news trip with him?
Hwee: I must have been in my usual high adrenaline mode – to listen, observe and kill ourselves putting the news out as soon as possible! I suppose it was all done with this in mind – that Mr Lee was watching us too, and ready to question me back if I asked a question that wasn’t based on good research, or sound foreign relations! 

b) What was one memorable nugget from your 7 years on his press corp?

Hwee: I think it would have to be the few times he went to Kuala Lumpur to meet with the Malaysian leaders. It was so fascinating to watch the dynamics between him and Malaysia’s then Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and no matter which side, everyone we met (officials, media) were in awe of Lee Kuan Yew whether in a respectful way, or a slightly grudging way.
And now with hindsight from delving into his life further for the book, I’m sure that topmost in Mr Lee’s mind, while balancing relations with Malaysia, was getting a good deal to further secure water supply to Singapore. This was before Singapore then moved on to alternative ways to enhance water supply with NEWater and desalination. This was Mr Lee in his 70s already, never letting up on getting what he wanted for Singapore.

2a) Share 2 things you learnt from your 15 years as a political journalist.
– Keep calm. If you get the interview or story that you want, then good. If you don’t, the news goes out with or without it.
– Try again. If I were the anxious sort who had to have something happen a certain way, I couldn’t survive the crazy days there!
– Be yourself. Friends will say I am the ‘Act Blur’ sort, which was probably a defence against the harsher parts of a news journalism environment. I’d just add, “Act Blur and Do Your Own Thing Well”. As a news journalist, you have to make dozens of cold calls a day to try to get a news angle or news story together. So being yourself really breaks down barriers between you and a contact because he/she would be much more willing to help you.
Inside Page of Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew

Inside Page of Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew

b) Tell us 2 treasures you discovered when researching and writing Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew.
Hwee: I read Mr Lee’s memoirs again, this time not as a journalist, but more as a writer delving into what kind of a person he was, not as much his policy. I came back with:
– Singapore was really his home. Mr Lee kept his eye on everything that might possibly need improving in Singapore till he died. If he saw a rotting tree along the road, he’d call the NParks. If he worried excessively on securing water supply to Singapore, he thought of a plan 20 years even before it became reality (read the book!). For that, despite what some critics may say about him, I can only be appreciative. 
– He loved his wife Kwa Geok Choo deeply. I knew this but reading his words again just made me feel in awe all over again. He admired her, respected her and loved her as an equal, and as an equally-intelligent partner.
Imagine Singapore on the dawn of Separation from Malaysia, suddenly independent, and Lee Kuan Yew worried, fretted only for a moment and then “just did it”. Who did he look to for help with securing water supply from Malaysia? His wife. She was best with wording these agreements (read the book!).
How did Lee Kuan Yew write in such a readable, concise manner? His wife! She would parse words with him and read through his draft speeches, memoirs and they would both work late into the night. It was an amazing partnership.
3. Did any of your journalistic skills prepare you for your next chapter of raising four kids? Tell us one!
Hwee: Um. Hmmmm. Not really. Having my firstborn in the U.S. was hard and years of stressful high adrenaline journalism didn’t really help! And I only have half the patience at home than I ever had at work. Haha! 
So I’d have to say maybe being a journalist honed my massive multi-tasking skills that I still employ now.
4. a) What prompted you to start Hwee’s Book Share Club? Your recent post on a “big box sale” reached 10,000 people.
Hwee: I did it on a whim while waiting for my boys at golf one Saturday in November last year. But I think the biggest impetus at that time was that on average, I was asked for book recommendations once or twice a week and I would look for the physical book, or find it online, snap pictures, look through reviews if I haven’t read the book, then share it on email or whatsapp with the friend who asked.
Unsolicited, I would also send out good books that I saw while browsing online and email links to some friends. Friends also liked to look at my “book loot”, which are just pictures of books I bought! I had also just finished a year with some mums of Primary 1 kids who had worked together to bring up the reading of all the girls in the group, through sharing pictures of their girls reading, the good books that worked, etc. This convinced me that peer-sharing of books is the way to go. Hence, Hwee’s Book Share Club was birthed!
b) Tell us why you love children’s books?
Hwee: They are the best books to read because they have to be interesting, clearly written and full of imagination in order to be read by a child. The best ones are the ones with a second layer (usually humour or clever writing) for the adult or older child.
5. What’s your favorite book from childhood? Why?
Hwee: I had different favourites at different ages, so maybe the Enchanted Wood series by Enid Blyton.

