Wednesday, March 22, 2017

100 WRITERS _____ Meet Monica Loo, writer of fanfic and fantasy short stories, she attended our recent #BuySingLit workshop

Note: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS project, find out more here.

I had a nice time at our recent BuySingLit workshop, which I conducted with fellow Marshall Cavendish author Nicholas Yong. Thanks to all the enthusiastic writers who stayed back to chat, or contacted me over FB and email. What I learnt is that there are so many different reasons why someone might pursue the path of writing stories and getting these published. This week, I'm featuring one of the workshop participants, Monica Loo, who is truly passionate about sharing her creative writing with the world. She has great determination too, and that's always inspiring.

I wish all of you happy writing!

— D


Please tell us about your writing journey.
Hi, my real name is Monica Loo, and my pseudonym Ireth Seregon, means Fire Elemental an Irish translation of my name. In 2016, one of my stories is included in my group’s anthology Writingthecity Fresh Fiction from Singapore II. I began writing as a child because I wanted to transform my favourite characters’ tragedies to happy endings. They triggered lots of emotions in me. I had always been riveted by tales of magic rather than cliché plots, so want to write more about fantasy than romance. Helps me explore ‘what would a cat say if he/ she were in this situation’ for instance. Writing is cathartic, as not all people in real life are accepting of your ideas and I don’t want to be repressed. Through fiction, it releases me from the rigid boundaries of real life.

You self-published on CreateSpace. Could you share with our readers what the process was like?
I saw that some new authors like Amanda Hocking took off from CreateSpace and Amazon. While I had been sending out to different publishers, got rejections and lukewarm responses, I thought I would give it a try. At first, I met selfish people who wanted to take advantage of me - I have excellent grammar and vocab so confident don't need to pay for more editing, but they insisted I must, or they wouldn't proceed. The details a bit hazy now, I was on CreateSpace formatting and stuff about 2012- 13, because everything is Do It Yourself. I find that the FAQs not much use, the one great thing is ISBN is free. I don’t feel lonely as some authors have shared, as I’m someone who relishes solitude but it could be hard because of traditional thinking parents, lack of moral support. However, I’m grateful to have couple of friends and ex-teachers who are not in Sg, believing in me! Most of them I met through fanfiction net talking about anime and what kind of fiction we like.

Why did you choose to write about elves? 
Because they are not boring mundane humans lol! The obsession kicked in from Hellboy II's Nuada Silverlance, Drizzt novels and Dragonage with their various backgrounds that intrigue me. Other than their perfect appearances, the general lore is elves are immortal, magical and skilled protectors of nature. Drizzt is a famous dark elf by RA Salvatore. At the moment my favourite game/ passion is Dragonage, in it Elves are not immortal, they are persecuted and enslaved by humans--- that's why Bioware is so successful  and has compelling storytelling and while gaming I can learn from them the pros and cons, what clichés etc.

Get Monica's book —

Author's profile —

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Read more 100 WRITERS interviews —

Monday, March 13, 2017

SCBWI SG _____ What's so important about making books for children? Plus Early Bird Tickets for the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2017

Me and a few of the other early birds at last year’s SCBWI SG year-end dinner party
Last year, on this blog, I introduced the Singapore chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), the international network dedicated to promoting the art and craft of making books for young readers. You can still read about the 20 local members featured, you may recognise a few faces. Some nice photos too. We have monthly meetings, sometimes conduct workshops, and also arrange for meet-and-greet sessions with authors and illustrators from other countries.

This year, in May, a few of us will be at the Asian Festival of Children's Content 2017. If you're also into making books for children, this is a great chance to meet other like minded writers, illustrators, publishers and media entrepreneurs. You can find more information here, including how to get Early Bird Tickets.

Why do we make books for children? What inspires us? Here are a few insights below from our SCBWI SG members. You can learn more about their work at their websites, links included.

To join SCBWI, follow the instructions at this link. And here are my photos from last year's AFCC, which was so much fun that some of us are still talking about it.

Happy writing and illustrating! Use your imagination well. See you at AFCC 2017.

— D

Illustrator, ELLIE BELLY series and more

Author & Illustrator, DON'T WORRY, SPRATLY!

Illustrator, NONNA'S GNOCCHI and more


Author, LION CITY ADVENTURES series and more

. . . . . . . . . .

C o m i n g  s o o n  

by Don Bosco
Six paperbacks packed with 
fun, thrills and awesome illustrations
Published by Armour Publishing

Available May 2017
More information soon! 

