Monday, March 28, 2016

The new adventures of Danger Dan and Gadget Girl!

Some of you may be wondering what Lesley-Anne has been doing since the end of her 'A' levels last November. Most of her friends are either working or on an internship while waiting to enter uni. Lesley-Anne is doing neither, well, not unless you count conducting school talks and workshops, and giving tuition to one of my friend's daughter and Andre.

But the main reason why Lesley-Anne hasn't taken on a job is because...we're writing another Danger Dan series! And here's a reveal of the cover of the very first book:

Tadah! Doesn't it look fantastic? We're so very excited!

The contract was offered to us by Epigram Books late last year, thanks to the modest success of the first Danger Dan series, and especially Secrets of Singapore. I've been keeping it under wraps till now when I'm finally ready to announce it. While I'm calling it another Danger Dan series, there are quite a few differences with this one:

1. We didn't want to continue writing about Singapore's past, especially since we feel the fifth book closed that time-travelling-into-the-past chapter quite nicely. So we decided to send Danger Dan into the future instead - into Gadget Girl's world in 2135! This series is our hypothetical take on future Singapore.

2. Since it's a new series, we thought it would be nice to introduce a brand new character. Not a boy or a girl but a furry, canine friend! Meet Dog aka Power Paws. He's cute, he's silly and based on early reviews from kid readers, he's a real hit! This time, we decided to give Gadget Girl equal billing (girl power!) so she gets her name on the masthead as well.

3. The last series centred around Singapore's history. This one has a more scientific focus - quite fitting since Danger Dan and Gadget Girl are travelling into the future. While we've always shied away from saying that our books are deliberately educational, we do try to include bits of information that can be found in our local school syllabus, so kids can learn something even as they read a fun story. In writing this new series, we've incorporated facts that are covered in the primary school science syllabus, like animals, plants, water cycle, etc. So, parents, rejoice!

We enjoyed the process of putting Book 1 together. We now have a new editor and a new illustrator, and it's fun working with this team. Elvin, our illustrator, is a comic book artist and we think he has updated Danger Dan's look brilliantly. He inks the illustrations by hand instead of digitally and we absolutely love them. Here he is, and no, he wasn't really mad at anything, he was just hamming it up for the camera. Lol!

L-R: Elvin (illustrator), Lydia (designer), Wai Mun (editor)
There will be five books in the series, so Lesley-Anne and I have been madly writing. We're planning to finish writing all five books before she leaves for university. Phew!

The first book, The Animal Abduction, will be available around mid April and we're now taking pre-orders for the book! Visit the pre-order page here. Epigram Books is offering a 10% discount for pre-orders of The Animal Abduction, as well as on all other Danger Dan books, including Secrets of Singapore. Order at least $50 worth of books for free delivery.

To enjoy the discount, apply the promo code DDGGLAUNCH2016 at the checkout. Promotion ends 30 April 2016.

We're extremely encouraged by initial reviews of the book, which have been very positive:

“This fast paced, time-travel adventure engages readers with its futuristic inventions and ideas. There is a thought-provoking message about the possible future of planet Earth, including the plight of endangered animals. ”
—Susan Grant, teacher librarian, ISS International School

“What is Singapore like in the year 2135? Certainly an intriguing premise, with an action-packed storyline that had my boys finish the book in one sitting!”
—Kelvin Ang, author and daddy blogger at Cheekiemonkies

“Danger Dan boldly goes with Gadget Girl where no Mickey Mouse-eared boy has gone before—the Singapore Zoo of the twenty-second century! I’m frothing with superpowered glee to join this duo, and their new ally Power Paws, on their most madcap adventure yet.”
—Gwee Li Sui, poet and graphic novelist

Reading level: 8-12 years old. If you're looking for an action-packed adventure book full of comedic moments, do support us and buy the book for your kids!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Young writers and young readers

Lesley-Anne and I had a pretty full February and March. Apart from our new project together (which I will give details about in due course), we also conducted several school talks and a workshop.

The workshop in question was for the All In! Young Writers Festival, entitled "Crafting Creative Stories for Young Readers".

Because the workshop was for an older age group than our usual audience and on a slightly different topic, we had to come up with new materials.

Our participants ranged from teenagers to adults - very diverse.
I'm always slightly apprehensive when we have a new programme as I'm not sure how the audience will respond to it but as it turned out, I needed have worried. They participants were engaged and looked like they enjoyed themselves tremendously. In one of the games, three friends were so charged up they actually moved around, acting out their parts.

We interacted with the participants in turn, and were pretty impressed by some of the very original ideas that emerged. One girl came up with a character called Baby Breath, who was cute and sweet but had difficulties breathing around babies. How fun is that?

Photo by All In!
Here they are busy writing their children's stories. Maybe a future award-winning one? Who knows!