6. What’s the first word that comes to mind in your new chapter as a published author?
Hwee: Stress!!
Mummum: This is the final week to pre-order Timmy & Tammy Discover: Lee Kuan Yew  at Armour Publishing’s e-store before it launches. Pre-orders from now till 10 July come AUTOGRAPHED and with FREE delivery (within Singapore)! What better SG50 book to gift your friends and children? Majullah Singapura!
Related link:

Read Full Post »

Today, Mummum ends its 2nd season of High Chair Conversations with distinguished author Ying Chang Compestine. Named one of “50 Great Writers You Should Be Reading” by the Author’s Show, Ying has contributed to Cooking Light, EatingWell, Self, Men’s Health, Christian Science Monitor, and many other prestigious national publications. A leading national authority in the U.S. on Asian culture and cuisine, award-winning author and former food editor for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine, Ying is the versatile and prolific author of 20 books including five cookbooks. She is the host of the popular TV cooking show New Ideas for Delicious Meals on Phoenix TV in the U.S.

Ying Chang Compestine

Ying was in Singapore recently to give a talk organised by our Singapore Book Council. I missed it but we connected nonetheless, thanks to social media!

1. How much of your childhood has impacted your writing?

Ying: In my book Revolution is not a Dinner Party, Ling’s childhood experiences are similar to my own. I was about Ling’s age when my family got caught up in the events of the Cultural Revolution. Ling’s personality is a lot like mine. Many of her emotions and reactions to events draw on my own experiences during the Cultural Revolution, and her way of thinking reflects the way I saw the world as a child. For this reason, developing Ling’s character was the easiest part of writing this book. I was a little spoiled, but I also had a fighting spirit. And like Ling, I yearned for freedom and dreamed about going to America.

Revolution is not a Dinner Party
Other similarities: I grew up in the hospital compound, and had long hair for most of my childhood. My parents were doctors, and my father was a surgeon trained by American missionaries. I was very devoted to my father, but always had a somewhat strained relationship with my mother, so my father was the person to whom I felt closest. He understood me and accepted me for who I was. Like Ling’s father, my father was forced to work as a janitor in the hospital, and then imprisoned in the city jail. He treated all of his patients with compassion, even those who had persecuted him. Many characters and scenes in the book are inspired by people I knew and events I experienced and witnessed.
2. Was there one favourite childhood memory that went into your writing?

Ying: I used to put ponytails on my father, just as Ling does in Revolution is not a Dinner Party. It’s a cherished memory. This represents Ling’s happy life, when she was innocent and playful, and shows her loving relationship with her father. It heightens the scene when her father is taken away, making it more devastating.

Secrets of the Terracota3. Being a mum and author, I’m fascinated that you co-authored a book with your son. What sparked that idea?

Ying: Vinson has been helping me compose emails since middle school, and by high school I started asking him to read and critique my manuscripts. As I watched him evolve into a competent writer, I frequently thought it would be nice for us to work on a book together. Once Vinson became a varsity member of his long distance running team, he became very devoted to his sport and had a full social life to the point where I felt I barely saw him. With his departure for college looming, I thought that a book would be a memorable final project before his departure. Since we had talked about collaborating before, I felt that I should grab the opportunity now!

4. What was it like co-writing with your son Vinson?

Ying: It was a bittersweet experience. Vinson is a very fast thinker, has a broad vocabulary, and is full of ideas, but I had to instill within him the tenacity necessary for the laborious writing process. At one point we ended up scrapping most of our first draft. Many of the chapters have been rewritten multiple times. Sometimes we spent hours on just a single paragraph. I think I eventually convinced him that a good book requires many hours of hard work and one’s heart and soul.

What was the process like?

Ying: We exchanged ideas and discussed the plot on walks on the trail behind our house. After years of assisting me in the kitchen, Vinson had learned a great deal about cooking. We would alternate working on the novel and preparing food.

Crouching tiger5. How different is writing/working with Martha Stewart on food writing compared to working with your current writing? How do you reconcile that?

Ying: Many of my childhood memories are associated with food and books, and both continue to play a very important role in my life. I love to cook, to host dinner parties, to write about food and to read.

