Today’s inspo: just wanted to share these photos of the 1916 venue of the book launch and prize ceremony. This is the Blue Room where the event will be held. I am very excited to be launching my award-winning postcolonial novel Cry of the Flying Rhino here! Originally built for the protection of women’s rights,. I think it’s going to be a symbolic, meaningful and once in a lifetime experience and one that I will treasure forever or at least until I have senile dementia. The Helena May is a historic post WWI building and it is fully restored. It is built in the classical colonial villa style with the articulated frieze consisting of dentil corbelling at the cornice level and the Italianate balustrading on all levels. The entrance portico has a curved pediment and the classical entrance columns are of the Corinthian order. The windows are casement and have no articulation. On the street elevation, There are flattened arched openings on the ground and first level from which the windows are set back in a gallery-style colonnade.
During WWII (the Japanese occupation) the building was used by the Japanese forces as stables for their horses! After the war, in 1947, the Royal Air Force took over the building. Disclaimer: I wrote all this architectural analysis myself, so if there are any errors in terminology, well, tough.)
“The Helena May was founded in 1916 and named after Lady May, the wife of Sir Henry May, Governor of Hong Kong at the time. Funded largely through the generosity of two local philanthropists, Sir Ellis Kadoorie and Mr. Ho Kom Tong, CBE, it was originally established to support women living and working away from home, and contributing to the Hong Kong community. Lady May’s original vision, enshrined in the organisation’s constitution, is central to today’s community outreach programme which focuses on the needs of women and girls living in Hong Kong.”
“From the outset, The Helena May has been an organisation for women led by women. The driving force was Lady May who, as President of the Y.W.C.A and mother of four daughters, was very aware of the lack of facilities for women and girls in Hong Kong. She provided leadership and direction to The Helena May in the early years that set a strong foundation.”
Dude, I am not allowed to complain because I was and am a writer therefore I am already a masochist. In fact I am hanging upside down now flogging myself. It took me more than a decade (I think 13 years and still counting) to write both these books. They are at last both being published the TRADITIONAL way which was what I wanted. It’s a dream come true so that is why I am not allowed to complain. Headache, backache, finger pain, joint and wrist pain, hangover, insomnia, stress, hives, hypertension, hyperventilation, just hyper, overeating, undereating, sick or feeling sick, nauseous, tired, exhaustion, not enough sleep, too much sleep, over caffeinated, under caffeinated, not enough guitar-playing, too much guitar-playing. A Tale of Two Books in Two Months. If I complain, somebody please give me a slap.
And this is caused by?
Myself. Over the last five weeks I have been feeling very stressed, not only were there three disasters in succession in London – the London Bridge attack, Grenfell Tower fire, and the Finsbury Park mosque attack, I have had to handle the most crucial process of the fantasy world of writing and art. Turning them from ideas to reality. There were actually real disasters going on out there that I just could not ignore. My own writing and art have suffered delays because I am in that crazy living-the-dream situation of having two books out this year and at any one point, one has to be ignored (usually “one” means me, but this time it means one of the books). It’s called sibling rivalry and I cannot give attention to both at the same time. I am a mum so I know this for sure.
What have you been doing all this time?
Well first I wrote the books. That’s when all the trouble began. Then I crowdfunded one of them and sent one to an international competition. More trouble. Now that’s all over and this timeline begins:
Thursday 30 March 2017 – Submit Heart of Glass MS for structural editing. Finished editing Cry of the Flying Rhino and sent back to Hong Kong.
Friday 12 May 2017 – Received HoG MS with commentary back and Unbound editor’s crib sheet (London)
Tuesday 16 May 2017 – First round HoGstructural edit begins. Work with publisher closely. Start building and compiling international network of writer, blogger, journalist, lecturer contacts for Cry of the Flying Rhino (London, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore… so far) PR later on.
Tuesday 6 June 2017 – First round HoG completed and handed back to Unbound. Start on Cry cover designs.
Friday 9 June 2017 – Heart of GlassEditor pleased. Replied with another sheet of minor comments.
Monday 12 June 2017 – Second round begins. Hand in the Cry of the Flying Rhino cover designs for publisher’s comments
Wednesday 21 June 2017 – Received news that the launch date of Cry is Thursday 16 November 2017 in Hong Kong where I will be travelling to to receive my prize and to do the launch. I am not sure what that entails.
Thursday 22 June 2017– Handed back HoG(this is where we are at). Revise Cry cover designs. Go to printer shop, print and test 300 DPI resolution OK or not. If not OK, must re-do at 600 DPI. Received email that two Hong Kong authors/lecturers have written their advanced comments for Cry back cover text.