Read about Don Bosco's
Fan Club Special
Series published by Marshall Cavendish

Thursday, March 2, 2017

100 WRITERS _____ Meet Tutu Dutta, master folklorist and champion of contemporary Malaysian kidlit

Note: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS project.

Tutu Dutta, having travelled around the world and lived in many different places, decided that she would like to focus on introducing the old legends of Malaysia and Asia to today's young readers. So she got busy and wrote a lot of books for them: nine so far, and counting. In this interview below, she tells us how she has created a writing career for herself in Malaysia.

I first met her at the Asian Festival of Children's Content last year. Here's my blog post about that event, with lots of photos. And if you'd like to meet her too, she'll be speaking at this year's AFCC, twice on the same day (17 May). Her sessions are "Folklore Finesse: Retelling and Synthesis of Contemporary Stories" and "Hide-and-seek: Hidden Elements in Asian Folklores in Kidlit". Details here (scroll down to find her name). There is Early Bird pricing available, until 31 March 2017. Look for the details on this page.

Thanks to Tutu for this generous sharing. Do enjoy her insights below. Her links are at the end, so you can contact her.

— D


What should our readers know about you?
How shall I describe myself? According to my blog: ‘Tutu Dutta-Yean is a raconteur of tales and the keeper of old knowledge and wisdom. She was born in India but grew up in Malaysia.’

As to how this came about; as an undergraduate, I was awarded a scholarship by Japan Airlines, to attend Summer School at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan. Japan’s rich cultural heritage and folklore treasure trove was not only an eye-opening experience, it taught me that folktales can be literature.

I write books for children – from picture books to Young Adult fiction. But I’m probably most comfortable with Middle-Grade readers. I have to stretch to write for very young children or young adults. 

I probably decided to become a children’s book writer because of my daughter. I read a lot of books to her when she was growing up and later, I read the same books as she did. This was equivalent to a 10 year course in children’s and middle-grade books. I also realized there were few good Malaysian/Asian books for children in English. Another factor was the fact that my husband is a diplomat. I spent a lot of time overseas with plenty of time to write…

A large part of my life has been spent living overseas and I’m quite well acquainted with five different cities: Singapore (where my daughter was born,) Lagos, New York, Havana and Zagreb. I am now back home in Kuala Lumpur.

Tutu's books

What books have you written?
I’ve had eight books published to date. The first book to be published was Timeless Tales of Malaysia in 2009. I’m quite lucky that it was republished in 2016 as The Magic Urn and Other Timeless Tales of Malaysia, by Marshall Cavendish Asia.

Five of the books are published by MPH Publishing (Malaysia) and can be classified as Middle-Grade Readers i.e. for children 11+ of age, who are comfortable reading chapter books. Eight Treasures of the Dragon, Eight Jewels of the Phoenix and Eight Fortunes of the Qilin are three collections of Asian folktales. Surprisingly, adults also enjoy these books because they learn aspects of Asian culture and folklore they may not have been aware of before. The Jugra Chronicles are two books in a series. Based partly on folklore and partly on history and imagination, The Jugra Chronicles is set in 17th Century Borneo.

My first picture book, Phoenix Song, illustrated by Martina Peluso was published by Lantana Publishing (UK) in 2015. Phoenix Song is also my first book to be translated into Malay; Lagu Cenderawasih was published by Oyez! in 2016.

A ninth book is due for publication in April 2017. The book is entitled, Nights of the Dark Moon, and features 13 Gothic folktales from Asia and Africa. It will be published by Marshall Cavendish Asia.

Why are you inspired by Malaysian & Asian folktales?
I wrote my first book with two ideas in mind: 

I wanted to make a few Malaysian and Asian folktales better known among the children of this country i.e. make them realise that their own stories are as interesting as those from the West. I mean almost every Malaysian child know about Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and now even the Snow Queen but how many know about Bawang Putih, Bawang Merah; the Princess of Mount Ledang, Princess Santubong and Princess Sejinjang and the more obscure one such as Princess Tupai? 

I wanted to create (together with other writers) a body of work with Malaysian and Asian content, which could be preserved for future generations because many of our folktales are being forgotten. 

I’ve always been interested in Asian folklore and also Malay folklore (I used to watch old P Ramlee movies as a child) and wanted to write a collection of these stories, from my point of view. Each story is a different source of ideas in terms of character and plot. Basically, one has to read and research a lot.

Tutu's writing space

Tell us about your writing process.
My books are steeped in Asian culture and my writing is based on a lot of research. It’s not enough for me to just read one version of a story, I try to read as many versions/variants of the story as possible. Sometimes, the stories in Malay folklore also appear in Borneo (Sarawak), Thailand, Vietnam and all the way to China, Korea and Japan.