Both food and literature play central roles in my book Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party. Food is a featured part of the celebration of good times, as when Ling lingers over homemade ice cream at a neighbor’s home. During the bad times, its absence is a symbol of misery and suffering, as when the Chinese New Year feast is reduced to two pan-fried eggs. Ling’s family is a very intellectual family. Books and foreign magazines are prominent in their apartment, and her father struggles to continue Ling’s education in English even as it becomes dangerous to do so. There’s a direct, physical connection between food and literature in the book. Ling writes poetry on paper with rice water, so that the words can’t be seen by others.


High-Chair dining at 20 months

Ying, thank you for taking up this conversation on my High Chair and sharing how your childhood life has influenced your writing so much, and also your impact on your son’s writing interest. I must get my 3-year old started on writing my emails for me pronto! Right now, he just wants to type C-A-L-E-B and A to Z in 72 font size and highlighted in rainbow colours. But I guess it starts from there!

Read more on Ying’s books here, her interview with Gathering Books whilst in Singapore here and my review of her picture books here.

Read Full Post »

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.


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.


Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

Today, Mummum is pleased to speak to Marjorie Coughlan, Founder of Mirrors Windows Doors, an online magazine spotlighting children’s and Young Adult books with cultural diversity, as resource for librarians, educators, parents and caregivers.

Marjorie was previously editor of the well-regarded Paper Tigers. I first met Marjorie at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she was invited as speaker. She returned to AFCC this year to conduct a book review masterclass with renowned children’s books critic Leonard Marcus.


Marjorie: Hello, Emily – thank you for inviting me to take part in your wonderful High Chair Conversations series.

1. What are 2 things you want everyone to know about Mirrors Windows Doors? What inspired the name?

Marjorie: MWD celebrates multi-cultural diversity in children’s and YA literature from around the world, and promotes good books that open young people to an increased sense of empathy with the world, whether close by and familiar or across the globe.

MWD is aimed chiefly at adults – parents, teachers, librarians – choosing books for young people, though it would be great to introduce an area on the site for young readers at some point down the line.


Mirror_SuzyLeeThe name Mirrors Windows Doors is taken from the metaphor that children need to find themselves in books, as well as gain an outlook on different worlds, whether real or imaginary – and that books provide a conduit for young people to go out into the world confident of their own place in it; stretching out their hands in friendship; and respecting and celebrating the rich diversity of our wonderful human race.

I give a bit of background to this metaphor, and why I love it, on MWD’s About page.


2.How is it different from PaperTigers which you were previously with?

Marjorie: In terms of the ethos of the site, it is no different; and indeed, I hope that MWD will be able to build on PaperTigers’ legacy – and I’m grateful for the support that MWD has received from the wonderful network of PaperTigers supporters in the kidlit world. Like PaperTigers, MWD has a global outlook, highlighting good books in English, wherever they are published, and their creators and publishers, as well as literacy promoters across the world. The PaperTigers site is still available as a very rich archive, and MWD will certainly link to it on a regular basis.

TheHelloGoodbyeWindowA few years ago, PaperTigers set up the Spirit of PaperTigers project, which sent out specially chosen sets of books to schools and libraries in different parts of the world. This aspect of PaperTigers has evolved into the non-profit WaterBridge Outreach (http://www.waterbridgeoutreach.org/) , which combines water projects with the book giving, still at a grass roots level. I am sure that MWD will maintain strong links with WaterBridge Outreach, as regards the books chosen for the book set, and perhaps with more active support in the future.

I suppose the difference, really, is that while PaperTigers was a project of Pacific Rim Voices, MWD is independent. This means that the last few months have been a steep learning curve for me on the technological side! So, on a personal level, it’s great to be able to concentrate on the books properly again, now that the site is up and running.


OldmanAndHisDoor3. What kind of books are you interested to review?

Marjorie: I am interested in reviewing books from any genre and written for any age-group from 0 to YA that exemplify one of the three aspects of the Mirrors Windows Doors metaphor, with a particular focus on ethnic diversity and opening up the world. This often means that a book’s setting may be in a particular country/culture, but the themes will be universal. I don’t usually review books that I don’t like – not because I won’t write a negative review, but because the purpose of MWD is to promote good literature and I have a limited amount of time to write my reviews. I am open to reviewing self-published books, as well as books in English or bilingual with English from publishing houses anywhere in the world.


