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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Exploring the world with Yale-NUS

In mid-August, Lesley-Anne moved back into Yale-NUS to start her sophomore (second) year. I can't wrap my head around the fact that her freshman year came and went just like that.

Even though I'm tempted, I won't repost pics of all the wonderful facilities because I'd already done so in this post about Yale-NUS. Well, except this pic of the dining hall area, which we didn't get to see the last time. There is even a live station which serves special dishes like laksa and noodle soup.  Don't you think it looks like a hotel buffet dining room? 😲

What I wanted to share in this post is the overseas opportunities that Yale-NUS offers. When Lesley-Anne was applying to universities, Yale-NUS was top of the list for local unis partly because of this. If she couldn't study in an overseas environment, this was the next best option.

In her freshman year alone, she went on three overseas trips. The first was as part of the freshman orientation to Kuching.

Sorry, the photos are limited - I have a daughter who doesn't understand why we need to have a look at every rock she sees or where she stays (instead, she sent us random photos of cute cats and a donkey 😑). 

She also had the opportunity to go to Taiwan with Yale-NUS badminton team, as I'd written about here.

However, the most significant trip for freshmen in Yale-NUS is the Week 7 trip. Called Learning Across Boundaries, this is a flagship programme to encourage students to take their learning into real world situations beyond the classroom. Students in the past have gone to far-flung places like South Africa to learn about wildlife reserves, Huizhou, China to study agricultural villages, London to study art, and so on.

For Lesley-Anne's Week 7 programme, she was fortunate enough to be selected to go to Tangier, Morocco; Ceuta, Spain; and Gilbraltar, UK, which are geographically close by but with very different cultures. It was to study national identity in contested spaces under Global Affairs.

These three cities are considered contested spaces because they geographically close by, yet belong to three different countries. Gibraltar is next to Spain but it's a English colony. Tangier and Ceuta are right next to each other - you cross the border on foot. In Tangier, she stayed in the Medina which is the historic part of the country. This is where you find lots of traditional markets with strong Arab and Islamic influences.

The Rock of Gibraltar
Since Tangier is right next to Ceuta, so you would expect Ceuta to follow the Arab heritage. Yet, the minute you cross the border from Tangier to Ceuta, you suddenly feel like you are in modern Europe. You'll find people walking dogs, whereas in Tangier, there are many cats. This raises the question: do people identify with cultures geographically or politically? I thought it was a fascinating topic.

When in Tangier, eat couscous
Week 7 is not just an excuse to have an overseas holiday, though. A lot of work is expected. During the trip, Lesley-Anne had to complete 10 short write-ups PER DAY of each of the places visited. At the end of the trip, the students had to submit a final essay of about 1,500 words, due the night they returned home. Most of them were feverishly typing up their papers on the plane ride back.

Not everyone goes overseas for Week 7. Some, especially international students, may choose to do their project locally or nearer home, like in Malaysia. But for those who value overseas experiences, it really is a fantastic opportunity. During the summer holidays, Lesley-Anne had to intern with her scholarship organisation but she had friends who successfully applied for summer school at Yale, US and other places. Of course, these trips are not free but I understand that many of the students apply for financial aid and subsidies. You may also apply for semesters at overseas universities, if you so prefer.

In short, if you're looking for lots of overseas opportunities in a local university, I think it's hard to do better than Yale-NUS.  

Friday, August 18, 2017

Fancy yourself a copywriter? Here's a job opportunity

This post is a job ad of sorts as I'm currently looking to take on another copywriter for the Hedgehog Communications team. In the past, I've only gone on recommendations from friends but this time, I decided to open up to applications from the public.

About Hedgehog Communications

With 15 years in the business, Hedgehog Communications is one of the most established copywriting agencies in Singapore, especially for the public sector. There are currently 12 copywriters on the team (excluding me), with diverse backgrounds and experience. All my copywriters work on a freelance basis, although some of them write exclusively for Hedgehog Communications.

What the Job Entails

Depending on your background and experience, you might be asked to write for a specific collateral, typically an annual report, brochure or human interest article. However, what's more likely, especially for writers new to Hedgehog Communications, is that you will be asked to be part of a writing team, for a larger project such as a website.

