Saturday, April 4, 2020

Duffy the Donkey: A Palm Sunday Story.

Duffy the Donkey
written with His Grace

A long time ago, there lived a famous donkey farmer, who bred the biggest, strongest and finest donkeys anyone had ever seen. People would travel for miles around just to buy one of his magnificent animals, but no one ever wanted to buy Duffy.

Duffy was the scruffiest donkey on his farm.  He had a shaggy coat, an unruly mane and a tangled tail.  He was also crossed-eyed and bow-legged. So this meant that Duffy was terribly clumsy and terribly clumsy donkeys were not very useful at all.

"Why can't I be like the other donkeys?” asked Duffy as tears streamed down his furry cheeks.  "Now, now,” said his mother as she gently nuzzled him."Why do you want to be like those others?They are all the same but you are extra special. You're going to do something wonderful some day. You'll see."  

But Duffy didn't think he was special or that he would ever do anything wonderful. So that night, when everyone was asleep, he decided to run away. Being crossed eyed and bow legged, he kept bumping into and breaking things before he managed to leave the farm.

After walking for on a long dark scary road, he met a big strapping donkey named Darwin.“You're the sorriest donkey I've ever met.  Please don't walk too close too me.  I don't want to be seen with something like you,”  Darwin said. He was about to trot off when suddenly a pack of hungry wolves surrounded them.

"Eat him," said Darwin, prodding Duffy with his hoof. "He's far tastier than I am. Just look at how soft he is." He said, poking Duffy's stomach.  "He's nice, soft and so delicious....”

The wolves looked at Darwin and then Duffy and they all rolled on the ground with laughter.  "He won't do at all," they said. "If we eat him, he'll give us a stomach ache." 

“But…but…” Darwin protested, but it was no use.  Before he could utter another word, the wolves pounced on Darwin, gobbling him up within minutes.

Duffy hobbled away as fast as he could. And when he could walk no farther, he stopped at a large meadow and fell fast asleep.   He awoke to find a fat man grabbing him by the neck and saying, "I've got you!" Duffy brayed in panic as the man lifted him up. 

"Oh Sush your noise. I'm Mumfar, the great animal trader and I've special plans for you.  I'm going to present you to the king as a birthday gift."  Mumfar stuffed him in a cage, and then brought him to the palace as the king's birthday present. 

Maybe I am going to do something wonderful at the palace, Duffy he thought. At the palace, hundreds of people  were lining up to present the king with  magnificent birthday gifts. He didn't seem to like any of them. Finally, it was time for Mumfar to present Duffy to the king.

"Your Majesty,  I have something you really want.” 
The King's face lit up with excitement and he clapped his hands with glee. "Give me. Give me!" 

"Voila," said Mumfar, presenting Duffy to the king. 
The king blinked once and twice, just to make sure that he wasn't seeing things.  Then he leapt up on his throne and screamed. "I wanted a monkey, not a rat. Take this man to away" bellowed the king. 

His guards dragged Mumfar  kicking and screaming all the way to
dungeons.  As for poor Duffy, he was thrown out
of the palace with the day's garbage. 

Since no one wanted him, Duffy sadly hobbled all the way back to the farm. When the farmer saw him, he was FURIOUS.  He tied Duffy to a fence and left him there for many days and nights.
One day two men untied Duffy from the fence. 

The farmer said, "Excuse me, what are you doing?"
 "The Lord needs him and he will send it back to you when he is done," the men replied. 

So the farmer shrugged, and agreed to let the men take
him.  Duffy wondered who wanted him.  Why didn't he want the other donkeys?  Who is this Lord? 

The men brought Duffy to a man who had the kindest eyes he had ever seen.  “I wonder why he asked for me?” Duffy said to himself.  “You’re a very special donkey and that’s why I chose you,” said the man, as he petted Duffy on the head.  Duffy immediately felt a warm glow spread all over him.   Then 'Dwing' His eyes uncrossed; 'Boing' his legs unbuckled, and ‘Twing’ all the fleas dropped off his fur. It was the first time that Duffy could see straight and his legs felt stronger than they ever had.

The two men laid blankets on Duffy's back and the man with
the kind eyes and gentle smile sat on him.  "Come, my little friend,
we ride to the city." Duffy began the journey feeling happier than he ever had– and for the first time in his young life he didn’t bump into as anything at all.  People rushed around the man and Duffy, crying with great excitement. 

 Lots of people placed their cloaks on the road and spread branches that they had cut in the field. Everyone shouted "Hosanna, Hosanna", Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!"  