4. What’s your favourite book from childhood? Why?

Marjorie: Oh dear, one book? I am definitely going to have to cheat on this one! There are quite a few books from my childhood that still resonate with me as an adult but I’ve whittled it down to these few… I grew up with Beatrix Potter and Alison Uttley’s Little Grey Rabbit books (illustrated by Margaret Tempest) and I still love the illustrations especially. As a child, the stories and the characters really lived for me. I still think of Timmy Tiptoes every time I see a grey squirrel; and teasel will always be Little Grey Rabbit’s hair brush (http://www.plantlife.org.uk/wild_plants/plant_species/teasel). It probably helped that I was surrounded by the English Lake District/countryside landscapes they were set in too. Some of our family’s copies had belonged to my mother, mostly, and some to my father, when they were children; and even when I was small, I loved the thick, old paper that had blank pages – I think my love of the physical book, and especially old books, right down to the smell, started then.

Gobbolino the Witch's CatI loved all the Babar stories – my Dad’s old Babar and Father Christmas, a much bigger book to hold than any of my own, was at my Grandad’s house. I remember vividly the day I was finally able to read the strange curly font for myself, rather than getting Dad to read it to me – and elephants have always been my favourite animal.

I read and re-read Ursula Moray Williams’ Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and The Little Wooden Horse – their terrible ordeals and their consistent faith that they would get through them – and the fact, of course, that they did – and without their characters being blighted – are all aspects that I must have lived at the time, though I might not have been able to say it then. The books both made me cry when I read them to my sons a few years ago.

I suppose the stories that have stayed my companions since first reading them as an older child are Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, and Little Women – I read them and their sequels every two or three years. I think Anne, especially, has offered something new at every reading as I have got older and I empathise with her at the different stages of her life. And one day I will visit Prince Edward Island!


5.What’s the first word that describes your reading style?

Marjorie: I would say ‘absorbed’: within about five seconds of getting my nose in a book, I become oblivious to my surroundings. This can be annoying for the family and has its inconveniences like missing train stops, but is great when you’re waiting in a long queue!

Thank you, Emily, I’ve enjoyed ‘chatting’ with you and look forward to welcoming you to MWD.


Mummum: Marjorie, thanks for sharing about your exciting new site. I look forward to seeing myself in the mirrors, looking through the windows and walking through the doors of your impactful book reviews!

I usually end with a photo of Caleb on my High Chair Conversations post. But thanks to Marjorie, I’m putting a different face to childish behaviour here.

Marjorie3 (DavidSeow&me)

Eagle-eyed Marjorie glimpsed how kidlit rivalry can get when children’s authors get “up in arms” trying to get “ahead” of one another and captured this storyboard through her reviewer lens.

Read Full Post »

Today, Mummum is talking to Dr Ken Spillman, one of Australia’s most prolific and versatile authors, editors and critics. Ken also sits on the Board of Advisers for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, which I am involved in at the programme committee level.

Ken Spillman

1. You are a very prolific author and speaker. Can you take us back in time to how you got your big break with your first book published?

Ken: During my late teens I wrote short stories and poems, and the publication of these in highly regarded Australian literary magazines gave me confidence that I could succeed as an author.

Immediately after completing a degree, I was commissioned to write a history book. This resulted in many more commissions and the problem then became carving out enough time to pursue creative work. Nevertheless, I kept writing and publishing stories and poems for adults while also publishing history books until my first novel appeared in 1999. The success of that book was a turning point in my career – from then on, I was 100% committed to my own ideas and much less interested in writing non-fiction for a living.

Jake's Cooking Craze - front cover2.Name 2 moments when you knew for sure that being an author of children’s books was your calling.

Ken: I didn’t think seriously about writing for children until I had published about 10 books for adults. At that time, the highlight of my day was reading stories to my own young children. I read with great passion, using different voices for all the characters.

One day, one of my sons asked in all innocence: “Why don’t you write some interesting books?”

I thought about that for a while, and found myself actually agreeing with him! I had always loved kids and I had always loved stories – it just seemed natural to put those two things together.

The 2nd “moment” occurred when I started doing school visits. I loved interacting with young readers and soon discovered that I had a natural connection with them, not only as an author but as an entertainer.