I suppose an important Asian value shared by many culture is the importance of the family and the community. Heroes and heroines are expected to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. The second value would be respect for elders. 

Some of my stories, especially those in Timeless Tales of Malaysia have been described as ‘feminist’ because of the importance placed on the female characters. Perhaps this is not Asian value, but I’m happy with that! I must not forget to mention that a Graduate student at the University of Malaya is writing her master’s thesis based on some of the stories in this book!

It usually takes about about eight months to produce a book, however I don’t write 24/7. I’m usually only writing about an hour or two per day. The two novellas in the Jugra Chronicles series took much longer. The Jugra Chronicles: Miyah and the Forest Demon and Rigih and the Witch of Moon Lake each took almost two years to be published.

I’ve been working on or perhaps sitting on Nights of the Dark Moon for over 10 years as I wrote the first story way back in 2005. Every year I take the manuscript out and revise the stories after I come across more information about each story.

My books are usually classified as Folklore & Fantasy, and sometimes Historical Fantasy in the case of The Jugra Chronicles.

Tutu’s favourite cafe (Bliss 33) in USJ Subang Jaya

Are you looking forward to the AFCC this year?
I think the AFCC is a brilliant idea and serves a real need in promoting books for children with Asian content. I’m quite sure it has had quite an impact on the regional children’s book publishing industry. I like the idea of a children’s festival focusing on different Asian countries each year and I’ve always enjoyed the multicultural crowd and the talk sessions given by speaker- authors and publishers. It gives us (i.e. writers and illustrators from Malaysia) an insight into the latest trend in the industry and also an opportunity to meet writers, illustrators, publishers and other content developers from all over the world. And of course, the facilitators are always so friendly and helpful.

The AFCC definitely had an impact on my progress as a writer, in fact there is a group of people I would never have met if not for AFCC: Marjorie Coughlan (blogger at Mirrors, Windows, Doors), Kamini Ramachandran (story teller), Naomi Kojima (author & illustrator), Joyce Ch’ng (author), Melanie Lee (author), David Liew (illustrator), Corrine Robson and the team from Bookaroo: Swati Ray, Jo Williams and Venkatesh Swamy. Not forgetting Mr Ramachandran and Kenneth Quek from the Singapore Book Council, Denise from Closetful of Books and She-Reen Wong from Marshall Cavendish.

Oddly enough, I also met Malaysian writers and book industry people for the first time at AFCC: Linda Tan Lingard, Daphne Lee, Vayfern Tan, Golda Mowe, Mohana Gill, Yusof Gajah and Teoh Choon Ean. It’s a place where you can forget about everyday life and just concentrate on networking.

This year, I’m looking forward to meeting Indonesian illustrators and publishers at AFCC and perhaps even pick up a folktale or two. This is a country with incredible cultural diversity and depth. I’m also looking forward to strengthening ties with Singaporean writers, illustrators and publishers. It would be great to meet publishers from the West too, where children’s books are so established. But what I would really like is for something concrete to develop from all this, e.g. a collaborative project etc

Tutu's links

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Enter the thrilling world of our award-winning
published by Marshall Cavendish

Here's a great mystery series to entertain you 
published by Marshall Cavendish

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

100 WRITERS _____ See you at the All In! Young Writers Festival 2017, here's a post about my favourite software for writing novels

Note: This post is part of my 100 WRITERS project. 

I did a story workshop at the All In! Young Writers Festival last year. And then some of the participants interviewed me about it. I'm looking forward to hanging out at this year's event, coming up next weekend. Speakers include my friends Melanie Lee, Kamil Haque, Joyce Chng, Kamil Haque, Simon Chesterman and S Mickey Lin, all previously featured on this blog (click on their names to read their interviews). The event runs from 10 to 12 March at *SCAPE. You can find out more at the official website here. Also, I'm writing this post as a genuine fan of the Scrivener desktop app. I'm not connected to the company that makes it in any way. I use the OS X version. Scrivener is an official supporter of this year's All In! Young Writers Festival.

— D

Here I am hugging my laptop with Scrivener running.
Some people, when they hear about all the titles that Super Cool Books has produced, they squint at me in disbelief. Do I have a secret software that churns out all those manuscripts for me, so rapidly? That's what they want to know. Well, not exactly. I have to produce all the text from scratch. No AI generated writing shenanigans there. But there is indeed a piece of software that I'm now most reliant on for any sort of long form writing. And particularly the story books that we produce.

I just checked my old emails, and it turns out I've been using Scrivener since June 2011. That was when I downloaded the trial version, tested it for a while, then made payment online. The license key was emailed to me, along with the instructions. I jumped right in and never looked back.