A King is sitting on my back, thought Duffy in amazement.  

When they arrived at the temple, the man got off and petted him on the head. "Thank you.  You’ve done well, my little friend." 

Before Duffy could thank him, the man went into the temple. Later,
some people brought Duffy back to his farm, and everyone was
surprised to see how much Duffy had changed. "Duffy is that you?"
Everyone asked.  "What happened?"  So Duffy told them all about the kind man with the gentle eyes, and how they had ridden into the city with all the people cheering. 

"See, I knew you were special and would so something wonderful," said his mother.

Now Duffy lived for many years after that.  He never forgot the man with the kind eyes and gentle smile and told animals on the farm all about him. In time, Duffy became the wisest and most loved donkey around and he treated everyone with kindness, especially the donkeys that were crossed eyed, bow legged and clumsy.

Then one cold winter night when he was very old and very tired, Duffy snuggled up by a bale of hay for the night.  Just, as he started to fall sleep, he felt a hand on his shoulder—it was the man with the kind eyes and the gentle smile. He was glowing like an angel.  "Hello again,  my little friend.”

 Suddenly Duffy didn’t feel so old and tired.  “It's time to come with me,” he said, cradling Duffy in his arms.  
"Where are we going?" Duffy asked.  
"Home,” smiled the man. “Home.”

The End

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Raffles Readers: A Century of Adventures

Ten years ago, I had an idea of doing a series of children's books about the famous Raffles Hotel that spanned a century. As most writers know, writing is a very solitary process and I wanted to get a group of writers together to develop this concept with me, but I did not know if I could find any writers who could come on board the project.

Around four years later, I had the opportunity to meet aspiring authors when I was a member of the Singapore chapter of the Society of Children's Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) which, at the time, was headed by the lovely, talented and very funny Catherine Carvell, so I knew most of the members  were aspiring authors who were keen to have their work published.

So I broached the the subject with Emma Nicholson and Linda Fitzpatrick, during a meeting at, where else,  Raffles Hotel and we agreed we should proceed. Simon Wray and Claire Thamboo came onboard shortly after that. 

Emma Nicholson (The Spy in Room 25)

Emma and I had just signed with an agent who thought the idea was brilliant. She then pitched the proposal to a potential 'backer' and before we knew it we were in a boardroom, meeting with high-powered executives, discussing the various possibilities of marketing the book both locally and internationally. We hadn't even started writing the stories yet! A verbal agreement was reached by the end of  that meeting that we would commence work on the books and things would progress from there. 'That was fast and easy,' I said to myself. In hindsight, it really was too fast and easy. And way, way too good to be true.

Linda Fitzpatrick (Monster Mayhem)
We set each of our stories in a different time period, spanning the 1920s to the 2000s  and completed them by the set deadline.  But then, for the following 18 months, we were repeatedly stonewalled.  Our agent repeatedly assured us the project was on track. So when it feel apart, we were understandably disappointed, frustrated and very, very angry.  

Simon Wray (The Mystery of the Missing Silver)

We parted with our agent, put the stories aside, and focused on other projects. Then last year, after some encouragement from a friend, I decided to submit the manuscripts to Penguin Random House SEA for consideration. I didn't expect  anything to come of it. But after a few months, I received a reply offering us a publishing contract. There was one caveat. The stories would be published but as an anthology instead of a series of books.

Claire Thamboo (Ghost Bride)

We were thrilled! After six long years, we were finally going to be published. I asked the talented Mark Yong to come on board as our illustrator and now our book is scheduled to be released next month. Thank you, God, leading us on this roller-coaster of a journey which finally led us to Penguin, the best publisher for the project. We hope you like our book and its tales of 'monsters' missing silver, spies, 'ghosts' and Stamford Raffles.

Mark Yong the illustrator

Kobe & Me  (Stamford Raffles: Zombie Zapper)

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Same Ideas; Different Stories

We're all looking at the same image. What do you see? It's inevitable that some, no doubt, will have different conclusions of what it could be; others may have similar views.  But no matter what, the perception of each individual is uniquely his/her own and nothing can detract from that.

So what's the point of this? Well, I've been asked for advice about this over the years and, recently, an aspiring author friend of mine called me with the same concern. He had finished his manuscript wanted to share it with a critique group but was worried that his idea might be stolen or plagiarised. I had to chuckle. He was calling from William Shakespeare's home town of Stratford Upon Avon, voicing his concerns about literary theft. The irony was not lost on me that  some conspiracy theorists have accused  Shakespeare of literally plagiarising the literary works of Christopher Marlowe.