3. Which is your favourite book from childhood. Why?

Ken: I was entranced by Robin Hood. Apart from the adventure, the whole idea of a righteous outsider standing up to authority and supporting the poor appealed to me – and perhaps helped shaped me. I loved Mark Twain’s stories too, and I think that’s because they fulfilled my fantasies about a life beyond parental control.

My favourite children’s books now are really books for all ages, like The Little Prince and Dr Seuss’s wonderful The Sneetches.


The Circle -front cover
4. Being on the Board of Advisers for AFCC, what are two things you personally hope to see more of in children’s books coming out from Asia?

Ken: Stories that grow from Asian contexts and reflect the diversity of Asian cultures and experiences should be read all round the world, in many translations and on multiple platforms.

My dream is for all the best writers and illustrators in the region to more regularly cross national boundaries, and to develop more financially sustainable practices. I believe strongly that the world is deprived while that is not happening, and that two things can help it to occur: more risk-taking in the content area, and more meticulous professional editing.

5. What words of advice can you offer to aspiring authors in Asia?

Ken: I remember reading the reply of Singaporean author David Seow to a similar question: “Don’t do it.”

My version of that is this: unless you’re prepared to work very hard for a very long time, and for very little in the way of tangible rewards, you should embrace some other ambition. The truth is that writers rarely write because they want to – they write because they need to. A deep commitment to the power of stories and a love of words are what writers share, and these must be the basic drivers. Without those, the personal cost of the work required will be too great. But with them, anything is possible and magic can happen!

Caleb Downunder

A Highchair moment Down Under in 2012!

Mummum: Ken, thanks for sharing your story and advice! I totally agree that anything is possible  for those of us committed to the love of words :). Read more about Ken’s books at his website.

Read Full Post »

Today, Mummum has the pleasure of speaking to Author and Illustrator Naomi Kojima. I first met Naomi when she was keynote speaker at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in 2013.

Author & illustrator, children's picture books

I remember vividly how inspired I was by her presentation “Reaching for the World: Art of Asian Illustrators of Children’s Books” right from the moment when she opened with her own feelings of illustrating children’s books:

“When the time comes to hand in my finished picture book, I feel like a mother sending her child off to the world. I check for typos, smudges and pencil marks. I worry and I fuss. I want to make sure that the book has everything it needs for the journey.

I pack the things the book may need. “Now, here is your lunch, dinner and tea. Don’t eat it all at once. Here is a pair of extra socks, and here is a handkerchief”, I tell the book. I wish I could go with the book, to watch out for it, to make sure it goes on the right path. But I have more books to take care of, more books to write. The book must go alone.”

(Naomi’s full presentation has been reproduced in the AFCC Publication One Big Story – Delving Deeper into Asian Children’s Literature, edited by talented Dr Myra Garces-Bacsal of the esteemed Gathering Books blog)

Alphabet Picture Book Naomi Kojima

1. Tell us how long you have been writing and illustrating? Was there a specific moment when you knew this was what you wanted to do?

Naomi: I have been writing and illustrating picture books for over thirty years. When I was in 3rd grade, I remember being in the school library, looking at the books, imagining, what if, when I grow up, what if I find my books on these shelves?

“That’s a bold wish!” one part of me said.

But another part of me said, “Yes, but what if?”

In forth grade, when adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said that I wanted to be a writer  – not a writer of grown up books – but a writer of children’s books. I wanted to write stories and illustrate them with black and white illustrations.

I also had a wish about publishers. I wanted my books to be published by Kaisei-sha, if my books were published in Japan, and Harper & Row if my books were published in the US. These were the two publishers that published my favorite books, and I simply thought they were the best. My wish did come true. My first two books were published by T.Y.Crowell, an imprint of Harper & Row, and my Japanese books are published by Kaisei-sha.

2. How did you get your first book published?

Naomi: I published my first two picture books in the U.S., when I was living in Massachusetts. I learned about publishing and how to make picture books by attending SCBWI meetings. Author Jane Yolen was then the leader of the New England SCBWI chapter. At the monthly meetings, Jane educated, encouraged, and enlightened us about children’s books.

I was working on a picture book, Mr. and Mrs. Thief. When I had done everything I could, I followed Jane’s advice and made five appointments with publishers, and bought a train ticket to New York. The editor at the second publisher liked Mr. and Mrs. Thief and also another picture book dummy, The Flying Grandmother. Three weeks later she called and gave me a contract for both books! And this is how I started on my path.

