Monday, March 19, 2018

New book launch, and speaking about women and writing

Last Saturday morning, we launched Secrets of Singapore: Botanic Gardens at where else, but the Botanic Gardens. Truly glad and grateful that many kids and parents took the time to attend the event.

In case you missed the event, here's a short clip of Lesley-Anne sharing some snippets from the book.

Here we are with Dr Nigel Taylor, Director of the Botanic Gardens, who has been wonderfully supportive of the book throughout the whole process.

The best part - meeting the fans!

If you missed our launch, I will be speaking at another event this coming Sunday, 25 March 2018. It's From Now On (Women Taking Charge) held at SMU from 1-4pm. The event will feature discussions about the issues facing women in our world.

I will be speaking about my journey as a writer (both book and corporate writing) under Write Your Life which is 2-3pm. RSVP in the link above. I have previously blogged about my stories as a female writer and entrepreneur. If you'd like to hear from me in person, I would love to meet you - come join in if you can!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Launch of Secrets of Singapore: Botanic Gardens!

This book seemed to be in the works forever (at least it did for me), but I'm happy to announce that it's finally here! Presenting Secrets of Singapore: Botanic Gardens 😍

I love, love, love this book. I feel that we got everything right with this one for these reasons:

1) A great mix of really fun facts, not just about the Botanic Gardens but also about plants in general. Primary school kids will be able to relate because we cover a lot of information about plants that's in the Science syllabus - from plant reproduction to photosynthesis and plant adaptations, just to name a few. And all told in a conversational, fun way, of course.

2) So many punny jokes. I think Pun Princess Lesley-Anne outdid herself this time.

3) If you love the Botanic Gardens, this book serves as a very handy guide. All the plants and places of interest that we mention in the book are numbered ad marked on a comprehensive map at the back of the book, so you can follow it like going on a treasure hunt.

We've already received some very positive feedback on the book:

The book should hit bookstores in a couple of weeks. If you can't wait, you can get it online from the Epigram Books store.

The book will be officially launched on Saturday 17 March, 10.30am at the Botany Centre's Green Pavilion, Botanic Gardens. We'll be sharing some snippets from the book and there will be games and prizes. Bring the whole family! The book will be on sale at the event and we will autograph all purchases.

Meanwhile, Epigram Books is running a weekly contest on their Facebook page (every Friday), where you answer a question and stand a chance to win a set of Secrets of Singapore.

Do support us and hope to see you next Saturday!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Forever 36 and 5 observations about ageing

Last weekend, I celebrated my birthday. Not gonna reveal how old I am except that I'm forever 36.

When you're a kid, birthdays are milestones to look forward to. You wish for stuff like, grow a little taller perhaps. Able to take public bus by yourself. Done with PSLE year. And for the less forward-looking, more presents! Once you're an adult and have kids of your own, the milestones tend to centre around your kids. First tooth! First steps! First word! Done with that dang PSLE!

Then when you reach a certain *ahem* age, you become less ambitious ("Let my wrinkles not show in my birthday photos"). You suddenly wish for birthdays to be less eventful and have fewer milestones. Cos the milestones tend to be more alarming and catch you totally by surprise. Like you step on a scale and realise with a shock that's the first time you've gone over a certain number. Or the first time you discover that white hair isn't limited to the hair on your head.

But hey, that's the universe's way of saying, "Surprise! Happy birthday, my old pal!" So in the spirit of graceful ageing, here are five observations I've made about growing older:

1) Eyesight 

One of the first signs of ageing is deteriorating eyesight. Suddenly, words on a page can't come into focus, even after you've blinked furiously. When you're trying to take a photo, you think your phone automatically engaged a soft filter with blurring effect. Oh wait, it's just your eyes.

I've given up reading the fine print on menus. Not sure if I'll be getting avocados or asparagus. When I play Farm Heroes Saga on my phone, I sometimes have to ask Andre to tell me many strawberries I'm missing. I tell my writers to submit drafts to me in Point Size 12. Any smaller than that and they're asking for it.

You know what really annoys me? These measuring cups for medicine:

The markings are etched without colour on the cup. How the heck do they expect optically-challenged seniors to pour out our meds in the right amount? Do we need to paint a black backdrop on the kitchen wall just so we can contrast the dang cup against it? Idiots.

The solution is simple but troublesome. Lao hua glasses. I buy them from Daiso - they're cheap and you can change the degree according to how quickly your eyesight degenerates. I buy multiple pairs and put them in almost every room at home, partly because I often can't remember where I last left them. There have been instances when I'm holding a pair in my hands, yelling, "Where are those glasses?!" But that's a different problem with ageing.

2) White hair

When your hair decides that it's lost its will to pigmentise and will go au naturale. I've actually had white sprouts before I was 30 but those were the rogue ones. Once I hit 40, it became a mass contingent. So much so that I gave up going to the salon to colour my hair - it was too frequent and took up too much time. I just diy with store-bought hair dye every month or so.

My friend recently recounted to me how she was asked twice within a week by supermarket cashiers whether she had the senior citizen card. She's the same age as I am. Which probably explains the extreme indignation I expressed towards the impertinence of these supermarket aunties. How dare they! I've known this friend since we were best friends in primary 1, so we still think of each other as spring chickens prancing around in our pinafores.

"It's probably cos of all my white hair," my friend shrugged. She has no issues with ageing. Apparently I do, because I then made a quiet resolve to be more diligent in my hair colouring.

3) Exercise

When you're in your 20s and 30s, exercise involves hitting the courts for a sweaty game of tennis or jumping in tune to an hour of aerobics. I used to stare unabashedly at elderly folks wearing bright orange caps and shorts, swinging their arms vigorously while walking, like they're trying to karate chop flies. Now I get it. The neon orange is cos they can't see anyone - they need people to see them. And you become a little limited in the type of exercise you can do when anything can potentially injure a joint, a bone, a muscle.

Talking about injuries, when you're younger, you ache after a marathon session of badminton. Or an ultra challenging workout at the gym. Now, I can get a neck ache from simply turning too quickly when checking my blind spot in the car. And I have to whip out that Salonpas for my aching shoulder after sleeping in one position all night. I have a permanent crick in my knees, an ache in my right hip, and the soles of my feet hurt when I walk too much. Talk about less ambitious physical goals.

4) Wet and dry

One of the (many) annoying things about ageing is that parts of you that are supposed to be moist become dry and parts that are supposed to be dry become moist. My skin, for instance. It has always been reasonably cooperative - a little oily in parts but nothing that some blotting paper can't fix. Now, makeup that has looked good on me for years settle into fine likes and cake up like bad fondant. I've succumbed to the Curse of Mature Skin. Gah.

Meanwhile, my eyes and nose have gone the opposite route - tearing and dripping for no apparent reason other than to irritate the hell out of me. The only bright side I can see to this is that when you enter the train blinking and sniffling, people move away from you faster than a speeding bullet.

5) Body shape

When I was a kid, people probably thought I was anorexic. Stick-thin and I could eat whatever I wanted. My body type was pretty kind to calories. A few decades later, I'm paying for the wanton dietary disregard. My metabolic rate has slowed to a crawl. I merely have to look at a curry puff and I can feel my midriff expanding.

Last year, I decided that swimming would be my sport of choice, since it's kinder on the joints. I went to Decathlon to look for a swim shirt. The women's selection was all shaped something like this:

Concave in the middle cos presumably that's the female shape. Female shape, my foot. I tried one on and OMG, I looked like a bak chang. My middle section is where I'm BIGGEST, not smallest. In the end, I bought a swim shirt from the men's selection.

I have become a lot more realistic in my goal-setting. No more "get thinner" or "get back my waistline" nonsense. At my age, it's about maintaining (if you think it couldn't get any worse, yes it can).

If I can still fit into the same clothes a birthday from now, that's a worthy achievement. Then maybe I can celebrate with a curry puff.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Minding my own business

I recently read this post on how Ellen Pompeo fought to be paid what she deserved in tv show Grey's Anatomy and I went, you go girl! It's always uplifting to read about women who hold their own, especially in industries which are typically male-dominated at the top.

As most of you know by now, I've been running my own copywriting agency since 2002. That's coming up to 16 years. Do you know how many women run their own agencies in Singapore? Ok, I don't either, because 1) I don't know where to get the figures and 2) I'm too lazy to find out. But I work with other creative agencies on a regular basis - design agencies, advertising agencies, web agencies, PR agencies - and while a few are helmed by women, the vast majority are run by men. If there are female owners, more often that not, they have male partners.

I think this is true of businesses in general but it's something that struck me only recently. It was when I started thinking about grooming a second-in-command that I realised how difficult it was to find a right-hand woman. From talking to other women, these reasons keeping coming up as to why they don't want to run a business: Dunno how. Too risk-averse. No business mind. Can't commit to the time needed. Can't manage clients. Can't deal with the stress.

It's not that these reasons are invalid. It's just that underlying all these reasons, I feel that a major stumbling block is the lack of confidence. Women constantly doubt and underestimate their abilities, including their ability to learn and adapt. Men, on the other hand, tend to be more gung-ho. Even if they don't have all the information or knowledge, they are more assured of their abilities to be willing to give it a go. Read this BBC post on the confidence gap between genders.

So why did I, a woman, decide to go into business? The entrepreneurial streak doesn't run in my family. Neither my parents nor theirs ever went into business. While I told everyone it was because I wanted to spend more time with my kids, truth be told, a huge push factor was that I was thoroughly sick of the warring factions and politics happening in my last workplace. Sometimes, decisions are simply made out of reaching the limit of your patience (plus I probably didn't know what I was getting myself into).

So I launched myself into the big, scary world of business. For the most part, my gender didn't come into play, but the few times that it did, it left an indelible mark on my memory. People in Singapore don't think much about gender inequality because unequal pay or outright discrimination is not condoned. But gender stereotyping and coloured perceptions of people simply based on their gender still exist and are therefore insidious, because there's less awareness of their impact.

Most of my clients are very decent in this respect. They usually accord me with respect and don't treat me any differently because of my gender. In some particular industries however (I won't say which ones), male chauvinism is alive and well. On a few occasions, within five minutes of meeting the client (always a middle-aged or elderly man), I'd know that I was being judged at first sight and not in a positive way. Despite my long-standing track record and portfolio, the client would dismiss me as too ditzy or dumb to understand his very complicated business. Full of technical stuff, you know, beyond the comprehension of a young female. He would adopt a patronising tone and proceed to treat me with great condescension.

I once walked out on an interview because the client decided to deride me even before the interview started. I was furious and called the PR agency contact who had appointed me to tell him he could find himself another writer. He was very sympathetic and said with all the concern in the world, "I hope he didn't make you cry. I think it's so ungentlemanly when men make women cry." OMG. THAT made me feel like weeping. His statement encapsulated all the stereotypes about women being weak and emotional.

I guess it doesn't help that I'm small in stature and hence, look younger than I really am. While I appreciate this now, it was a handicap when I was in my 20s and early 30s. It was a handicap when I was heading departments in the workplace and a handicap when I was meeting clients (some people are both sexist and ageist). To make my presence felt, I found myself projecting an extroverted personality when meeting clients, to sound as chirpy, charming and authoritative as possible. It has become a habit and I still do this today (when I'm actually very much an introvert).

Because I was fortunate enough to have had two fantastically empowering female bosses, and my own conviction that women need to be empowered, I deliberately scouted out mums as potential writers. I won't go into it since that has been covered in detail in this post. Out of my 13 writers, 9 are mums and one is a mum-to-be. (In case you're wondering, I have male writers too. I don't discriminate. I take on whoever can do the job well).

When it comes to managing my writers, I consciously never wanted to be one of THOSE female bosses - you know, the temperamental and irrational ones who make decisions based on their mood-of-the-moment. The ones who give female bosses a bad reputation. I was going to go the rational route, much like how I approach all other business matters. Problems are to be solved one at a time, using logic and reason.

And yet, despite my awareness and intention not to let emotions run the field...

I let personal feelings get in the way of decisions sometimes. I feel bad making tough decisions even though they're right. And then I berate myself for it because it's illogical. Too often, I use "I think..." when I really mean "I know...", just to soften the blow. I still care too much what people think of me and I constantly need emotional support, especially when going through rough patches. In other words, almost unwittingly, my "female" side still reveals itself, in spite of everything.

However, I've long accepted that's who I am, and it's not necessarily a bad thing to have a softer side in business, as long as it doesn't get in the way of things getting done, and done ethically. 

Sidenote: On the homefront, I raised Lesley-Anne to be a strong woman. I wanted her to see that women can run a business, write books, blog, raise kids. Or not. It's not about being a superwoman or trying to grab everything in sight, like at a buffet spread. It's recognising what your strengths are, what you want in life, and then going for it purposefully. It's about choice and about empowerment - two things that shouldn't be dictated by societal expectations about gender. 

And guess what, Lesley-Anne is even more petite than I am but boy, she has perfected her death glare. It can shrivel you down to the size of an ant. She has no qualms about voicing her opinions, especially when boys with big egos and little substance try to talk over her (that really sets her off). Don't get me wrong - I didn't teach her to be rude. You don't have to shout or put others down. (Being kind should be a universal trait, regardless of gender). It's about being confident.

Mothers sometimes forget that we're role models not just for our daughters but also our sons. I love that having grown up in this family, Andre values women for their brains and heart. In fact, he is annoyed by girls in his school who "act cute", are bitchy, or focus only on their looks or material things. "Why can't they be more like you two?" he laments. (I'm glad because it means I'm less likely to get a bimbotic daughter-in-law 😆). And of course, kudos to the hubs for being secure enough to appreciate the strong women in his household.

Back to running a business: I didn't set out to be a flag bearer for women at the workplace. The women-friendly initiatives I took in my business journey were truly in response to each need that came along, that had to be resolved. But maybe that's how it is - the little incremental steps that are done to offer women a work outlet, flexible hours, even just a supportive community - maybe it all matters in the bigger scheme of things. I'd like to think so anyway. 

To end this very long and rambly post, I know many mums follow this blog. If you (and especially my female writers) are reading this, I just want to say: claim your confidence. You're stronger than you think. You're also capable of so much more than you know. You go, girl.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mind the gap

I've always prided myself on being a reasonably hip mum. By this, I mean my kids talk to me about almost anything under the sun, from friends and relationships to books and music. But every now and then, the generation gap hits me in the face like a pancake hitting the griddle.

One such instance was last year when we were at a mall and I walked into a Desigual shop.

Photo: Desigual, Orchard

I love the designs of Desigual clothes and held up a dress with a gorgeous print. "So nice, right?" I gushed. Silence. "RIGHT?" Then Lesley-Anne said, "Mummy, Desigual is so AUNTIE."

I was startled. "What? Who said so?? It's very hip what!"

L-A: "Hip to aunties, not hip to young people."

Me (protesting): "That's not true! Right, Andre?"

Andre: "Leave me out of this. Can we go eat now?"

Me (ignores son): "I know many people who like Desigual!"

L-A: "Like who?"

Me: "Like Ah Ee, Auntie Ada, Auntie Pei Yee, Auntie Maureen...oh." I looked around the store and quickly realised that all the shoppers in the store were women above 40 years old. OMG! Desigual is an upscale auntie shop.

"Can't be that bad, right?" I almost pleaded. "Isn't there anything here that you would wear?"

After looking around with a frown, Lesley-Anne pointed to an item. "Ok, that one." It was a completely black dress with the most miniscule Desigual pattern at the hemline. Gah. In other words, the Desigual ads featuring hip youngsters are all lies - they aren't luring teenagers, they are luring middle-aged aunties who think they are still teenagers.

If you're in the same antiquated boat as I am, never fear! There are ways to bridge the generation gap and one of them is through music. I let Andre introduce me to new artists by watching MTV with him and listening to his Spotify playlist. I don't necessarily like everything, of course, but if you keep an open mind, you'll see that there are many gems in the current music scene. He got me hooked on Imagine Dragons and we went to their concert together last night.

Thunder, feel the thunder. It was positively radioactive. Call me a believer.

However, music education is not a one-way street - it goes both ways. Sometimes, what's hip can be shaped and taught. Even as Andre schools me on current artists, I also share with him the songs I grew up with. As a result, he has secret playlists that consist of oldies from the 1960s to 1980s. Some of them are not so secret - it's quite hip to be retro, so there's no shame to admitting that you like the Beatles or Queen, for example.

Sidenote: This was the Christmas gift we got him one year - the lego Beatles' Yellow Submarine, complete with minifigures. It is absolutely fantastic - it even opens up so the Fab Four can sit in the submarine.

If you play YouTube videos that compile greatest hits from my generation, my kids know an incredible number of them. Andre thinks some of the best songs ever written include A-ha's Take on Me, Starship's Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now and Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire. And he would never, never admit this to his friends but he thoroughly enjoys Abba, the helium-inspired Bee Gees and even the very ancient Earth Wind and Fire.

Once, our family was in the car, mocking and laughing at the absurdity of One FM's "Top 800 hits of the '80s" (I mean, 800 hits? That's just an excuse to play every single hit of the 80s!). Then Rick Astley's Never Gonna Give You Up came on and all four of us spontaneously sang along.

So there you go. If you want to bridge the generation gap, music can be the common denominator. When you're singing along with your kids, they won't even care that you're wearing Desigual.

At Imagine Dragons concert

Monday, December 18, 2017

Popular Readers' Choice Awards 2017

This is the third consecutive year Danger Dan has been nominated in the Popular Readers' Choice Awards. In fact, this year, two of our books were among the 10 nominees in the English (Children) category - #3 Danger Dan & Gadget Girl: The Gruesome Garden and Secrets of Singapore: National Museum.

I guess third time's a charm because we nabbed not one, but two prizes! Secrets of Singapore: National Museum was second place in the English (Children) category. 

In addition, it also won the Citibank SMRT Card Book Cover Award in the same category. For this prize, credit goes to our illustrator Elvin Ching and Epigram Books designer Lydia Wong.   