Why did you undertake the design of the Cry book cover?
Note: Although the publisher in Hong Kong, Proverse, has a designer to hand, I am actually a designer myself and have been for the last 22 or 24 years (lost track myself) though not a print designer. I know the software backwards. I laid out my school newsletters, Uni journals etc. Since then I have designed countless artwork for my architectural business, band promotional material, posters, CD covers, leaflets, coffee morning artwork for the school, piano lesson artwork etc. Therefore I felt roughly competent and being the OCD control freak that I was, I felt compelled to undertake it. To see the two draft designs click here.
What’s your plan now?
To keep juggling the two as I don’t know how to do a book launch for one book let alone two. Hold that thought. Check back soon. The juggler will be back on the circuit once the traffic congestion eases.
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.
This is the Proverse Spring Reception on 27 April 2017. The film is 53:09 minutes long. The section where they announce the prize winners is from 4:32 to 9:10.
However, you may wish to watch to the end. It is actually very entertaining, especially as new books are being launched, and there are readings by writers and poets from all over the world. It is an evening celebrating writing, writers and books and a special treat for book lovers everywhere.
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”
Crowdfunding. Is. Over. The three big little words. 100% in 100 days. And the last 3%? Was the longest, shortest journey in the world (I used to say that about giving birth: new person travelling down 62mm birth canal takes what? Anything from about 2 to 20 hours.) But what a push. What a journey. Made me laugh, made me cry, made me wait, made me cry some more, made me eat carbs. The congratulations have been pouring in from y’all. Since last post, Stephen McGowan, Mary Fivey, Gemma Lloyd-Jones, Jessica Duchen, Lisa Radoje, Lulu Allison, Johari Ismail (my repeat patron!), Jacqueline Sardinas, Nicole Vatanavimlakul have come on board the Heart of Glass cruise and others previously named. 100 days is not long for someone who has been writing for 40 years. So many, many thanks to you. Supporters, apparently you get a top quality, first edition, limited edition paperback, months ahead of the shops – which I did not know before. That’s a bonus, right? A surprise!
If you would like to become a patron, you can! Up to the point where in some factory they press print, you can still have your name listed. Head over here.
Next step: editorial team will be in touch with me in the next week or so to introduce me to my developmental editor and start the editorial process. More news to follow very soon! I love to hear from you. Please leave me your feedback or comments. If you liked the vlog, please share.
I was very lucky to have been given an invitation to attend Ewan Lawrie’s book launch in Islington. This would be the first time I am meeting an Unbound author and in fact the first time I would be meeting an author that I had got to know first through social media.
Times have indeed changed. The first time I met an author was Catherine Lim, bestselling author of The Bondmaid, in Singapore, when I was a schoolgirl, a tweenie (this is somewhat anachronistic: there was no such word at the time, you were either a child or you weren’t). I was very impressed that she was not only leggy and slim, she wore killer stilettos and the traditional tight-fitting cheongsam with high slits. This was the 80s after all. Phwoar! I thought she was glamorous and that I probably should be a writer. Little did I realise. It is so totally not glamorous. It is 16:52 on Sunday and I am in my pajamas, typing this blog, sipping a moscow mule.
Gibbous House is about the adventures and misadventures of this thug called Moffat who has just inherited some assets and is making the journey up north to claim his goodies. It is very rich in atmosphere and detail. I have not got to the point why the book is named so, because gibbous means hunchbacked. I am on Chapter 5. Because of the florid Victorian lingo and voice, I have to slow down and take it all in.
I got to know Ewan through Unbound. I bought his book because I really love the Victorian gothic genre. I had read all of Sarah Waters’ books. I read up to page 12 of the book on the underground on my way to the launch, as I received it from Amazon that day itself. Ewan is also a supporter of my book Heart of Glass on Unbound. The evening was well-organised and very pleasant. Watch a couple of clips here: IMG_4671IMG_4673 Ewan was there to greet all the guests. I got to meet Rachel his editor, who introduced him. I was disappointed he did not do a reading and there was no Q & A session as I had burning questions to ask. He was kind, friendly and soft-spoken with his twinkling blue eyes. We talked about Unbound, crowdfunding, books, reading and all the usual lark. I may even have gained some tips. The pub, aptly named The Blacksmith and Toffeemaker, is an old Victorian boozer, amped up to modern trendy standards that we are now accustomed to. I think the venue was well-chosen, spacious, bright, with a back area that could be cordoned off.
I was on around Day 27 of NaNoWriMo and doing quite well I thought, writing my third novel, with my word count of c 24,000 when suddenly I was hit with news that I was being offered a book deal by Unbound, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The caveat was that it will be through crowdfunding. I will have to reach the target before the book is published in both digital and paperback.