What was your one memorable moment from having your first book out?

Naomi: Soon after Mr. and Mrs. Thief was published, I remember that my editor showed me a letter from another editor who had read Mr. and Mrs. Thief. In the letter, that editor said she read Mr. and Mrs. Thief after a long, hard day, and the book had lifted her spirits and made her day. That was such a wonderful thing to know that my book could make people feel good!


Republished in English by U.S. Publisher Kane Miller

Original Japanese Title republished in English by U.S. Publisher Kane Miller

3. Which book had the biggest impact on you when you were a child? Tell us why.

Naomi: As a young child growing up in the US, I read many of the Little Golden Book series. I loved the illustrations. I still remember them. I had no idea who the illustrators were then, but they were Gustaf Tenggren, Feodor Rojankovsky, Garth Williams, Alice and Martin Provensn, and Gertrude Elliot.

When I was older, The Ship That Flew by Hilda Lewis was my favorite book. I loved the story and the illustrations: the magic alley, the antique shop, the flying ship which travels through time, the strong bond between the four siblings, and the black and white illustrations. I read the book over and over, coming out of the book each time dreaming of finding a magic ship of my own one day.

4. What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators in Asia?

Naomi: Believe in yourself. Don’t give up. Don’t quit because of a rejection, or because the project is difficult. Be brave and revise, redraw, and redesign many times. Look at many picture books, read a lot of children’s literature. Do your best work, and enjoy and love what you do!

5. What’s the first word that comes to mind in describing your illustration style?

Naomi: Humorous


Caleb draws from a low chair in his first week of preschool (at 18 months)

Caleb draws from a low chair in his first week of preschool (at 18 months)

Mummum: Naomi, thank you for this inspiring interview, which I hope will encourage Asian authors and illustrators to dream, persevere and cross borders like you have done!

Read Full Post »

Today, I’m excited to speak to Ruth Wan, previously Managing Editor of Epigram Books and now Managing Editor of Armour Publishing. Ruth has been instrumental in the editing and also conceptualizing Singapore’s most successful Middle Grade Series.

Managing Editor, Armour Publishing

Managing Editor, Armour Publishing

1. How long have been working as an editor? Tell us briefly what led to this career?

Ruth: I have been working as an editor for just under a decade. Honestly, my ‘career’ started by accident. I was taking a break from a Civil Service job to focus on raising my kids. During that time, my friend in one of the big publishing houses looked at me and said, “Hey, I think you can freelance edit, right?” And that was the beginning of my ‘career’. After freelancing for a while, I eventually moved into a publishing house.

2. Name us a couple children’s books which you have edited. What did those books mean to you?

Ruth: I was the editor for Adeline Foo’s “The Diary of Amos Lee” books one to three. I was also the editor for A.J. Low’s “Sherlock Sam” books one to three, and I edited all of Monica Lim and Lesley-Anne Tan’s Danger Dan books.


Sherlock Sam Middle Grade Series

Sherlock Sam Middle Grade Series

I loved “The Diary of Amos Lee” series because it was my first exposure to local children’s book writing. It was an eye-opening experience working with Adeline Foo and I learnt so much about the children’s book market through that.

With “Sherlock Sam”, the books are very dear to me because I came up with the concept for Sherlock Sam and even gave the character his name! My nephew is Samuel, and I thought the alliteration was cool—I presented the idea of “Sherlock Sam” to my boss, he loved it, and the name stuck! Of course, A.J. Low have made “Sherlock Sam” very much their own.

The same thing happened with “Danger Dan”. The idea also came from me, but it was Monica and Lesley-Anne who really fleshed out the concept. I feel a real sense of pride when my Primary One son asks me to buy all the books in the series, and laughs out loud at all the jokes. I think my “coolness” factor has also gone up several notches in the eyes of my two boys when they found out that I get to read all these cool books that they love way before anyone else does, before it gets printed! That’s way cool, to them.


Danger Dan Middle Grade Series

Danger Dan Middle Grade Series (source: Hedgehog Comms)


3. What’s your favourite book from childhood? Why?

 Ruth: I really liked The Phantom Tollbooth, The Twits, and Haroun’s Sea of Stories. They were just fantastic stories. So bizarre and magical!