Projects may be ad-hoc (in which case the work will be in intensive bursts) or regular (eg. monthly newsletters). This is an ideal gig for those who wish to engage in meaningful work with flexible hours that allow you to juggle other responsibilities. Read this post about the philosophy behind Hedgehog Communications. 

  1. Experience in corporate or business writing, eg. annual reports, brochures, websites, newsletters, human interest stories.
  2. Writing flair and ability to write to the brief, and communicate clearly and simply. This sometimes involves helping the client organise their content in a way that makes sense for the reader.
  3. Confidence in meeting and working directly with clients.
  4. Reliability and trustworthiness. I can't stress this enough. We always deliver what we promise. 
  5. A strong sense of ownership and desire to be part of a collaborative and dedicated group of writers.
Things to note

Although I have writers who write full-time for Hedgehog Communications, I cannot guarantee work. In short, if you're looking to fill your rice bowl, this is probably not for you. Also, while my writers all work on a freelance arrangement, this doesn't mean the outfit is any less professional. Hedgehog Communications has been around for 15 years and the agency has earned a reputation of being one of the most established and reliable in the business.

In other words, I'm not interested in the following:
  1. Anyone who has done "some writing" or can string grammatical sentences together and think they can therefore be a copywriter. I'm looking for people with years of copywriting experience.
  2. Anyone who wants this gig just because they want flexi hours. The jobs require writing and more writing. You've gotta really love doing this. 
  3. Anyone who is in between jobs or not sure what they wanna do so is looking to fill the time before they move on to the next thing. We are not 7-Eleven. 
  4. A freelancer just looking for more kang tao to boost their own portfolio. Thanks but no thanks. When you write for Hedgehog Communications, you represent the brand and therefore have to be prepared to own it.
Another thing which I've in the past assumed was common sense but realise that it needs to be said: If you want to join us, I expect you to find out more what we do and what we stand for. Interview 101 lah, don't meet me then ask what we do. Waste my time only.

Why Join Us?

You might be thinking, after this stern and naggy read (so typical of an auntie), why would you want to join Hedgehog Communications? Mainly because I look after my writers. 
  • You will get the opportunity to write for major clients and be involved in national level projects that freelancers usually find difficult to win on their own. If you hate chasing down jobs and later chasing clients for payment, I take care of all business and admin aspects so you can just focus on the writing.
  • There's a lot of undercutting in the market and freelancers usually don't have much negotiating power. I compete on quality, not price, as I believe in paying my writers a fair fee. The rate you will get at Hedgehog Communications is generally better than what freelancers can command on their own.
  • If you love writing and want to improve, I (and other very senior writers) are always happy to mentor and guide you. 
  • It's as flexible an arrangement as it can get. You choose to take on as many or as few projects as you want, as long as you're committed to whatever you take on.
  • Finally, the Hedgehog team is simply marvellous to work with - all super friendly, fun and collaborative. No politicking or bitching. Most of my writers have stayed with me from the time they joined, I guess this speaks for itself.  
How Do I Apply?

If you are interested, please send your cv and writing samples to monica@hedgehog.sg by 31 August 2017. It's also important that I know more about you and your motivations, so tell me why you want to join the team and how you see yourself contributing.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Our favourite cafe

Like many Singaporean families, we like going to cafes, especially for Saturday brunch. We look up recommendations online and make our rounds to those that sound interesting. However, many of these cafes turn out to be unmemorable, for a few reasons:

1) The coffee served in some of these cafes is weak and insipid or has a nasty acidic aftertaste, like the beans have been over-roasted.

2) Many cafes have very limited food options. Seriously, there's only so many times you can eat poached eggs before it gets really jelak. Quality too, is questionable. More often than not, I attribute a cafe's popularity more to its ambience than its food.

3) Price is a huge factor. I know cafes have to pay rent lah but I balk at having to cough up $16++ for Eggs Benedict or $6 for a latte. By the time you add service charge and GST, you can end up with a bill close to $100 for a family of four. For nothing more than a fancy version of breakfast.

