Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Raffles Readers Book Launch at Raffles


On a rainy Saturday in September, Raffles Readers: A Century of Adventures had its launch at the Boutique at Raffles Hotel. Authors Claire Thamboo and Simon Wray and our illustrator Mark Yong spent well over an hour signing books for friends, family, and hotel patrons.  Emma and Linda were unable to attend as they were at their respective homes in Epsom and Melbourne.

As for me, well, I had a minor sore throat two days before the launch so on my mom's insistence, I paid a visit to my doctor. Once I mentioned I had a slight sore throat, everything went into a lockdown mode. I had to have a COVID test and I had to be quarantined for three days, meaning I was going to have to skip the launch.

However, I was able to check-in via WhatsApp chat. That's me on the iPad on the table!

All in all, there was a pretty good turnout despite the bad weather. Special thanks to our wonderful publisher, Nora from Penguin Random House SEA and Nicola Ransome Goh for organizing the event and to Raffles Hotel for hosting us.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Day I Met Jennifer Aniston

I love Jennifer Aniston. She's my favorite actress. So please bear with me as I tell you all about the day that I 'met' her. 

The bookstore on Robertson Blvd was rather empty, not surprising as it had just opened. Store staff exchanged obligatory pleasantries with one another, asking about their respective dinner and movie dates the previous night as they wearily began their long hours on their shift. It always amazes me how American sales staff have perfected the service industry, always exhibiting an exuberant willingness to help and attend to every need of the customer, even the most belligerent and antagonistic ones. 

Back home in Singapore, the easiest way to get out of helping customers is to say 'I don’t know' which seems to be the refrain of a lot of sales staff in the smaller stores and some of the bigger ones too. I wove my way through the many aisles of books—hobbies and craft, biography, history, politics, self-help—to the children’s section and there, displayed along the side of classics like Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, was my book, Blow a Kiss

I stood savoring the moment before someone breezed past me and picked up the only copy left on the shelf. She seemed familiar.  Her sandy blonde hair partially obscured her face, swayed with the smallest movement of her head. She tucked a stray follicle over her ear as she flipped the pages with her other hand, smiling satisfied with what she had read. She closed the book, wrapped her arms and around it, clutching it to her chest, and walked off in the direction of the cashier. 

Then I caught the briefest of glimpses of her face, her aquiline jaw, her soft bioluminescent skin…it was, could I believe it, Jennifer Aniston! My gut leaped up to my throat, yes, my sizeable gut. My head was spinning, this was Jennifer Aniston, The Jennifer Aniston from Friends. Jennifer Aniston who starred in the loveable clunkers 'Leprechaun' and the short-lived 'Ferris Bueller' tv series. Move, my brain finally told my legs, my feet and I raced to the cashier.  By the time I got there, I was totally winded. I was standing so close I could smell her intoxicating perfume…I found my voice, which goes up a couple of octaves whenever I’m nervous. ”Er hmm, Miss Aniston," I stammered,  breathlessly. The head of blonde hair turned around she looked at me for quizically for a second. 
“Hello, yes?” 
 “I’m your biggest fan," I blurted. “I’m writer, ok a struggling one, but a writer nevertheless and a not very successful one.” My brain and mouth had never been so out of synch as it was at that very moment. “I love you,” I blurted. “Oh, that’s so sweet," she smiled, flashing her teeth, which are by no means capped or dentally enhanced. 

She was born with those gems; dental science could not have created a more beautiful set of bicuspids, incisors, and canines. “Nice to meet you,” she said, shaking my hand with a firm yet gentle grip. My shake, on the other hand, was limp with the consistency of jello. “Well, have a nice day,” she said, turning back to face the cashier. She must have been thinking, Psycho. How do I get away from him? 

I gulped. “Ms Aniston, I…I…just wanted to say I wrote that book.” She turned and faced me, and said, “You wrote this book? Really? I love it.” Ok, now at this point I was apoplectic. Jennifer Aniston had mentioned the words ‘Love’ and ‘you’ in one sentence and she was speaking to me! Did that mean she loved me? Everything was a blur. Her mouth was moving, her eyes were looking straight at me, direct eye contact. The rest of the world faded to a dull grey. 

“Jen, are you ready now?” a man asked, joining her in the line, looking at his expensive timepiece and telling her that they were going to be late. What was he doing here I wondered? They broke up. He broke my Jen’s heart! “Oh, I was just talking to David. He’s the author of the book." 

David, she said my name ‘David.’ “Hey’ what’s up man, I’m Brad” he said lifting his arm up and giving me one of those bro handshakes that I’ve never really understood. “Hi, BAD,” I muttered.

 “So, you’re a writer,” said Brad, wedging himself between Jen and me. I tried to look past his full head of hair and his buff bod which had earned him the label of 'Sexiest Man Alive'  twice. His pathetic attempts to engage me in small talk only elicited an ‘uh-huh’and ‘ah hum’ from me. 

“Oh, wait, David, I’ve got to get you to sign this,” said Jen as she fished around her purse for a pen. 

“Got it,” said Brad, whipping a sharpie from his pocket; then handing the book from Jen to me. “Make it out to Jen and Brad,” he said, cocking his head cockily,  Then looking on as I signed, he said: "You forgot the ‘R’ in Brad." I quickly scrawled the ‘R’ and handed the book back. 

“Thank you so much, David.” Jen smiled. He spun around and asked: “Done?” 

Jennifer  paid for the book and the man slapped me a high five and said ‘later’ as he walked off with his arm around her… "Nice meeting you,David." She called as they headed out the door. I stood there. The cashier said. "Market" Huh? I wondered, Market? Market? Market? What are you talking about? ' Market,' said Mom, who was suddenly standing above me. I was in bed. "It's late I want to go before all the fresh stuff is gone." I was still in bed. 

This had all been a dream. And now I had to go to the market! One of my least favourite things to do.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Raffles Readers Trailer

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)

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