Thursday, April 23, 2015

Facts make you clever, but fiction makes you imagine

Hello world!

Try to make something cool wherever you are, however you’re feeling. That’s always a challenge, no matter how committed you might be to living a creative life. Things pile up. Opportunities slip away. New stuff sneaks in and squeals impatiently for attention. So what can we do? Pack a small bag and head out. Somewhere cool and clean. Not too many people around. Somewhere with decent food. And write stuff quickly. Because once this day is over, it won't ever come back again. And that's all our life is made up of, the days that are over.

Here I am, sitting at a coffee place not too far from a public library, where I have been feasting on the smell of lovely books old and new. As you see in the photo above, I’m working on my iPad Mini today. Writing this blog post right now. With a handy bluetooth keyboard that I picked up online. It feels more like a plasticky toy than a mobile tech gadget, and some keys are a bit stuck and need to be jabbed at quite sternly. But it cost just under SGD30 (about USD22). Not much to complain about there. And it works okay.

Look closer at the photo and you’ll notice two clamps at the end of the keyboard. I attach these to the iPad Mini, fiddle with the bluetooth pairing, which takes about two seconds, and away we go. Clickety-clack. I am now merrily hammering away while people occasionally saunter past and cast curious glances. I angle my head in their direction and send out urgent thoughts, “Read my books! Visit my website!” But only briefly, for I have updates to share and emails to answer and stories to finish up. Before the day is over.


The Lion City Adventuring Club needs you

This is our new book project for kids, LION CITY ADVENTURES, launching May/June 2015. An exploration book plus mini-mysteries to solve plus a fascinating epic storyworld that we can work on for a long time. Read the introduction post about it here. Latest update: the printer just delivered the books! Which means it’ll be in bookstores pretty soon.

I’m making arrangements to appear at places so I can talk about this project and sign copies. Details to come. Also, this weekend I’ll be working on ideas for some bonus content to flesh out the Lion City Adventuring Club further. And next week I’ll run an interview with the book’s editor, who had a lot of fun working on this. Everyone did. It's quite a special book.


I share our digital publishing secrets, all of them

This year I’ll be doing a talk at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content. It’s part of a session called SWIPE RIGHT FOR DIGITAL, and my bit is titled “Using Digital Content to Improve Your Fiction and Engage More Readers”. Times like this I do feel like a respected writer.

You can find out more about the event here, the registration details are here, and information about my session here. The presentation just before I go on is by Saad Chinoy and Wendy Wong of Tusitala, the digital publishing company that developed our Super Cool Books iPad ebookstore. And the talk after mine is by Eric Huang. He’s the Development Director at Made in Me, a digital agency specialising in children's entertainment, and previously he was the Publishing Director at Penguin UK's Media and Entertainment division, and Development Director at Mind Candy, which created Moshi Monsters.

If you’re planning to be there do send me an email and let me know if you’d like me to cover anything in particular.

Asian Festival of Children’s Content
DATE: 4 Jun 2015 (Thursday), 9:00am – 1:00pm
LOCATION: Function Rooms 1 & 2, Drama Centre, NLB Level 3

Using Digital Content to Improve Your Fiction and Engage More Readers
Don Bosco (Founder, Super Cool Books)

Super Cool Books creates Asian fiction for children. It has launched paperbacks, ebooks, workshops and an iPad ebookstore. Founder Don Bosco explains how their digital content strategy drives editorial development and accelerates project partnerships, while reducing creative and production risks.


See a photo of me playing guitar but 20+ years ago

Long before I tried to write stories and publish them, I was trying to write songs and play them in public. And you’ll see evidence at this awesome photo exhibition called So Happy: 50 Years of Singapore Rock, happening at the Substation until this weekend, 26 April.

The photo below is one of the 100 exciting shots on display, some rare and some iconic, that capture the evolution of Singapore's indie rock scene. Yes, it’s stuck to the wall with black tape. The whole exhibition is grungy DIY like that. Because indie punk rock power, you know?

That’s the skinny me from 20+ years ago on the left. Also: Patrick Chng (also played in: The Oddfellows, Fast Colors, Typewriter) on drums and Leslie Low (other bands: Humpback Oak, The Observatory) singing and playing bass guitar.

