Thursday, August 28, 2014

Singapore Mumpreneur Awards

About a month ago, I was asked by my friend to be nominated for the inaugural Singapore Mumpreneur Awards (Mumpreneurs are mothers who juggle being a parent and an entrepreneur). I was hesitant, partly because I thought it would be a little strange since my friend is the organiser and secondly, I'm usually very paiseh to join such competitions lah.

But she assured me that she's not a judge so she'll have no say in the results, plus I wanted to support her since she's doing such a fantastic job helping mothers return to the workplace. She's the founder of Mums@Work Singapore which now has thousands of members. Personally, I think she should win Singapore Mumpreneur of the Year!

So I agreed to be nominated. Then on Saturday night, I received an email saying that I was a finalist in one of the categories! Wah. But then the tricky bit - the winner is based on public votes and that's another thing that makes me uncomfortable - canvassing for votes. So I'll just keep this brief: I'm a finalist in the Most Socially Responsible Mumpreneur category based on the fact that:

1) My business pays it forward by engaging mostly mums as writers (7 out of 9 of my writers are mums). These are capable women who gave up their careers to look after their kids and writing for me gives them meaningful flexi-work.

2) I write a blog (this one, haha!) to share my views on education and parenting with other parents.

3) After becoming a published author with Lesley-Anne, we do our part to give back to the community by sharing how we nurtured our love of reading and writing to school kids.  

So if you feel this is worth a vote, you can cast your vote for me here (my category is the last one). You can actually vote every day, up to 12 September 2014 so if you're feeling extra supportive, you may wanna do that :)

Thanks a million!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Balancing art and business

As a writer, one of my pet peeves is that there's so little regard for originality and creativity. The prevailing mindset seems to be: it's ok to copy a style/storyline/ideas or ride on the success of a formula, as long as it sells. It doesn't help that from primary school, kids are taught to follow model compositions which of course, ends up with all the compositions reading like they were mass produced.

When Lesley-Anne and I were brainstorming ideas for Danger Dan's time-travelling adventures, Epigram Books suggested that the character had a mad scientist dad who invented a time machine. Both of us protested because it was so formulaic and overdone. They said, "it's ok to be formulaic!" but let us have the final say. (That's one of the great things about Epigram Books - they never force their suggestions on us.)

I don't blame them at all because I understand why publishers like things formulaic. It's safer. Doing something original is risky because you don't know how it will affect book sales, vs something that has been tried and tested. However, for Lesley-Anne and me, writing is something very close to our hearts and the books are like our babies - we want to be proud of them. We want to add value to the world of fiction. We want people to love the story we've created, not something that was ripped off from somebody else.

However, I claim this as my personal philosophy and not as a judgement against others because I realise that I'm in a somewhat enviable position of having a day job. Writing books is a hobby and I don't have to depend on it to earn my living. Since I'm not doing this for the money, I have the luxury of being able to write what I want (as long as I can convince the publisher!) Whereas authors who depend on writing for income are under greater pressure to ensure their books sell.

That is the one of the reasons why I don't see myself giving up my career to pursue full-time fiction writing anytime soon. I don't want to be in a position where sales become so important that I feel the need to churn out books and series at the expense of the quality of writing.

Having said that, it would be silly to deny the importance of book sales. Fashion guru Michael Kors once said on an episode of Project Runway, that fashion is both art and business. I totally agree and I feel that this statement applies to books as well. Authors need to understand that a book they put out should at least have a chance at commercial viability. Publishing something that nobody wants to buy is just narcissistic and a waste of trees. Write a journal then.

Before I become an author, I thought how nice it would be to have a book published, end of story. Now that I'm one, I find myself looking at sales numbers, hoping my books will sell well. For the publisher, sales are critical to survival. A book that doesn't sell hurts their bottomline because it translates into real costs for them. Book publishing is a tough business to be in in this day and age where reading, especially fiction, seems to be low on the priority scale of most people. The stats are pretty scary.

In a challenging landscape, there's bound to be politics and underhanded practices and it's the same for the book industry. Becoming a published author has been an eye-opening experience for me. I won't go into detail but I was like a wide-eyed country bumpkin when I heard about some of the cut-throat stuff that went on behind the scenes in the industry.

