Because I am a control freak, I decided to have a stab at cover design myself. The first one, the black and red one is inspired by Iban tattoo pattern and Alfred Hitchcock film posters by illustrator/artist Saul Bass. But I think it might be deemed too London, too retro. The second and the third are variations on the same which the idea of the rich mystery of the deep, dark jungle.
Guess which one the publisher chose? It surprised me too.
I am thrilled my first novel Cry of the Flying Rhino has won this prestigious international literary prize for an unpublished full-length work of prose fiction.
Winning the 2016 Proverse Prize is important in promoting excellence in literature and the love of and for books, across all boundaries of race, country, creed. International writing is still at the heart of postcolonial literature, which as a Commonwealth writer, I am proud to represent. Results were announced in the spring reception in Hong Kong on the evening of Thursday 27 April 2017. Cry (89,119 words) will be published in November in Hong Kong this year. I will travel there to receive the prize, to meet the judges, the publishers, readers, writers, guests, the organisers and finally,my book.
I entered the competition on 19 May 2016 before I even wrote to Unbound regarding Heart of Glass. It is a cash prize of 10K HK dollars (look it up, pound has gone down) and publication of the book. Having written for some 40 years with so much blood, sweat and tears (cliche, sorry, yes I know, but how else to put it?), indeed I am crying and my skin is thick as a rhino’s. I have managed to get not just one book out, but both, this year. Although it seems like a coincidence, it is not. I only started submitting my work with any seriousness last year and despite everything,
I carried on like some kind of bumper sticker. (“If life gives you lemons” etc). Rejection after rejection (the holy grail of all writers) and eventually acceptance.
About the book:Cry of the Flying Rhino, told from multiple viewpoints and in multiple voices, is set in 1996 in Malaysia and Borneo. Malaysian Chinese GP Benjie Lee has had a careless one night stand with his new employee – mysterious, teenaged Talisa, the adopted daughter of a wealthy, crass Scottish plantation owner, Ian, in the provincial Malaysian town of Segamat. Talisa’s arms are covered in elaborate tattoos, symbolic of great personal achievements among the Iban tribe in her native Borneo. Talisa has fallen pregnant and Ian forces Benjie to marry her. Benjie, who relished his previous life as a carefree, cosmopolitan bachelor, struggles to adapt to life as a husband and father. Meanwhile, an Iban called Minos has languished in a Borneo prison for 10 years for a murder he didn’t commit, and is released into English missionary Bernard’s care. When one day, a Minos and his sidekick Watan appear in Segamat, Benjie has to confront his wife’s true identity and ultimately his own fears. He has only just noticed that he is losing money in large amounts. Could the tattoos be the key to her secrets?
About the publishers: Proverse Hong Kong is based in Hong Kong with regional and international connections. The International Proverse Prize for Unpublished Non-fiction, Fiction and Poetry is open to all irrespective of residence, citizenship or nationality. The Publishers were born in the UK and have lived and worked in many countries. They visit Australia, Europe, Japan, Mainland China, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the USA.
Previous winners of the Proverse Prize: Rebecca Tomasis, for her novel, “Mishpacha – Family” Laura Solomon, for her young adult novella, “Instant Messages” Gillian Jones, for her novel, “A Misted Mirror” David Diskin, for his novel, “The Village in the Mountains” Peter Gregoire, for his novel, “Article 109” Sophronia Liu, for her collection of sketches, “A Shimmering Sea” Birgit Linder, for her illustrated poetry collection, “Shadows in Deferment” James McCarthy, for his biography, “The Diplomat of Kashgar” Philip Chatting, for “The Snow Bridge and Other Stories” Celia Claase, for her essay and poetry collection, “The Layers Between” Lawrence Gray, for his novel, “Adam’s Franchise” Gustav Preller, for his novel, “Curveball: Life never comes at you straight”
The Flying Rhino is not a prehistoric dinosaur but it does look like one, with its large, mad staring eyes.
The rhinoceros hornbill is the largest hornbill, aka the flying rhino. It has one of the largest and most impressive casques — a feature they share with hadrosaurids from more than 60 million years ago.
The flying rhino and other hornbills practise one of the most ingenious nesting rituals of any bird. When the female is ready to lay her eggs, she goes into a hollow tree cavity and helps the male seal the entrance with a paste made of fruit, mud, and feces. The pair leaves only a small slit, through which the male feeds the female (and later the chicks) for the next four to five months. The female keeps the inside of the nest cavity clean by pushing uneaten food and fecal matter back out through the same slit. When the chicks are about three months old, the female breaks herself out…and both parents and offspring collaborate to re-seal the chicks inside for another three months. Both parents continue to care for the chicks until they are old enough to break out of the nest on their own and fly free.