We called ourselves the Twang Bar Kings and we played quirky indie rock. Leslie and I started this band together in 1989, and we had many other people play with us along the way. By this time Patrick was already a respected figure on account of his groundbreaking work with The Oddfellows, but he always found time to help us out. Also, more recently, Patrick and I started this music blog called Walk On Music to feature local musicians and promote indie gigs.

Thanks a bunch to my friend Angie Lee for capturing this moment. And her brother Alfie Lee for lending me the guitar.

If you love music and enjoy reading anecdotes about indie bands, do go down and catch the exhibition before it’s over. I hear there might be some surprise band performances on the 26th, so remember to act astonished if you happen to see any.

Blog bonus, above: a rare photo which I just came across earlier this week. It’s from 1994. By this time my Twang Bar Kings bandmate Leslie had started recording with his other band, Humpback Oak, and everyone was excited about their debut album Pain Stained Morning. They promoted the album with a series of live appearances, and I played guitar with them for a few months.

This shot was taken at one of those promo gigs. Some of the guys here are Humpback Oak and the rest of the guys are The Lilac Saints, another amazing Singapore band. We were hanging out in a room at the legendary Fire dance club along Orchard Road, waiting for our turns to play. I’m standing, second from left, and so is Leslie, fourth from left.

I definitely want to write a book about those times. With some luck, maybe later this year.


Next week I’ll tell you about our new young adult series. Here’s a teaser for now.

“Racism, xenophobia and unfair discrimination have spawned slavery, when human beings have bought and sold and owned and branded fellow human beings as if they were so many beasts of burden.”
Desmond Tutu
former Anglican bishop in South Africa


Go out and make your noise. That’s the only way other people can know what’s in your heart.

— D

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Make your stories from the memories in your head and the wild dreams in your heart

On account of our Super Cool Books maker-friendly story projects — like this, this and this — I was recently invited to contribute a chapter to a book they're putting together for this year's Maker Faire Singapore (11 & 12 July). So I spent one quiet morning just sitting around and thinking about my earliest attempts to make stuff, and what came up really surprised me. It was so long ago that I had almost forgotten all about this. But I'm glad I have this chance to celebrate those young dreams all over again. Here's an excerpt from my contribution. I'll post more about the book when I can.


When I was in primary school, like so many other children my age, I was a big fan of Victor and Charlee. Victor Khoo was a famous local magician and ventriloquist, he passed away in 2014, and Charlee was his equally famous ventriloquist dummy. They even had their own radio show on Saturday mornings. That was the highlight of my weekend.

Victor’s performances with Charlee were always very funny and uplifting. I was completely spellbound. One day I found a book at the library about ventriloquism. I read the book many times, and practised diligently for months. The book also had a section on making your own dummy. Unfortunately, that required some wood and woodworking equipment. Which I didn’t have access to. So instead I started to borrow every other book I could find about making dolls and figurines, and I was determined to find a way to design my own moveable mouth. As part of my experiments I ended up creating rag dummies, cardboard dummies, sock dummies, paper mache dummies, and so on. 

That was quite an obsession for a while. I wasn’t just interested in making the dummy as a toy or prop. I wanted to create the whole experience of having this character come to life as part of a fun story experience. I wanted to be like Victor Khoo. That was my first experience as a maker, trying to combine craft and storytelling and a performance that made people go “wow!” 


Still on maker-friendly story projects. Last year we created some storyhacking workshops, especially this one with StoryCode Singapore where everyone made up short Captain Cardboard comic strips using little cardboard characters and props, around a simple story template. This coming weekend StoryCode Singapore will be holding yet another storyhacking session, this time using LEGO blocks. If you've seen one those awesome diy LEGO movies on YouTube, you already know how much fun this will be. It's happening at the Science Centre Singapore. Sign up quick and go have fun. Here are details:

Session: Story-coding with LEGO Education parts and Duck Learning
Date: Saturday, April 11, 2015
Time: 2pm to 6pm
Venue: KidsSTOP, Science Centre Singapore, 21 Jurong Town Hall


Take it easy. Make up stories. Be brave. 

— D

Thursday, March 26, 2015

All I do is sit around and imagine stories that remind me of my childhood days, when all I did was sit around and imagine stories



Hello dear people. Be not alarmed. That was just a warm up piece. My fingers are now ready to play us some serious clickety-clack.


It was World Book Day 2015 some weeks ago. On 5 March, actually. And this nice parenting website invited me to write about my favourite book as a child. They also happened to ask a bunch of other Singapore writers and celebrities, so you'll need to scroll about halfway down before you find me.

