Thursday, July 28, 2022

LAST KID RUNNING _____ My latest interview is up on Fungamery, go check it out

Delighted to share this interview that I did recently for the Fungamery website. Fungamery is a US-based platform for creating and sharing your own puzzles, interactive adventures, virtual escape rooms and more.

Interview excerpt: 
I also worked on a documentary about a parkour group from London, we brought them to various famous landmarks around Singapore and filmed them executing daring stunts and running sequences there. Through this I got to learn quite a bit about the parkour culture, its history, and why some enthusiasts believe that it could be the most intelligent urban sport form to have emerged. In my series, this was the inspiration for why Dr Yamato wanted to create the Last Kid Running competition, to get kids excited about running, and possibly running on other planets one day.

Read my full interview here.

More information about my Last Kid Running series at this link here, including an exciting unboxing video shared by my publisher Penguin Random House.

Also, you can check out my earlier interview with Daniel Gordon, the creative guy behind Fungamery, I featured him in one of our Gamebook Academy blog posts.

Take care, happy reading, remember to explore your imagination every day, if you don't use it you'll start to lose it.

— Don 

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The Secret of the Chatter Blocks

Sunday, July 10, 2022

SUPERKICKS _____ Behind the scenes: the official Superkicks futsal tournament that didn't happen

NOTE: Hi! I recently posted an update clarifying Benedict Boo's role in this series, you can read it here. You can also read other posts in the Superkicks: The Secret Journals series here.
Hello! And welcome back. Glad you're following this series of posts about my Superkicks books for kids. These are thrilling and action packed stories about a group of students who get picked to join the prestigious Superkicks football programme.

As I've mentioned before, writers who really enjoy the creative process often keep journals to track everything along the way, from loose ideas to the publishing and business side of things. I'm definitely one of them. Recently I've been going through the old notes in my Superkicks journals, and reminiscing about how the whole project unfolded.

It's amazing that we've published three books so far: Time to Play (Book 1), Best Shot (Book 2), and Dare to Dream (Book 3).

* Yes, that makes it a hat-trick.

I created the series and wrote all the stories, with some help from one of my sons, who co-wrote a few of the really funny bits. But clearly it took more than just the two of us to make this happen. There was a really good team involved, with diverse talents, covering everything from editing to design, illustrations, marketing, distribution, sales, and more.

* As the popular saying goes, teamwork makes the dream work.

In my Superkicks stories, the football training programme for students is a great success all around. But in real life our journey to promote these books turned out to be a lot more challenging.

For example, there was supposed to be a big Superkicks futsal competition in 2018, to bring some Superkicks action to schools in Singapore.

A number of people worked really hard behind the scenes to put together the administrative and logistics support for this. Pretty amazing effort, which I sincerely appreciate. But in the end this event didn't happen. It had to be cancelled, to some disappointment. (This was a while before the pandemic.)

* You could say someone dropped the ball.

Also, among other proposals, we considered an ambitious plan for a Superkicks tie-up with Shonan Bellmare, a professional football club in Japan. One of our partners said he would bring young footballers from Singapore to visit and train with them. It did seem so promising. Quite a shame that this, too, did not actually happen.

I had to learn some important lessons from all this, especially regarding teamwork, fair play and character values. Like, giving someone a public endorsement before they've actually proven themselves might inflate their sense of self-importance and cause them to get carried away. They somehow forget to be grateful and cooperative.

* They become too big for their boots.

Sometimes we might try to be nice and make allowances, or accept excuses, but this does backfire. It's often important to give honest and firm feedback, and also address the shortcomings openly and frankly.

* Because to really succeed, one needs to cover all the bases.

(Heh, hope you're amused by how I've been working all these * sports phrases into this blog post.)

I've been reflecting on these lessons and recording my thoughts in my Superkicks journals, because this is really good inspiration for future sports stories. It could be a new series about badminton players, or skateboarders, or competitive climbers, or even dart players, the underlying human truths remain constant. And writing fiction is a wonderful way to help young readers develop an awareness about all this.

That's it for now, take care, and always remember to imagine happy days ahead!


— Don



Friday, June 3, 2022

SUPERKICKS _____ What to talk about at our Superkicks school talks

NOTE: Hi! I recently posted an update clarifying Benedict Boo's role in this series, you can read it here. You can also read other posts in the Superkicks: The Secret Journals series here.

My Superkicks fiction series features lots of thrilling action in various learning environments, not just in schools but also at the Superkicks training programme created by Dr JJ Khan, the central mentor character.

These scenarios are all inspired by my own experiences. Fun fact: my first job after my A-Levels, before my National Service, was as a relief teacher.

Later, I completed my teacher training at the National Institute of Education, and went on to do my MA and PhD at the National University of Singapore. That's how much I enjoyed the feeling of learning and growing.

I also love to create rich learning experiences for others. Many of my course mates were educators, and through them I worked on lots of exciting projects in schools, everything from creative arts to science education, mostly involving some new form of interactive or media technology.

Due to recent requests, I'll be offering a new series of Superkicks talks for primary schools, both in person and over Zoom. These sessions can be customised for assembly talks, or for smaller groups.

