Blogger Peggy Loh is a writer herself. She is, like me, born a writer, and born and raised in Johor Bahru. She is a writer with the New Straits Times.
Read Peggy’s detailed and insightful write-up here of Heart of Glass and of me. Check out her blog also at peggyloh.com which is called MY Johor Stories. Her blog has a wonderful vintage feel as she knows the old world well and tells her stories vividly and with so much atmosphere.
If you have been wondering “why Chicago, why Macau?” why not take a look at the original, vintage settings? See inside the excitingly rare1964 book found in a wet market (Chowrasta) in Georgetown, Penang, which inspired the ideas and setting of Heart of Glass. Hope you are “stirred, not shaken.” (HINT)
Welcome to everyone on board HMS Ivy boat, especially those who have just embarked. “Why crime?” Indeed. Without further delay, make yourself a cup of coffee or a martini and watch it now. It’s only 5 minutes long, packed full of ideas and most of all contains ORIGINAL vintage material not available anywhere on the internet!
OK guys so for 24 hours I had to get away from London, the internet, social media, work, family, self marketing and of course this crowdfunding (CF) lark. Luckily my friend Yvonne Lyon invited me up (not up, sideways, sorry) for her birthday celebrations. Since this process started I found myself impaired in every way – writing, music, work, sewing, family life. Not to mention I am now drinking everyday and becoming one of those cliched ‘is it wine o’clock yet’ mums. I was doing so well when I went teetotal for three months from September to December last year and was even called a sober skinny bitch to my utter delight. Now not only having put on weight, I’m finding it hard to concentrate and it is wearing me out looking at the percentage everyday. It is quite crippling. I am unable to write a word and I can feel my blood pressure mounting. I am having palpitations and an attack of The Hives (urticaria, look it up. No, not the Swedish band). I decided to go to Oxford and spend a night. I deliberately did not bring a computer and kept my phone off.
Instead of getting there quickly, I was waylaid by an epic journey. It took me 1.5 hours just to get to Notting Hill Gate. District line was not running yesterday, I didn’t know, had to take 39 bus to Putney Bridge, 74 to Lillie road, Fulham, 28 from Lillie Road, Fulham to Notting Hill Gate! Complete nightmare. Meanwhile it was pouring non stop, of course it was. That is called sod’s law. Was soaked. Walked in wrong direction of Oxford Tube bus stop. Found out. Walked in correct direction. Even heavier rain. When I got to the bus stop N or whatever it was, I had missed one bus by one second. The bus driver refused to open door even though he was still there at the stop! Waited for another. Finally, got on oxford tube and in total the whole journey took 3.25 hours! During all this travel nonsense l, being soaked, did not take out phone, or book as did not want to get anything wet. There was plenty of time to reflect on life so far, so near, take deep breaths and a step back.
When I got to Oxford, my friend Yvonne and I just enjoyed ourselves like the old days, art gallery, talking, food, wine, cinema, more talking, food, wine. I wanted to savour every moment and cherish life minus wifi, social media, life that is pre CF, the vintage life (I believe I even have a hashtag for this, look on the right).
There was a time when writing the book was enough! A time when being able to cook, getting a driver’s licence, getting a degree, a mobile phone, winning pitches and jobs, getting two more degrees, and having children were enough. But after climbing these mountains, I am climbing another – the CF mountain. So now I remind myself to keep calm and Carrie Fisher. She always retains humour in any situation of adversity:
Being happy isn’t getting what you want. It’s wanting what you have.
Anyway it can’t be possibly harder than digging holes in excavation pits by hand, or numerous labour-intensive manual work, or factory work or … how about raising your own children? Which BTW I reckon is still the most demandingly profound unpaid job in the world with no formal contract and no comeback, IMHO. Would suit young people. Work guaranteed all year round. No experience or skills required. Just apply.
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.