Did I expect that because this was an industry that dealt with books, people would all be aboveboard and function with integrity? You can call me sotong right now. Even a seemingly minor decision like getting a book agent for school talks and sales created a moral dilemma for me. Originally, I was linked up with a book agent whom I had reservations about because she was rude and abrasive. Later, I heard that she treats books purely as a commodity and found some of her sales tactics questionable. I saw her once at a school book sale and was rather put off by her behaviour.

I couldn't imagine partnering with someone like that, let alone entrust my precious Danger Dan to her. Thankfully, I think God must have been looking out for me because before any arrangements were made, my book agent was changed to Denise of Closetful of Books instead and it has been such a blessing. Even though Denise is less established in the business, she is a fellow book lover and only recommends books that she has read and loves. We hit it off almost immediately and I knew Danger Dan was in good hands.

On Lesley-Anne's birthday, Denise surprised her with a gift - a visual art book of writer Neil Gaiman's speech "Make Good Art". All because she heard Lesley-Anne mention once that she loves Neil Gaiman. Such a sweet and thoughtful gesture. (Incidentally, that keynote speech for Philadelphia's University of the Arts is inspirational - it encapsulates so much of my own philosophy of life. You can read it here.)

For all my naivete, I've been incredibly fortunate. Epigram Books has been a godsend. So has Denise. I don't know how well Danger Dan will do and whether it will take off, but if it does, I'm glad that I will be sharing Danger Dan's success with people who have their hearts in the right place.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

For the love of ballet

Lesley-Anne started ballet classes when she was in p2 and over the next 9 years, the once-a-week lessons became a familiar and much loved routine.

In a ballet class, the kids move up the grades as a group so the parents saw the girls grow up together, at least those who stayed with the centre. It's really great to see these cutie pies blossom into young ladies.

Earlier in March this year, Lesley-Anne took her Grade 8 ballet exam. The usual pre-exam ritual - hair done by her wonderful teacher, Ms Chew:

Stretches and last minute practising before the exam:

Since Lesley-Anne began JC this year, her schedule has been jam-packed and I'd suggested that she stopped her ballet lessons after Grade 8 exam, especially since she was already in the modern dance CCA in school. However, she was adamant about continuing - that's how much she loves ballet.

It seems like God had other plans though because right after the exam, her beloved ballet teacher announced that she was moving the classes to the other end of the island. That put an end to the discussion right there and even Lesley-Anne had to admit, "Ok, I think God is telling me to stop."

It's bittersweet for her but the timing was practically perfect. And as a very nice round-up, Lesley-Anne ended up earning a Distinction for her exam.

I wouldn't say that dance or ballet is for everyone but in Lesley-Anne's case, it was truly a blessing. It gave her, a very shy girl, a physical outlet of expression and through dance, she could come out of her shell.

This was her at her very first ballet exam:

And at her last one:

She couldn't have asked for better dance mates or better teachers. What a glorious 9 years.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Mars and Venus

The other day, I asked Andre what topic he was studying in school for science. He told me human reproduction and then followed it up with "it's the most horrible topic ever".

I thought oh, it's probably because he doesn't like to hear the gory details about the birds and the bees, or maybe it's the pictures that embarrass him. Here's a boy who can't hear the word "boob" without covering his ears and emitting a squeal.

Instead, he looked at me accusingly and said, "Your menu-station cycle lah! So complicated! So many different days to remember! And all those words to spell! Like ovulation and o-estrogen!" (He pronounced the 'o').

I almost felt obliged to apologise on behalf of all womankind.

Recently, I was looking at photos of our past holidays and realised how much Andre had grown from his relative height and size with Lesley-Anne.

This was June 2012:

June 2013:

And June 2014:

The funny thing is now that Andre's taller and larger than Lesley-Anne, he's passing her sports t-shirts that he has outgrown. Lesley-Anne accepts them with grace but muses that there's something very unglam about wearing hand-me-downs from one's YOUNGER brother.

However, despite his physical growth over the past two years, Andre is still very much a child at heart. He has given me advanced notice that he intends to be a bachelor forever because a girlfriend or wife would just take up his time and spend his money. "How am I going to have cute grandchildren, then?" I pouted. "Go ask jie jie," he replied adamantly.

I've not given up hope yet. Maybe once the hormones hit him full swing, hearts will start swimming in front of his eyes. While he's no heart throb, I think he's shaping up to be quite a pleasant looking chap (ok, mother's bias) so maybe a couple of girls will start looking his way sometime in the future. They'll probably need to be a lot more obvious than flutter their eyelashes though. And if they're smart, they won't use the word "boob".

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