Let me just say that plagiarism is an issue that should be taken seriously. Once your story is written, the IP belongs to you. However, can the idea for a story be stolen before it's written or published? For  example could an idea for a fantasy, sci-fi, romance or  even a biography be stolen? If that's one's fear, my suggestion is not to share the idea until you've written it into a story dated it, and emailed it to yourself or a lawyer if you want to engage one.

A well-respected award-winning author told me "Ideas are a dime a dozen. It's what you do with the idea that makes it your own." In other words, your original story can possibly be plagiarised but not the idea that inspired you.

When I was asked to pitch a story, the US publisher asked me to name books that my story could be compared to. My answer was it was Harry Potter meets Narnia with a twist of Monkey King. While most of those pitching were given a local contact to submit their completed manuscripts, the publisher gave me his  business card and asked me to contact him directly when the manuscript was finished.  You see, I stitched the concepts of wizardry, fantasy and myth  together to create my own original story (which I'm still writing) and it caught the publisher's imagination. 

Ideas have been shared for generations upon generations. If the concept of touch screen phones had not been floating around years ago, we might not even have Samsung, Huawei or Apple products today.  We'd all be using the same products from the same brand. How boring! And without the concept of diary-themed books like The Diary of Adrian Mole or The Diary of a Wimpy Kid,  we might not have the bestselling The Diary of Amos Lee series

Or would we even have the charming Prince Bear, Pauper Bear by Emily Lim just because Mark Twain developed that concept into The Prince and the Pauper well over a hundred years before she was born.

Even for non-fiction books, dozens of books have been written about famous sportsmen, actors, politicians and even the royals (But more on that later).

I'll give you an example of this. After Joseph Schooling won the Olympic medal in 2016, I wrote to his parents for permission to write a book about his Olympic journey. Permission was duly granted and I started writing Race to Rio: Joseph Schooling goes for Olympic Gold. But what I did not know at the time was that Times Publishing was in the midst of  publishing their own biography,  From Kid to King  by Marc Lim and  illustrated by Darel Seow. Both books are about the same subject, but both are written in different styles. One in verse; the other in prose. So did I plagiarise the idea. No. 

Ask yourself, did Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica plagiarise Star Trek's concept of conflicts in space? If so would that mean Marvel copied DC's  idea of superheroes saving the world?  And I guess Mission: Impossible  would then be guilty of ripping off  the spy genre from James Bond? 

When Prince William married Kate Middleton, there were a few picture books about the royal couple, but when they came to Singapore I decided to write a book about them too. I don’t have sole ownership on the idea about writing for royals, but my take on the subject  was my own: a story about the royals visiting Singapore with a surprise twist.

When I heard that Meghan Markle had adopted a shelter dog, I wanted to do a story about her dog Guy, and wouldn’t you know it, two other authors had the same idea and they published their books. The Duchess and Guy and  His Royal Dogness, Guy the Beagle.  My story The Royal Pup Pack: Party at the Palace was published in 2019. But before any of us wrote our books, Aby King wrote her book The Adventures of a Royal Dog. Did  I plagiarise the idea of a book about royal dogs. Did the other authors too? Absolutely not. The idea was in the public domain and our stories are totally different.

Well, if your fear is having your ideas copied, then my only advice is not to share your stories with anyone. Don't join any critique group. Don’t write. Don’t get your work published. Because if you worry about having your ideas stolen before you've written anything, you are focused on the wrong thing entirely.  Then when your book is published you'll worry that someone will plagiarise it.  Don't fret about things that may or may not happen, just write.
Is your ultimate goal about getting fame and glory for yourself or producing a good story? 

What should be your #1 priority is getting out the best story you can produce. Writing critique groups will help you test out your story. If someone wants to write a story with a similar concept to yours, so what. Your finished product will be totally different. Your writing styles will be totally different.  That is the amazing thing about creativity. There's enough room for everyone to share their stories about the same topic/genre in a public domain.

How many books are there out there about Princess Diana, the Queen, and Donald Trump?  Different books on the same subject provides the readers with a broader perspective on the subject matter. 

One does not have the right to tell someone what they should or should not write about. Writing is about inclusivity, not exclusivity. Writing community is about give and take, share and share a like.  Once your story is written it's yours. Don't be afraid to share your ideas, you may get some new ones. 

Speaking of which, I just got an idea to do a book about my dog, just like so many authors who've written about their own dogs. Not a new idea, but  I hope I'll make my story fun and original.

And by the way, to me, the only original book that has ever been written is the Bible, and even then there are so many different versions of it that have been published by different publishers. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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