Where to start? What nails? I have no more nails to bite. Come to think of it, no cuticles either. Where am I going to get my daily intake of protein from? I’m going to be eating a low carb humble pie from now to eternity. I can stomach this. There is no room for dignity.
It has been a crazy week. I have never done this before. I am learning myself each day. I learn from others. I am learning the ropes. I am learning to give what people want and need, which is this niche I seem to have created, a grave I have dug, back rod I have carved, for myself. The niche of international fiction, postcolonial writing, crime noir, etc. Exactly! What is the et cetera bit?
I have taught myself patience and humility. This is the opposite of vanity publishing. If anybody thinks this, it’s the total opposite. Don’t even go there! Being vain has sold nothing. Ask any cosmetic-peddling salesgirl in a brightly-lit luxury departmental store. Never in my life after three degrees would I think I would have a sales job. Yet now, I have a sales job. I could be selling makeup but I am not selling makeup. I am selling something that does not even exist yet. I am selling the idea of potential, of investment in writing, of myself, selling a dream.
This is me reading from near the beginning, but not the beginning, in my Unbound shed vlog.
My name is Ivy Ngeow and I am an award-winning writer. I am raising funds for Heart of Glass, a finished product, a completed novel of 74,000 words, with Unbound, an imprint of Penguin Random House. When the funding target is reached, the book will be go into publication.
It is a unique story. There is nothing like it on the internet or in the market. It is cross-genre and features themes of music, crime noir, vintage 1980s in an international setting, with an Asian female protagonist. It is an underdog story, addressing issues of life as an immigrant in a big city, whose constant desire for success is often squashed by repeated failure. This is a story that needs to be told. The ambience is rich and stylish. The setting is dark, exciting and exotic, set in the days of disco, drugs, smuggling and casinos.
Please support my project and me as a writer
1/ to make the book a reality. Readers and writers today are part of something exclusive and special, a community, a network, a team.
2/ to invest in the publication. The book does NOT required funding to be written. The funding is purely for pre-sales to enable its publication with Unbound, getting it off my hard drive and into the world.
3/ to promote cultural diversity and the post-colonial writer, who is from an ethnic minority that is under-represented in fiction, a non-English person writing in English. I am not only writing in my second language, I am writing about immigrants.
“It is commercial, punchy, crossover, popular fiction.” – Anna Jean Hughes, Editor, Pigeonhole Publishing
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.
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.
This year is the first time I am participating in National Novel Writing Month. I am doing this partly as a challenge and partly as a way of getting another book written under pressure. Today is Day 21 out of 30 and I am only on around 18,000 words.
Why I am doing this thing:
My first novel took 5 years to write. The second took a year and now I am trying to do it all in a month. I wrote nothing in the last five years because I was very put off and I wanted to give up. I can’t give up because in my heart of heart I am an addict, I am consumed by writing and though I have tried I cannot quit. I don’t know why because it is very masochistic and I can’t stand being hooked to anything. Obsessive yes addictive no.
What about the word count?
I know it’s ambitious and I will not make the 50,000 word count in 30 days because that would be writing 1,667 words per day. I am too busy working, looking after children and the house, exercising, cooking to be able to churn out the required amount. In my opinion you either have to be very young or very old to be able to afford the luxury of time, where you would wake up every day and wonder what to do – “oh yes, I know, I will write! Yes I have so much time to write until bedtime! Why not write?”
Writing is pain: if it don’t hurt it ain’t true
As I am no longer a novice(!) I am quite capable of writing every day but I really want to make them count so I don’t want to and can’t write rubbish. I would rather sit and think for an hour than to put rubbish down. I find it very hard to just let rip. There is no correct way to do a first draft but for me, if I let rip and have verbal diarrhoea, it will be very depressing to mop up the mess later and the editing will kill me. So I am going with my slow and steady way of doing things, it will be right in the end, I know it will. Each word I am squeezing out is like a drop of blood. I am having to take paracetamol on word sprint days because my head wants to explode. On average I have been doing 893 words a day as a result of this way of writing.