A lot was happening back then. A significant shift in my writing life. I used to write mostly magazine pieces and television scripts. Microsoft Word was quite good for all that. But I was moving towards writing middle grade and young adult novels. And it was quite a challenge trying to handle those loooooong chunks of text. Plus the folders of research notes that came with each story project. And the multiple drafts.

I actually abandoned a lot of books because it just got too overwhelming. There's a digital graveyard of those uncompleted works on a backup drive somewhere. It was always a big project management challenge once the word count went past 15,000. It was overwhelming, messy and time consuming just keeping track of the files and how they were supposed to be connected.

With Scrivener, though, I don't even waste time thinking about all this. And that's something I sincerely appreciate.

Written with Scrivener: all these books of mine, and more.
There are many ways to describe or approach Scrivener. For me, it is a software for managing manuscript development.

It's not the best software for taking notes, free writing, basic outlining, journalling, creating proposals, short essays, brainstorming, blog posts, or anything like that. For those types of work, I might use TextEdit (a lot, it comes installed on all Macs), Bean, Bear (the iPad version, no relation to Bean), Simplenote (a free app by the folks who created Wordpress), Celtx, Daedalus, Google Docs and Pages (the best MS Word substitute, only available on Mac). And other similar apps.

But when I need to shape a huge chunk of text into a manuscript, and work with multiple collaborators or editors to revise this repeatedly, there is no better software than Scrivener to help me keep up and stay sane.

I guess you'd find it more helpful if I could give more specific examples.

For me, Scrivener works like a video editing software, but for text-based projects. You can bring in all your research work, whether it's text notes or PDFs or images, and have this collection available in the sidebar as you make outlines or early drafts for your project. You can also write in chunks, sort of like in Evernote, and keep assembling these in different ways until you find something that really works. It's similar to how you might make individual clips in a movie editor and then assemble your clips so you can work on how the sections flowed together, to get your finished project.

Because everything is in one consolidated environment, this is also great for packing projects into long term storage. Recently one of my earlier book concepts, My Blade Quest, was acquired by Armour Publishing for a multi-book deal. When I pulled out the old Scrivener file from my backup drive and opened it, I saw all the prep work I had done five years ago assembled neatly, waiting for me to get back to it: the character profiles, the series arcs, the worldbuilding notes, and the different drafts that it took to get the first book ready back then. Even though it had been five long years since I last worked on it, I was able to hit the ground running and get working on the new books right away. That's important for my peace of mind. I have a lot more book projects packed away in Scrivener files, waiting for their turn to be revived.

Watch the video for a quick demo.

There are also lots of small extras that add up. You can export your manuscript to epub, which is basically the most common ebook format. You get a sort of site license for your home, which lets you install Scrivener on both your laptop and desktop. There's a research bin, so you can keep your notes separate from your manuscript drafts. There's a built in names generator, which can spit out endless variations. And now there's also an iPad version, so you can carry your files around and work on the go.

Is there anything I'd like to see changed or improved? I tried to think up something negative about Scrivener, but it's hard. Whenever I encounter a problem, most of the time if I bother to dig around enough, I can probably find a feature hidden somewhere in the toolbar that can fix this.

But if there's one thing, as a person who uses Scrivener a lot, I feel that the interface could be more hip. The features work beautifully, but the panels, colours, layout and especially the icons, they all seem somehow rustic. Nineties vibe. At least compared to a lot of the other apps I am using today. Right now I love Scrivener, I am hooked, but I'm not in love with it. Yet. And I think a less scholarly, more fun interface could change that. What a geeky thing, I know.

To summarise: if you think that you want to get serious with long form writing, and you have experienced some of the document control frustration that comes with this, Scrivener will make your life a lot easier.

We dream about working on our own story ideas, and some of these could have the potential to make an interesting difference in the world around us. It'll be a shame if the lack of appropriate software is an obstacle that holds us back. With this in mind, you can download the trial version of Scrivener and test drive it for yourself.

See you at the All In! Young Writers Festival, we can chat more about your writing rituals and tools there.

If you're curious, this blog post was written entirely on my iPad Mini. I started working on it in Bear, taking down ideas and making outlines, and when I was ready I developed the draft in Daedalus. I have a Bluetooth keyboard designed for iOS, but I haven't touched that lately. To my surprise, I am actually very comfortable using the virtual keyboard and tapping away on the screen.

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by Don Bosco
Published by Marshall Cavendish
Written with Scrivener

My YA thriller co-authored with 
Ning Cai the celebrity magician and author.
Published by Marshall Cavendish
Also written with Scrivener, of course