Three publishing deals this year:
Before I submitted to Unbound, I already submitted to two other digital publishers. The first came back to me in June this year. and the deal was not bad and not good. I had a friend Keith of Strident Publishing look at the contract in detail and fine-toothed combed it. Armed with about 14 questions regarding the contract, I emailed them to the publisher (let’s call them X). But X never replied. Therefore I concluded X just want your MS to put out there in order to make money. All I wanted to know was how much are they selling each copy for, so I can work out my cut. They did not even have the courtesy to reply saying, actually we don’t answer questions. So I moved on.
The second publisher, let’s call them Y, were in Hong Kong. As my book is partly set in Macau, I tried a Hong Kong publisher. They were great at communicating and absolutely full of ideas, they loved the book but for two months they did not prepare a contract. So I was left hanging just waiting and waiting. In I think July or August, they replied with a contract saying I have to foot the bill of 15000 HKD and I worked that out at 3,500 GBP. But that came from nowhere. There was talk of funding at the start but they didn’t say who was funding. Also I would have to fly to HK at my own expense in order to attend my own book launch. Where is the sense in this? When I thought should I pay for this out of my own pocket? I realised I did not want to. If I had 3,500 GBP spare I would rather get my teeth done. That is an investment too.
What about Createspace?
Between the second and third publisher, I started setting up a Kindle and Createspace account. I did not even get to the point of uploading my MS. I just lost interest and I do not want to self-publish. The books looked crude to me. Unless you pay top designers and publishing experts to get it out to a professional level, they did not look right. And to do that we are talking in circles. It would be in the tune of around 3,500 to 4,000 GBP. Which top designer is going to do it for peanuts? I wouldn’t! And I am a designer and have been for the last twenty years! I know what design costs and it costs. Am I a snob?
The third publisher
So I submitted my package to Unbound and heard back after six weeks and now believe it or not I am crowdfunding. A word that was alien to me even last week. It is not who you know but who knows you. i.e. the crowd, the vox populi. It is they who will pay for my blood, sweat and tears, my labour of love, my confection.
Finally the day had come. The planning took about four weeks, six if you include thinking time, and I always include thinking time because without it, the rest won’t follow anyway.
Possibly the best photo ever taken of me at a book launch, thanks Ben
Please can I not have to do a selfie again.
Ladies who launch! L-R Nina, me, Siew Fong, Josephine, Mary
Josephine and Mary
Piano parts, Piano Man and Piano Girl – Me and Ben and piano parts sculpture
Geoff, Gerry and Siew Fong
Me and Tina
Me and Siew Fong
Nick and Nina
View towards back of gallery
View towards front of gallery
Gerry, me and Siew Fong
The four Js – Geoff, John, Jo and Josephine
The three Js – Geoff, John and Jo
Credit goes to:
Ben Chan for the photographs and the videos. Penny for emceeing. Not only do we share the same Chinese sign and the same birthday, we have shared twenty years of friendship. Geoff (Notes Story Board) for dealing with the 5H1T that day and of preceding days, providing minicab service, helping with things too technical for my vintage brain such as setting up blog and putting my book on Amazon UK:
and looking after my friends and my stuff on the night. Lastly thanks to Sunita for your kindness and your friendship from beginning to end. I could not have done it without you guys. You have made my New Year very special and full of FIRE!
HUNGRY – PART II – How I did it
What is a book launch?
I scribbled down what I thought this should be since I have never done one myself – a reading, drinks, snacks, interview and most importantly, attendees. Without attendees you might as well just read at home in pajamas. Readers, writers, heed – nowadays you have to do everything yourself. Publishers like to know you can work from dawn to dusk until your eyes pop out and know how to save them money by being a know-it-all and do-it-all so that you can make them even more money. I see them as employers. Why should they invest in you if you don’t invest in them? Because you write?
Arrival of the Southfields contingent at around 7 pm bearing cold drinks and I don’t mean teh ais.
Siew Fong and Sunita having a chat before others arrive
is probably the most important thing. I considered doing the launch at home but it is not feasible with being surrounded by toys, clutter, washing up, receipts, remotes, drying tea towels, and of course, children. Also home was not central and therefore not very professional. However, if I had fewer than 6 attendees I may have had to do it at home so the aim had always been to acquire more than 6 attendees.