The cry is a hollow honk. The Rhinoceros Hornbill’s casque is an amp! The cry of the hornbill is amplified so they can be heard all throughout the rainforest. This feature has led paleontologists to believe that maybe harosaurs used their fancy head crests in the same way. So when you hear a Rhinoceros Hornbill’s echoing honk from somewhere out of sight, you might just be hearing the voice of this great bird’s inner dinosaur. They call only to defend their territories from other breeding pairs. It is warning, so you have been warned what Cry of the Flying Rhino is about!
What people and I myself don’t realise is how tough my business life as a designer is and has been. I pitch for ten jobs to get 2. Five jobs to get 1. Clients today make you bleed. You are competing against younger, cheaper and more innovative pitchers. So how do I make myself stand out against the competition? By being totally rehearsed, slick and experienced. I am already very used to pitching. I can do a 3 minute, 30 minutes, 45 minute, 1 hour pitch. All of it is the same process, across all industries.: 1/ This is what I have got. 2/ If you want what I’ve got, then great. 3/ If you don’t want it, this is why you need it 4/ Think about it, cos if you do, this is what it costs. 5/ If you don’t like what it costs, what is your offer? And it must always finish with a question. Because the answer in the end comes from them, and it is a yes or a no.
And that is pitching. If you are in a marketplace you will understand what I mean, except you are both behind a stall and in front of a stall. You have got to sell what people want. Otherwise the stall will have to pack up. I come from customer service. I know how to make people happy. And if they are happy, I know how to make people happier. I have done this for 20 years in my architecture and design business. Once you get the whole point of pitching, you can move on to pitching like a fork and making your pitch stand out from everybody else who is pitching.
What about the market – not in demand and so on?
Don’t worry about the market. If we did, nothing would be invented. You make something. You make people want it. If they don’t want it, modify the product so they want it. It they still don’t want it, make them want you.
Pitching like a fork
Already I had spent an enormous amount of time prepping for the pitch. Making the pitch video took me something like 28 hours. 2 hours initially to storyboard and write the script, then 3 hours every night for a week plus another six hours or so and then the file was corrupt, and so I had to re shoot half of it, and then edit it down to half. I thought I was going to go insane. Then the sound was wrong. So I had to re-record the voice over AND dub. I never questioned what am I doing and why am I doing it? I just thought – I gotta finish this damned video. I made the footage and all the music myself, so I had some files left which were undestroyed. It was the live footage that was spoilt but what can I do? I have to work with what I have to work with which is a nine-year-old MacBook (I swear I love you, MacBook, please don’t give up on me. I just love you, OK). I am still prepping. The launch date is technically Monday 12 December. I have got the weekend.
What about writing it?
But 28 hours – still quicker than writing the novel, right? It took me a year to write, two years to edit (8 drafts) and two years of living in my hard drive, untouched by time and energy and emotions. With two young children, two jobs and almost no time at all, I was doing all this in the early mornings, late at night, weekends for three years. Finally I wrote the book. I had the best literary agent who was also my editor. She was kind and professional. We parted ways a few years ago. Therefore the book is polished and finished-finished. It does NOT need funding to write it. When a friend Fiona Parker-Cole badgered me into showing her the first 30 pages, I demurred and reticently agreed. I sighed and pressed print, thinking all the time this is a bloody waste of paper and ink and she won’t read it. But she did and she told me she could not believe that it was living in my hard drive like some caged animal. She convinced me to start submitting it again. It needs to be published. It needs to get off my hard drive.
Pitching is a skill. So like any technical skill, you will get better and quicker at it.
Imagine my excitement to discover that my original illustrations are still around – on BBC, YouTube! In my sentimental journeys into the past, enjoy the discovery of analog becoming digital, from TV to internet streaming. In those days, the drawings were prepared and then they were printed and couriered to BBC in White City in a hard envelope. There was no such thing as PDF! There was email but it was rare. You couldn’t email a thing to anyone because no one would even know they got an email. It was 18 years ago and I was young. However, I am still uber-, molto-, uber- technical. Although technology has changed so much, the precise nature of graphics hasn’t.
CAUTION: has graphic content that may be disturbing to some. This explains why I did not watch it in the first place when it was aired.
My sweet little monkey, just look at your face. I often thought of you all these years. I did not know you are still around, and will be forever.