4. What are your first words of advice for aspiring children’s book writers in our Asia region?

Ruth: Write something saleable, please. It does no one any favours if you pour your heart and soul into something that people don’t want to read. No matter how well-written, it won’t sell if it won’t sell.

5. Is Armour Publishing actively open to children’s book manuscripts at this stage?

Ruth: Armour is launching a series of readers for the preschool and lower-primary school market. These would be books for 3-6 year olds, or 6-9 year olds.

Any particular genres/requirements you are looking for?

I’m always on the lookout for stories that are about Singapore. My children went through preschool reading something called the Oxford Reading Tree. It was a series of books developed in the UK and the main characters were Biff, Chip and Kipper! What totally foreign-sounding names. The books showed kids with blond hair and so on. I just think that our kids should be reading local stories with illustrations showing local landscapes. After all, Singapore is a great place to raise kids—there’s so much to do and it’s all so fun! If our preschool and primary school books can reflect that spirit more, that would be great!

Caleb edits the menu (at 2 years)

Caleb edits the menu (at 2 years)

Mummum: Ruth, thanks for your no-holds-barred editorial armoury of truth and words of advice for us writers! Always good to hear it straight from the Editor’s mouth. Look forward to more exciting books benefiting from your editorial eye. After all, the pen is mightier than the sword. 🙂



Read Full Post »

Today, I am thrilled to be having a conversation with SCBWI friend Sarah Mounsey. Over the past three years,  Sarah has successfully written and self-published 3 titles in her Purple Paw Prints picture book series. Her talented illustrator Jade Fang is also the illustrator for my Tibby The Tiger Bunny and upcoming Tibby & Duckie.

Author & Publisher Sarah Mounsey and Illustrator Jade Fang

Author & Publisher Sarah Mounsey and Illustrator Jade Fang


1. How long had you been writing before you decided to self-publish your first book?

Sarah: Forever!  I wanted to be an author when I was in primary school and always had my nose in a book or was writing stories, poems, letters and diary entries.  Then I worked as a primary school teacher and fell in love with picture books all over again and decided that one day I would attempt to write them.  It was not until I was on maternity leave with my first son, William, that I started to actively do something about it.  I was living in London and enrolled in some writing for children courses and started to write regularly again.  Four years (plus one more son and a new country) later I took the plunge and self-published Purple Paw Prints.



2. What prompted the decision to take the self-publishing route?

Sarah: I was a member of The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) in London and then joined the group in Singapore. I had never thought about self-publishing until two friends from that group in Singapore really encouraged me because they had both been involved in self-published picture books. Thank you to David Seow and Kenneth Quek for this encouragement! The last few years of my life would have been very different if they had not helped me to make this decision!

PP and the Magic Sofa LR

What 3 tips or words of advice would you give someone venturing the self-publishing route?

Sarah: 3 tips or words of advice…

  1. Be prepared to work very hard if you want your books to sell. They do not sell themselves.
  2. Understand that you will have to become an editor, decision maker, marketer, sales person, administrator for a small business and public speaker as well as being an author. Of course, I have had lots of people including my amazing illustrator, Jade Fang, and great editors to help me along the way but when you self-publish you have to do the vast bulk of the work and there is a lot to do. Fortunately I have just signed with a great distributor, Closetful of Books, and they are helping me with some of this work.
  3. If you are happy to do all of this, you can make your dreams come and true and be involved in all the decisions to create books that you believe in.

3. How do you see the children’s books writing scene in Singapore since you moved here?

Sarah: It seems to be really expanding with lots of new titles being created, which is wonderful. The writing community is very small here and it is great to get to know so many people who share the same passion.

4. Which is your favourite children’s book from childhood. Why?

Sarah: I have so many but to choose just one that I still have, then it would have to be my copy of The Cat in the Hat which is personally signed by the great Dr Seuss.

Paw Prints and the Itchy Spots

5. Congratulations on the launch of Paw Prints book 3 at the recent AFCC and also your win at the Moonbeam book awards! Can you give us a sneak-peek of your next book project?