Photo by All In!
After the event, we were told by the organisers that we received a 4.6 overall rating (out of a maximum of 5) for our workshop. How encouraging! We're very pleased 😃

We conducted two other talks at international schools in February. One was at ISS International to Grades 4s and 5s:

Another school talk was at Chatsworth East to Year 3-5s:

We were also stoked to hear that one of the Chatsworth East is using Secrets of Singapore as a guide to Singapore history in one of their Year 3 units. As writers, news like that truly make our day. Thank you, Chatsworth East, for that vote of confidence!

Monday, March 7, 2016

All about the 'A's

Posting on a public blog about academic results is always tricky, in my opinion. I'm constantly in two minds whether to do so. If the results are bad, announcing them would embarrass my child. On the other hand, announcing good results can sound like I'm bragging. I faced this dilemma when each of my kids went through their PSLE.

You probably all know by now that I'm alluding to Lesley-Anne's 'A' level results, which were released last Friday.

Some background: Even though Lesley-Anne had been performing consistently well in JC, the subject that had given her the most trouble was English Language and Linguistics (ELL). I'd written about this in a 2014 post on how she chose her rather unconventional subject combination. It was a subject she chose to take due to interest, even though it wasn't highly encouraged because it has a historically low distinction rate at the 'A' levels, compared to other subjects. As you know, in the Singapore education system, you're supposed to pick subjects where you have the highest chance of scoring an 'A', since that's all that matters in education! Bleeaah.

ELL is a subject that is very hard to score well in. When I saw what Lesley-Anne has to study, many of the topics were those that I learned in university and in as great detail. The work she put in for ELL was more than what she had to do for her other subjects. The grading was equally tough. The best grade she ever received in the subject in her two JC years was a 'B'. The worst, an 'E'. However, she never regretted her decision to take ELL. ELL was interesting and opened her eyes to how language is used, something that's infinitely useful to a writer.

Then came the 'A' levels and my heart sank when she came home from the first ELL paper, terribly upset. She said the paper featured some very odd questions and she took a long time to figure out what to write, so when time was up, she couldn't finish and missed out writing a very important point. Nevertheless, I told her to put that aside and focus on her other papers. Before her second ELL paper, we all prayed ridiculously hard and even though it also turned out to feature quite non-standard questions, thankfully, she found it more manageable than the first paper.

So fast forward to last week, before the 'A' level results. If you've followed my blog all these years, you'll know that scoring straight 'A's has never been a fixation with us the way it is with many Singaporean parents. Not that we don't think grades are important, but they're not everything. In fact, when Lesley-Anne conducts talks in primary schools, one of the things she shares to encourage the kids is that she was never a straight 'A' student and that has not stopped her from chasing her dreams.

However, for the 'A' levels, the number of 'A' grades Lesley-Anne scored would have significant impact on her tertiary path. She had already received an unconditional offer from a local university and a few conditional offers from overseas universities. For one of the conditional offers, the condition is straight 'A's. In addition, I'd previously blogged that if Lesley-Anne wanted to go overseas, she would need to secure a scholarship as we wouldn't be able to pay for her. So without straight 'A's, going to the other overseas universities would also be unlikely (even thought they didn't impose the straight 'A' condition), simply because the chances of winning a scholarship without straight 'A's would be that much lower.

With all the different configurations weighing on her mind, by Thursday night, Lesley-Anne was a nervous wreck. To calm her down, I said I would drink with her. By drink, I meant we shared one small bottle of 4.8% alcoholic drink. Peach flavoured some more, haha. We watched mindless sitcoms on TV until we zoned out (mostly Big Bang Theory).

We also prayed. A lot. I asked God to reward Lesley-Anne's hard work (I thought it would be terribly discouraging if her admirable work ethic came to naught). As you know, I'm constantly vexed by the kiasu and soul-less attitude that's rife in our education system - "study what you can score in!", "do what is prestigious!", etc. So I asked God to also let her results be an inspiration to those who have the courage to follow their own path and go with their conviction, not the ones who constantly look to game the system.

After an excruciating wait on Friday, she finally called me at about 3pm...

She got her 'A' in ELL. And in all her other subjects as well. Six distinctions in total.

I'm not gonna elaborate on our response and feelings - ecstatic doesn't even begin to describe it. But what I can say is, the deep gratitude I feel towards God's grace is what made me decide to reveal Lesley-Anne's results in the end. Whether her experience will encourage you that going with your passion can bring rewards, or whether it will strengthen your own faith, I don't know. All I can do is share.

I suppose at the end of the day, it's less about the actual results and more about what a combination of faith, prayer and diligence (plus some alcohol) can accomplish. I don't even know if Lesley-Anne will eventually go overseas for her university education. At this stage, we have adopted the attitude that it really doesn't matter. Whatever God has planned for her, it will be good.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you." - Jeremiah 29: 11-12

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