The editor didn't exactly say how long my contribution had to be. I ended up sending them a piece of writing that was somewhere between way-too-much and way-way-too-much. Well, to cut a long story short, they used only the top half. And this week I figured, why not share the full piece here, isn't that what having an author's blog is all about. And here it is. Lucky us.

BOOK: The Neverending Story
by Michael Ende (original German version)
and Ralph Manheim (English translation)

I read loads of books as a child, but the one that had the biggest impact on me was The Neverending Story. (It was also made into a popular movie, which some people might remember better.)

This fantasy adventure was my first encounter with a work of metafiction, which uses storytelling techniques to blend fiction and reality in order to create a richer reading experience.

In this case, the main character is a boy named Bastian Balthazar Bux. He gets hold of a book and starts to read it, only to find the story inside taking over and affecting his own life.

I can remember actually trembling as I read the book. I was blown away by the author's vision and brilliant ability to create something so unusual and vivid. Also, the text was printed in different colours to make it easier to follow the different threads. In all, it was like an artefact from another dimension, a truly magical treat.

Quite a timely coincidence, because my next book for children is directly inspired by this. It's called Lion City Adventures, published by Marshall Cavendish, and it will come out just before the June holidays this year.

The book takes children on a learning tour of ten interesting locations around Singapore. At the same time, we created story snippets along the way, about a very old and proud organisation called the Lion City Adventuring Club, made up of brave children who explored Singapore and made astounding discoveries. On top of all this, there are references to the characters and events from my other fiction worlds, like the Sherlock Hong series and the Time Talisman series.

Altogether, this creates a big alternate reality landscape for young readers to enjoy across different books. In my small way, I'm trying to recreate what The Neverending Story did for me. This sense of awe, this astonishing stretch of the imagination, is the best thing an author can give a child. Happy World Book Day 2015!


Have been looking out for this and it came yesterday: the new Get it Right! booklet put together by the National Library Board. This is part of their S.U.R.E. (Source, Understand, Research, Evaluate) programme, and it features an old interview with me, from back when I was featured in the student's newspaper What's Up!.

I think this new booklet will be sent to all the schools in Singapore. Or something like that. Which means lots and lots of students will see my face in it and read my words and then come rushing over to this website to check out our stories. And maybe, just maybe, you're here because you're one of them. Ahem. In which case: HEY! HELLO! HIGH FIVE!

In this interview I talked about why I love writing stories inspired by Singapore's colonial history, how I get my research done, and also introduced a few of my books. Like the ones you see in the photo above, the Sherlock Hong and Time Talisman series. Looking at this brings back lots of nice memories. The Secret of Monk's Hill (Time Talisman #1) was actually the first story that kicked off Super Cool Books. Back then, in 2011, it was published by local publisher Select Books, and they helped us figure out a suitable format for the series. A few months later we were able to put out the Sherlock Hong stories ourselves, and then even more titles followed quite quickly. The Time Talisman series is now available exclusively on our Super Cool Books iPad app.


Or maybe you're one of our many readers in California? Here’s something you can attend: my friend Sherry Giang-Chen is running a creative writing course for teens at the Hastings Branch Library in Pasadena. This takes place every Thursday for the next five weeks, and starts 26th March. Which is, like, almost immediately. Sherry and I used to be schoolmates and it’s great to know that she’s also helping to boost the creativity and writing power of young writers. Go. Have fun with her. Learn to develop your imagination until you can think of nothing but awesomely crazy story ideas, so furiously that they start to dribble out of your ears and down the side of your face. Say I sent you.


Don't you love it when you order books online and they're delivered just after breakfast, so you can spend the whole morning reading instead of, oh I don't know, doing any real work. I do. And you can too. Because our new title LION CITY ADVENTURES is already available as a pre-order on Amazon and Book Depository and also — but it's true, I just checked — the Guardian Bookshop. Wow. That's the miracle of modern publishing.

This is a proper printed full colour book for readers 8 to 11 years old. It takes you on a fun tour of Singapore, with some activities and challenges, and along the way you also get to solve mysteries with this amazing organisation called the Lion City Adventuring Club. More information here. I'll also be sharing some dates for signings, talks, appearances, etc. Soon.


Take it easy. Don't just fight your fears, why not charm them and turn them into your obedient slaves instead. And read everything about everything you love, because it can only help you love everything better.

— D