Sarah: Thank you. It has been an exciting year! I am not sure what my next book will be but I am working on two writing pieces at the moment. One is a picture book about reducing plastic. This is a topic that is very important to me and my family. We are talking about it a lot and getting involved in Plastic Free July http://www.plasticfreejuly.org/ I am trying to create a story that is fun without being too didactic.   But it is challenging to create humour that also leaves children and their parents with the important message that we really need to reduce the amount of plastic that we use. So many people think that by recycling we are making a big difference but reducing waste is even more important. I am struggling with getting this story where I want it to go so I don’t think it will be finished for a long time. The other piece is another Paw Prints book, called Eddie Spaghetti and the Paw Prints. I first wrote this almost two years ago but this one also needs a lot of re-writing.

Toddler & the Itchy Gums

Toddler & the Itchy Gums

Mummum: Thanks for sharing your experience with your lovely picture book series. Congrats again on your successes and look forward to hearing more to come! Check out Sarah’s books here!




Read Full Post »

Today, I’m thrilled to continue with the 2nd part of my interview with my literary agent Helen Mangham of Jacaranda Literary Agency. I had earlier interviewed my other agent Andrea Pasion-Flores on what started her on the path of a literary agent in Asia.

One of Three at Jacaranda Literary Agency

One of Three at Jacaranda Literary Agency

I met Helen over tea organized by my friend David Seow, a fellow author, who is represented by Jacaranda. I had a few more conversations with Helen and signed on with Jacaranda a few months later. Helen started out at prominent UK literary agency Curtis Brown and went on to work at several leading publishing companies in the U.K. including that of a book publicist, implementing campaigns for high profile books.

  1. The concept of full service literary agencies in South East Asia is as rare as being an author in Singapore. Tell us why you decided to become a literary agent?

I always knew I wanted to work in publishing in some way or other. Early on, I was lucky enough to get a job at Curtis Brown Literary Agency in London, probably one of the leading literary agencies in the UK. I loved it! It was my kind of place, working with like-minded people and meeting authors.

One of my responsibilities was to go through the notorious ‘slush pile’ – literally a big cupboard stuffed full of manila envelopes bursting with manuscripts – (this was pre- computers and so no pdfs or word documents). Opening every one was exciting – I had no idea what to expect! These days digital communication makes everything much easier, but fundamentally the business has not changed that much. It’s still about finding great writing and bringing it to a wider audience.

Being an agent is not just a book business, it’s a people business. It’s about getting to know your author and getting to know publishers and finding a good match. I like books and I like people and so it’s the perfect job for me!

2. Tell us one key strength of Jacaranda has.

We’re a small agency covering a broad geographical area. We don’t have a glitzy office or lots of backroom staff, but we are very hands on. So I think what you get with Jacaranda is a very personal service. We work very closely with our authors and at least two of us always read the work so that we can pool our ideas. So being small is actually one of our key strengths!

3. What do you hope to achieve for Jacaranda and your authors?

I hope Jacaranda will become recognised as one of the ‘go to’ agencies working out of South East Asia. We want to build up a solid reputation among both authors and publishers for representing great work out of this dynamic region. That way we hope to attract the best writers and be able to work on their behalf with the best publishers.

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

Difficult question as there are so many to choose from! Black Beauty, Heidi, The Wind in the Willows, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Tom’s Midnight Garden, the Little Grey Rabbit series by Alison Uttley, the Beatrix Potter books and the haunting When Marnie Was There by Joan G Robinson were all read and re-read. I was drawn to books with pathos but ultimately a happy ending!

Children's book about lonely girl from India who finds secret garden

The Secret Garden

But I think my all time favourite would have to be The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett which is a truly magical book. It’s about Mary, a lonely and unwanted child, who is brought back from India as an orphan to live at her Great Uncle’s bleak house on the Yorkshire Moors. After India, Yorkshire seems a cold and depressing place until one day Mary finds the key to a secret garden which changes her life. This was a book to get lost in, I’ve read it many times and read it to my own children.

5. What advice would you give to children’s authors making submissions to you?

Have a very clear idea of your market and look at other books for the same age group. Send me a covering letter telling me about yourself and about your writing and what you think makes it original. Include a sample of your manuscript with a brief synopsis – if it’s a short picture book you can include the whole manuscript, if it’s a chapter book, then the first three chapters and tell me the final word count. The text should be double spaced and a good font size. Finally, please be patient because my reading pile is big!

Highchair conversation on books and Asia

Highchair conversation on books and Asia

Mummum: Helen, thanks for taking a break off your reading pile to take part in this Conversation with me. I shall sit tight and wait for you to come back on my manuscript! 🙂


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »