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 😍

Monday, October 16, 2017

Andre's sweet taste of progress

This is a belated post, seeing as we just returned from Japan and all...check out my travel blog!

Ok, it's actually been two weeks but I have been trying to physically recover from the trip. According to my tracker, I walked a total of 54.5 km on my Japan trip - an average of 9 km a day. May not sound like much to some of you, but for a usually sedentary person, that's a heck of a lot. During the trip, I'd ignored the protests from my hips, knees and back, and simply popped Neurofen to beat them into submission.

We will soldier on! Right after this break...
Then I returned home and paid the price. They refused to be silenced any more and I ached in places I never thought was possible to ache. The ache has since somewhat dulled (though not completely dissipated). Never have I felt my age so much.

Lesson: never listen to all those folks who tell you they will wait until they retire to travel. You may have the time then but you will be limited by your body. Well, unless you're like the sturdy Japanese - there I was at Fushimi-Inari shrine, panting and groaning after the first two sections, while wizened 70-year-old locals were steadily forging ahead with their tong kat. Power!

Fushimi-Inari shrine in Kyoto
On the plus side, all that walking negated the massive over-consumption of calories accumulated during the trip. Quite to my delight, when I weighed myself back home, I found that I'd LOST weight and more importantly, gained muscle. As a friend said, this is the best weight-loss plan ever!

But I digress - this post is actually about Andre. We'd planned the trip on the last week of September to coincide with Lesley-Anne's one-week break and Andre's mid-year holidays. That's right, Andre has already completed one semester of poly. Where did the time go?

The update is that poly has absolutely been the right choice for him (so far). It's pretty intensive, with assignments and projects every week - Andre says it feels like he's been at poly forever. However, he finds the work meaningful and enjoys his lessons, which is a huge incentive for learning. He's also done some nifty stuff, like going on a trip to visit Fullerton Hotel. He's been up to the Presidential Suite which he says has a baby grand piano and bullet proof windows. Fascinating!

He has also become fast friends with a few male classmates, who are all different ages as they traversed different pathways to reach this point. They hang out together, which is great. Since one of them is Muslim, they can only eat together at Halal eateries. Andre told me most indignantly, "There are so few Halal dining choices! It's only fast food or expensive restaurants." 😆 It's probably an odd complaint from a Chinese Christian boy but I love that Andre's friends come from diverse backgrounds and cultures - goes a long way in nurturing understanding and empathy.

During the trip, Andre's mid-year results were released online, but he refused to check it until the very last day as he was afraid they would be bad. In the end, his fear was needless as he achieved a GPA of 3.82! Four As and two B+s. What a lovely surprise and validation that he had indeed, chosen the right path.

That was also the perfect present for his birthday, which was the day after we returned from Japan. Andre has simple needs and doesn't ask for much so as a gift, we just upgraded his data plan. He's mighty pleased with this as he had been surviving on 100mb per month for many years. (Yes, it's possible! Lesley-Anne still does!) Well, now he has 2GB a month which is a windfall in comparison.

Grandma wanted to get him something else and asked him to look out for a present in Japan. You might think: boy and gadget-crazy Japan is a no-brainer, right? Nope. Andre's favourite dog breed is the Shiba Inu, which is a Japanese breed. We saw a Shiba Inu in Kyoto - it's adorable.

So Andre decided Grandma's gift to him would be a maintenance-friendly version:

Simple celebration and strawberry shortcake for the newly minted 17-year-old. 

A happy child is a blessing like no other, and Andre has blessed us greatly with his big heart cocooned within an easy-going nature and an infectiously fun-loving personality. A very joyous birthday to you, my ray of sunshine! 🌞🌈

And here's a series of pictures of Ah Boy with chopstick action in Japan.

By the way, this next photo pretty much sums up the commencement of all our meals in Japan. "Can I eat now?" "Wait, let me take a photo!" "Hurry up!" "Wait lah!" "I'm starving!"
Oh deer!

Monday, September 25, 2017

In the food capital of Japan


I'm on a week-long holiday with the family in Kyoto and Osaka. It's primarily a food trip, to satisfy our gastronomic cravings (plus some sights lah). Follow our adventures in the land of sushi and geishas on my travel blog. The first two posts are already up and I will try to blog when I can.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Closing the chapter on Danger Dan and Gadget Girl

Advertisement first! Lesley-Anne and I will be at Popular Bookstore @ Jurong Point this coming Saturday 2-3pm with the team from Sherlock Sam (AJ Low). That's right - 2-in-1! If you're free, do pop by with your kids. There will be games and prizes to be won, and we will answer any burning questions you might have about the Danger Dan books. We will also be happy to autograph any Danger Dan books you might have, so bring them along!

Second announcement: Epigram Books is holding a contest on Facebook for the very last book of the Danger Dan and Gadget Girl series: #5 The Robot Revolution, due out end of this year. If your kids love the series and want to see their name in print, get them to write a short praise blurb or review of the series (samples can be found on the first page of every Danger Dan and Gadget Girl book, but don't copy - be original please!)

If selected, the blurb will be printed in the book and you will receive a FREE copy of the book!

Just follow these steps to enter the contest:
1) Go to Epigram Books Facebook page. Like the post and Epigram Books
2) Take a photo of: your praise blurb of the series followed by your name (no need for surname!), age, school.
3) Post it on your FB page (or your parents’ page)
4) Tag Epigram Books and Danger Dan in your post
5) Hashtag #ddggpraise

Deadline: 24 September 2017

Talking about #5 The Robot Revolution, I'm feeling very sentimental. This is the last book in Lesley-Anne and my second fiction series, and it's safe to say that the Danger Dan escapades will end here. Now that Lesley-Anne is in university, she simply doesn't have time to write any more, at least not at the level of investment that a fiction series demands. We also think that Danger Dan has run his course and were very pleased with the way his story will culminate in this last book. As they say, best to go out with a bang!

Who knew, when we started the adventures of Danger Dan more than three years ago, that this spiky haired boy would end up dominating so much of our time and energy. Sometimes, he's just downright exasperating. (I have been known to argue with my own character while writing, to the amusement of Lesley-Anne.) Quite true to character, I have to say.

Writing children's fiction has been a incredible learning journey for me personally. It has forced me to work my creative muscle in a way that I was not accustomed to. Kids are the harshest critics and we knew we had to be extra funny, extra original, extra innovative, to capture their imagination. Seeing the characters brought to life by the illustrator was an especially gratifying part of the publishing process.

Elvin Ching, illustrator
Book cover options for #5 The Robot Revolution
But the most rewarding part of all is when kids come up to us clutching their Danger Dan books, talking excitedly about the characters.

Even as we close the pages on the fiction series (don't 😢😢, we will still continue with Secrets of Singapore, the non-fiction series!), I hope that the Danger Dan books will entertain kids for many more cohorts to come. 

If ever I had any doubts about this endeavour, this is the part that puts my mind at ease: to have given kids something to enjoy, something to laugh about. To me that's the absolute best part about being a children's book writer.

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