Group photo of all the winners
What a lovely Christmas gift. A heartfelt thank you to all our readers and supporters who voted! Keep reading, ya?

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Book launch of Danger Dan & Gadget Girl #5 The Robot Revolution

If you're free this Saturday 9 December 2pm, why not come on down to Epigram Books? Lesley-Anne and I will be launching Danger Dan & Gadget Girl #5 The Robot Revolution with games and activities for kids (mums and dads also welcome!)

We will share our thoughts behind the series and also have a book signing session. Epigram Books' yearly pop-up sale promises lots of generous discounts, freebies and even free wrapping service for all books bought, so great time to do your Christmas shopping!


Monday, November 13, 2017

Writing adventures of all kinds

It's the Singapore Writers Festival (SWF) fortnight and I've been all booked up (hur hur).

Lesley-Anne and I conducted our workshop Writing Adventures with Danger Dan and Gadget Girl on 4 November. It's always an honour to be part of SWF and 'twas doubly exciting for us when we found out that our workshop was sold out.

In every workshop, we inevitably have at least one of these types of kids:
  1.  The one whose mouth moves faster than his brain
  2. The one who's eager to show how much he knows
  3. The quiet one who will barely open his mouth but come up with the most amazing ideas on paper 
  4. The one whose wit and creativity make us laugh
Spotted at the Festival bookstore

Last Friday, SWF organised a thank you dinner for participants at Swissotel the Stamford. Lesley-Anne is in the midst of finals so I attended it solo 😢 Like an insecure child, I prefer attending such social gatherings with her so it wouldn't be completely up to me to fill in awkward silences. Authors in general are some of the biggest introverts in the arts universe. Later that evening, as one author rose to leave the dinner early, another asked, "Are you going clubbing?" The first author replied, "No, I'm turning in". That was before 8pm. We are so not party animals.

As it turned out, I met some lovely authors from other countries. I did the Singaporean thing by sharing with them where to find the best chilli crab (Jumbo, of course) and by speaking Singlish (they were fascinated by this).

Seated on my left was Young Adult fiction author Eliot Schrefer from New York. It was only when I came home and checked out his bio that I realised he's a New York Times bestselling author and two-time finalist for the National Book Award 😲.

He's very friendly and I felt right at home chatting with him. I was lamenting to him how Secrets of Singapore sell better than all our other fiction books because it's deemed "educational". He then shared conspiratorially that his best selling work is none of his fiction books but Hack the SAT (a book which gives tips on how to boost your SAT scores) 😂.

The writer seated on my right was Vietnamese poet and author Nha Thuyen. She's also incredibly accomplished, having written and translated several books in different genres. I feel so inadequate to be in the presence of such literary masters.

Nha Thuyen is super warm and effervescent - she's such a bundle of energy. At the end of the evening, she gave me a great bear hug and told me to look her up if I ever visited Hanoi. What a sweetheart.

Anyway, talking about authors naturally leads me to talking about books, namely this one:

That's right - #5 The Robot Revolution, the final chapter of the Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series, is finally out! If you want to know what it's about, this is the blurb:

Danger Dan is going out with a bang! Within an action-packed storyline, we've injected what we hope is a positive message to all kids to love themselves for who they are, warts and all. 
Dedication page
The book should be in bookstores real soon or you can buy it online from Epigram Books. Christmas will be here before we know it - I hope you will all buy a copy or two as Christmas prezzies. Better still, get the whole series!

Monday, October 23, 2017

Holiday activity - learn our secret of writing wacky stories!

Singapore Writers Festival has come around again and this year, Lesley-Anne and I will be conducting a writing workshop Writing Adventures with Danger Dan and Gadget Girl on Saturday, 4 November, 11.30am-1pm.

Our workshops are usually organised by schools and enterprising parents - we don't conduct public workshops. So if you would like your kid to learn how to come up with ideas for original stories, this is your chance! We promise it will be fun - this isn't one of those tedious "how to write better composition" workshops that kids tend to associate with work. Lots of fun games and a great holiday activity (not I ownself say one lah, as said by past participants 😉)

Only $10 per participant, limited seats. Get your tickets from the link above. Suitable for kids aged 9-14.

UPDATE: I've just been informed that tickets to this session are sold out.

And on a celebratory note, the rights to first Danger Dan series has been bought by a Turkish publisher! The books have been translated into Turkish and the publisher even produced a gorgeous boxed set with an accompanying quiz book and stickers! WAH!

Can't read Turkish but am assuming they translated all our jokes perfectly. Thrilled beyond words that kids in Turkey will be reading about Danger Dan 😍

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...