Here are some relevant topics close to my heart.

Me looking sporty at a school talk, back in
the early years of Super Cool Books.
1. Good Character Values
These Superkicks stories are a great way to get students thinking about their own behaviour, and how this affects the people around them.

What makes a happy team? How can young leaders get respect and cooperation from team members? What is trust, and how is this earned? Why is a sense of community important?

While doing research for this Superkicks series, I was inspired to learn that over the last one million years humans have grown increasingly cooperative as well as empathetic, and these traits helped us thrive and evolve. This is Dr Khan's main insight in training the young players.

By the end of this session, students will learn to recognise basic patterns of team behaviour, with reference to scenes in the Superkicks stories, and also get tips on creating positive, happy teams.
2. Writing with Rhythm
How do I manage to write so many stories that readers enjoy? A big part of this is writing sentences that have a nice, lively rhythm.

Just think of the classic phrase, "once upon a time". It has a catchy, inviting rhythm, "dum-dadum-da-dum", which makes you want to settle in and listen on.

For this session, we will look at one or two very short stories written in an awkward or flat rhythm, and I will demonstrate some quick and easy ways to make them read better.

These tips will help students become more confident and resourceful when expressing themselves.

3. Hollywood Writing Secrets

When writing any kind of narrative, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, it's important to have a basic sense of sequential storytelling, or the piece will end up disorganised and even incoherent.

For this talk, I will demonstrate a simple method that Hollywood scriptwriters use to create coherent and engaging stories, by working with the classic Beginning-Middle-End structure to convey a sense of cause and effect.
Students will get to write their own short story outlines, and receive quick feedback from me.

I'm also open to requests for any specific themes or skills to be covered.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, previously Super Cool Books had an arrangement with Benedict Boo to be our schools salesperson for this series, but now I'm most thrilled to share my enthusiasm and literary mentorship directly in this way. So do get in touch to sign up for these talks, especially if you're a teacher or parent looking to book a session.  

We thank everyone for your generous support of this series so far.

Let's look forward to a great Superkicks experience!


— Don

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

SUPERKICKS _____ And now, the truth about the man behind the Superkicks schools programme

NOTE: Hi! I recently posted an update clarifying Benedict Boo's role in this series, you can read it here. You can also read other posts in the Superkicks: The Secret Journals series here.

When I was writing my Superkicks football fiction series, I made a lot of notes in my journals. Notes about all the characters, the different locations in the storyworld, the kind of interesting situations the young players would get into, and also my future plans for this series.

It's been a very rewarding experience going through all these notes again.

Right from the start, I was very intrigued by one particular character, who doesn't actually get much of a spotlight in the stories. This was Dr JJ Khan, the man who created the Superkicks schools programme.

He's a successful entrepreneur who commits his own investment and reputation to give young players a chance to pursue their passion and experience something greater.

The main characters in this series are a bunch of young and enthusiastic players who have their own expectations of the Superkicks programme.

They mostly want to have fun and enjoy an adventure. They just want to play and enjoy the game.

Because, naturally, kids will always be kids! This is how they learn and grow.
Thank goodness for a generous person like Dr Khan, who is willing to step up and be the gamemaster behind it all, the thoughtful person who makes it possible for all the young players to shine.
But what motivates a person like Dr Khan? What is the truth that inspires him?

Many years ago, when I was a young magazine editor, I interviewed a number of entrepreneurs and sports leaders.

I learnt that their days were often filled with tough work, tough decisions and big responsibilities. There would always be factors beyond their control.

And sometimes additional challenges may come from within the team, as teammates might get distracted and carried away with their own circumstances, feelings or self interests.

What often helped these leaders pull through was focusing on the vision, and patiently removing the obstacles that hold the team back.

This is a helpful lesson that I've also enjoyed exploring in my Superkicks stories, as I developed Dr Khan's background.
To the public, he is a mysterious man who somehow gets great things done. But in his heart, he simply has an incredible focus on his vision. And this is what makes him a legendary gamemaster. I won't share any spoilers here, you can read the three books in my Superkicks series to find out more.

Our Super Cool Books logo on
the back cover of the three Superkicks books
I actually started Super Cool Books just to show my two sons how to write stories and publish books. But things kept growing, and over the years we've produced a whole catalogue of books with various publishing partners. This was only possible through the kind support from all kinds of people in the community, both players and gamemasters.

At this point in my life, I've grown all the more aware that no person can succeed in life alone, we always need the right relationships that can nurture positive results.

And I see that this is really what my Superkicks stories are about, basically using the game of football to shine a light on the game of life. 
Fun fact: there are also intriguing gamemaster-type characters in my other Super Cool Books titles, including the My Blade Quest, Lion City Adventures and Last Kid Running series. You can click on the respective sections in the sidebar on the right to find out more.

It's a joy to share these thoughts about the Superkicks writing process. Do come back and read more future musings inspired by my Superkicks journals, okay? The secrets will be shared.

: )

I wish you all happy playing. May you get to build your own team one day. And when you become your own gamemaster, may you be blessed with finding good players that can contribute positively to the vision.

— Don
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