So this post is to share with you the Tan family's favourite cafe to date. This is NOT a paid post. I'm also not related to the owner in any way. I'm spreading the word simply because we love it and all good things should be shared. We started coming here a few years ago and over the years, we've discovered that amidst our cafe hopping, we somehow wind up back here, and the experience has been consistently great. We're like the fickle boyfriend who keeps checking out the new pretty young thing, and eventually realise that the best one is the one he had all along.

The cafe is Oberstrasse on French Road, right behind Lavender MRT station. It's opened by an enterprising young man and is named after the street in Switzerland where he stayed when he was studying there.

The interior is simply decorated but welcoming. You order and pay at the counter, and they serve your food. The menu is typed on A4 paper and the food selection itself takes up 4 sheets. Drinks take up another page and there's one for dessert pies. It's a crazily wide variety of food and we're always amazed at how just two cooks in the kitchen can whip up so many different dishes.

We've met the owner and he told us he's constantly looking at ways to improve the menu and add new items (as if there's not enough choice!) What an enterprising spirit.

You would think that with such a long list of food items, there would be hits and misses, but honestly, we've tried loads of stuff and we haven't found anything we dislike yet. Most of the dishes are seriously delish. We even brought my mother-in-law a couple of times (she's a notoriously fussy eater) and she said the taste reminded her so much of the great English breakfasts she used to have in London.

Here are some of the items we've tried over the past few years:

Norwegian rosti (with smoked salmon) $14.50
Do you know how difficult it is to find good rosti in Singapore? I only know of Marche and the rosti here is better. Crisp on the top, perfectly cooked in the centre and without any oily residue. There are four types of rosti on the menu, just choose your topping.

Mushroom baked rice $9.50
They don't stinge on the cheese so it's a plate full of cheesy, gooey goodness. Again, there are four types of baked rice. Personally, we like the chicken baked rice best.

Grilled cajun chicken with baked potatoes $9.50
According to the owner, this is one of their best sellers. A very tasty option for chicken lovers.

Crabmeat Arrabiata $15
Yes, they serve pasta too! 12 different types, in fact. Their cream sauce pastas are pretty good. This one is loaded with crab meat.

Classic French Toast with berry compote $10.50
I only tried this on my recent visit and I was completely blown away. It is honestly the best French toast I've tried. The combination of berry compote and mascarpone cheese with granola bits elevates this usually boring dish to a whole new level. The portion is huge though - three thick slices, so unless you have a very sweet tooth, I recommend sharing this with someone.

Smoked salmon avocado sandwich $10.50
This is one of Lesley-Anne's favourites - the sandwich is generously filled with chunks of smoked salmon and a hefty spread of avocado. It normally comes with chips and a small salad but she always asks to replace the chips with more salad. They're very flexible that way. Note: you should order this only if you like chewy bread, which is typical of German bread. If you prefer soft pillowy bread, you probably wouldn't like this.

Chicken mushroom pastry pie $10.50
One of the newer additions to the menu. There are two types of pie: chicken and beef. We prefer the chicken as it comes in a creamy white sauce. The beef pie sauce is a tangy tomato base.

BBQ Babyback ribs $18
This is possibly the most expensive item on the menu but you get a long slab of fall-off-the-bone ribs in an addictive BBQ sauce.

Buttermilk waffles with berries $10.50
Comes with butter and maple syrup (the waffle, not the kids). The waffle is light and crisp, not soggy like in some places.

Flat white $4.50
And finally, the coffee! A very decent cup of joe at a very decent price.

We've sampled more food than the above, but I only posted the ones I had pictures of. The poached eggs and big breakfast here are superb, so are the duck confit and molten lava cake. The full menu is available ALL DAY, so you can eat breakfast food for dinner, or dinner food for breakfast, however you wish to define them.

The prices here are truly reasonable, considering the portions and quality, and have I mentioned, all prices are NETT? That's right - no service charge or GST.

Some other plus points:

1) Free wifi (so you can post food pics without using data).
2) Free water (help yourself at a counter).
3) Accessible - it's located a #01-50 Kitchener Complex, which is just behind Lavender MRT station. If you drive, there's coupon parking along the road.

They open every day from 9am to 9pm, except Saturdays when they close slightly earlier at 5pm. I recommend making reservations for lunch as it can get quite crowded. You can book a table online via Facebook.

So support small local businesses and make your way to Oberstrasse! Your tastebuds will thank you.

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