Here is my screen shot from today, you may have noticed I have written zero words (as I am doing this blog, which does not count as a novel, of course):
What I like about NNWM:
The masochistic aspect. This is all a self-imposed middle-class deadline, don’t forget. I am not a factory worker in Bangladesh who has to write all day and all night and if I didn’t I would be killed or my fingers taken off. If my suffering means I have to take paracetamol or glass of wine, then I feel that I have achieved something, and it wasn’t easy. I also enjoyed the company and the posts from fellow writers I have met on the FB group Ninja Writers. For someone who has always known that writing is a solitary profession, for someone who enjoys being alone, the discovery that there are so many people out there enjoying being alone is insanely wonderful! I did not think this was possible! They have been encouraging and helpful, generous with their wit and humour. Everybody offers, accepts, gives, takes advice and tips. In writing there is no right or wrong. (write or wrong).
What time and place is best for my writing
I tried every technique to test out writing time. Times include: I tried waking up at 6 am to do it before the children are up, in the morning after coffee or after vigorous exercise, at night after the children go to sleep. Places include: on my lap, in Caffe Nero, in the library, at home, in bed, on the floor. All are fine as long as there are no children around If children are around, you can’t even sit for a second let alone write.
In my old age I am very superstitious, I can only write with one pen and I am lucky if it’s pumped already. I can only write on an unlined ringbound notebook. Nothing else works.
It’s called routine. If you do it every day, it does not matter what time or place. This is called the vintage life or some kind of madness. Cutting off the world and entering your own. The words will come. Anyway wish me luck, after all there are 9 days left.
When the thing is virtual, digital, electronic, unreal:
Through the years I must have received more than a hundred rejections or several hundred (if you count the electronic ones). Yet I seemed to have somehow ignored, shrugged off, be cheered by, be angered by, rejuvenated by, devastated by, thwarted by, enriched by, encouraged by, empowered by or simply unaffected by them.
Many times I wanted to drag the document into the trashcan icon on my computer. No one stopped me and at any point I could have done this especially when I was drunk, pig-headed, feeling strong or all three, and I am often all three.
Writing is sadomasochistic because…
…nobody cares. Many times I said I should just GIVE UP. Even though Winston Churchill said never ever to do such a thing. Did I mention I am a true artist? I will probably cut off my ear soon. You don’t write because of self-belief. You can’t. No fiction writer truly believes fiction unless they are only five. I don’t believe anything. I have to write because otherwise drops of blood would appear on my desk. That’s why it is sadomasochistic.
Nobody likes it, nobody even reads this sh1t. Yet stuff I wrote did not end up in the trashcan icon. How easily one’s life’s work is dumped by computer. Friends have told me to keep this sh1t no matter what.
When printed out, real, physical:
Now I am terrified. This is the first novel I wrote. I have a second one. They are both unpublished. But I have printed out just the first one. This is because I had to send it off for a competition.
This thing that I wrote for so many years exists. It can even sit on a table or a floor and look at me. I really did spend sh1tload5 of time, years and years, forming words, forming sentences, making it, carving, whittling, planning, thinking, typing, reading, re-writing, cutting, adding, cutting, adding, and breathing it to life. This thing! This monster. It is real. It is 281 pages, can cause paper cuts, and has serious weight. It is 3D, it has thwack factor. (That means you can thwack someone with it and they will end up in A&E). It may even move me. That is what has changed today.
Apart from being laughed at in the print shop and having to carry out a conversation involving an elevator pitch to ‘so what’s it about? what’s it about?’ I had my three-word reply because I have rehearsed this so many times during my hundred or so rejections. Followed by: Sheep-faced, I even managed to read out the first page to a room full of printer guys. My first audience and interview. This is the audience feedback: ‘Hey you wrote a book. Man! She wrote a book guys! Hey guys! Everybody. She wrote a book. She. Wrote. A. Book’.