MC penny and I at the start
I looked up about twenty to thirty pubs in central London with FREE hire of a function room:
possible venues free or nearly free for 25-40 pax
After I found these I shortlisted them to six with NO MINIMUM SPEND. That means I don’t have to buy fifty pounds worth of alcohol in order to sell five pounds worth of books. No. No. No. That is what people who waste money do. I don’t and can’t waste money. Why? Because I am a writer. Because I’m Asian.
So how did you find this delightful venue?
By chance at Sunita’s and Rufus’ Christmas party on 18 December 2015, I mentioned the list of these six pubs to Sunita and has she heard of them. They both said, that’s ridiculous, why don’t you have it at the gallery. By this they mean their gallery, Knight Webb Gallery in Brixton London. I was ecstatic. Thereafter, a blog was born, invitations sent out and a guest list made.
Food and drinks:
It was thoroughly enjoyable shopping for the oven snacks at Wing Yip in Croydon and jostle with the New Year shoppers (it was two days before Year of the Fire Monkey started). Before that I also popped into Tesco in Sutton drinks aisle and chose the prettiest looking labels for sparkling wine and sparkling water. I always favoured sparkling over flat white. But let’s be honest, I am not fussy. The label just has to be pretty.
Steampunk 1950s oven heating up the sesame prawn toast
But what happened to the jumbo catering pack of prawn wontons?
I actually bought 96 frozen prawn wontons to take with me. Sadly they did not make it to the gallery. Upon unpacking at home just before going to the venue, they were all rock hard and stuck together. I got very stressed because I could not separate them. Food really stresses me. These supposed shui gow became shrapnel at my lightest touch. I fried 8 just to test if they separated after being fried, and they did not. Therein I stuck the sacrificial 8 in the oven to check if after baking, they separated and they did not. We are talking about it being 3:10pm already. By 4pm I have to do my hair and makeup. There was no time to go back and get another jumbo catering size of anything. M&S Food Hall only had 4 spring rolls and I hate spring rolls. Was nearly in tears. Did you not know that being a writer one also has to have basic culinary skills which I clearly lacked? I rushed to the nearest Tesco Express to buy a bag of Thai Sweet Chilli crisps as that will have to do. Reader. I would appreciate if someone can tell me why the frozen wontons are stuck together and how to unstick them. Tina, Fiona, Siew Fong, Wing Yip, anybody?
Chatting to my guests
is the trickiest part of partying. I was sure I did not want any strangers or press because this is my first time. I may screw up. I only invited friends, family and friends of friends. This is using all my contacts in my email, my phone, FB, because not everyone is on FB and not everyone’s email is in my address book. As I have no PR or PA experience, the complications were the seven categories of RSVPs and the stocktake to match up with the categories, which are as follows: 1/ not sure, 2/ actually came, 3/ want the book but can’t come 4/ said yes initially 5/ said definitely definitely coming on actual day 5/ not coming 6/ not coming and did not say if want the book and 7/ came but did not buy. For these I now have a legend of symbols and colour coordination in order to not get mixed up and lose count of the book-to-people ratio.
Now life is simple because I can re-use the legend for any kind of party organisation.
A checklist is essential for the day of the launch in case of chaos. Anybody with mild OCD will know what I am talking about. Over many days I prepared a list of to do and to bring, which would help me get ready blow-by-blow, the list changed all the time, especially with the food going wrong.
Only to be ticked off just before you leave otherwise what is the point
Things to do night before:
Print out story, select bits to read
Rehearse and use stopwatch
Write inspiration and themes
Clear camera memory card
Charge battery and spare battery
Things to bring with me at 6pm by public transport:
Frozen sesame toast to heat up
Bag of crisps
4 copies of book for display
1 sacrificial copy (the one that I have scribbled in and will be reading from)
Golden lucky fountain pen for signing
DIY wire book stand
Small bottle of Thai sweet chilli sauce and one bottle of Kampong Koh garlic chilli sauce (wherever there are Malaysians, you have got to bring chilli sauce and I am not joking)
Spare shoes (wear flat first, change heels later)
hairspray and hairbrush (in case I get blown to bits before I get to Brixton)
Camera, battery and spare battery
Things to come with the Southfields contingent at 7 pm, by car:
The rest of the books
The drinks cooler and drinks (take out from fridge)
No launch is complete without a proper display. Without retail experience or someone from Waterstones to come and tell me what to do, I felt my instinct take over. I needed a stand so I made one that afternoon itself out of a wire coat hanger so my poor jacket has to lie down on the chair now. If a book is standing up, it can be seen through the shop window by passersby on Atlantic Road.
Do you like my DIY wire stand?
If anyone wants me to help do event management and plan your book launch, for a very REASONABLE rate, I have all the resources now. I can set up all the technical stuff. Can even do piano playing. Just, please, no catering.