Editor, writer, designer, illustrator – in that order
What’s your background?
Before I talk about my books, I feel it’s important to tell a bit about myself – my growing-up years especially – because it helped shape my writing in terms of style and source of inspiration.
I consider myself fortunate to have resided in a kampong. Kampong Ayer Gemuroh was a charming fishing village adorned with a serene white sand beach fringed by graceful coconut trees. My father’s family resided by the beach, known as Kampong Laut, while my mother’s side lived closer to the main road in Kampong Darat. A narrow road acted as a gentle boundary between the two. Whenever I had a mental block when writing, I would reminisce about the white sandy beach and the graceful coconut trees of my kampong.
Image Credit: Kampong Ayer Gemuroh
Keeper of Family Heirlooms and Stories
I always see myself as the “gatekeeper” of my family’s precious heirlooms and stories. My elders would always pass me things from the past, and also stories about our family – stories passed on from generation to generation. Apart from those stories, I would record my own – events that were significant, important, or even random happenings that were funny. This sort of kickstarted the writing habit in me. I think it is important for each generation of family members to have a gatekeeper. It will motivate us to preserve the family’s history.
I had an insatiable hunger for reading. When I was in primary school, I looked forward to reading next year’s books. Mystery novels, the unexplained, books on nature, and war comics were my literary staples. Since my parents couldn’t afford to buy me storybooks, the public library became my closest companion. The National Library at Bras Basah held a special place in my heart, and the nearby MPH bookstore was a close second in my list of favorite haunts. I missed them both.
How did you get started publishing your very first book? What’s the title of your first book and why you wrote or had to write it?
My very first foray into writing was fortuitous. I saw a call for first-time writers and illustrators to submit original work and if selected, will get published. The call was initiated by the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) (now known as Singapore Book Council) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) was aimed to develop fresh talents in the local publishing industry. My brother Rizal was already an aspiring comic artist at that time and we collaborated to create our first work – a graphic novel entitled Mystery Investigators Five and the Case of the Missing Golden Bird Mask (2009). The story weaved together local and international folklore, with a blend of a rich tapestry of myths and legends. It was the perfect recipe for a mystery novel reminiscent of classics like The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, or even The Adventures of Scooby-Doo. We submitted to the call, the panel loved the story and the illustrations and the rest was history.
Where are you at now? How many books have you written thus far?
Aside from the graphic novel, I have written and published two children’s picture books, both bilingual (Malay/English) – Pengembaraan Tim (Tim’s Adventure) in 2021 and Memerang di Kota (Otters in the City) in 2023. Both books were funded by the Lee Kuan Yew Fund for Bilingualism. Incidentally, Pengembaraan Tim was nominated for the Red Dot Book Awards by the International Schools Libraries Network in Singapore among 7 other entries in the Early Years category from the US, UK, Ausralia and New Zealand.
Any future books on the horizon?
Currently, I am working with a young, talented illustrator from Thailand to create two picture books simultaneously. The story is about the antics of a 3-year-old girl, Naira, who uses her imagination to make ordinary objects into something fun and interesting. The project will contain delightful surprises that hopefully will evoke a sense of nostalgia among parents, especially mommies.
Did you go through the self-publishing route or with a trade publisher?
With my background in publishing, the knowledge I had was ample to self-publish. Although the genre was very different from the books I actually worked on, the process is still the same. I guess I was lucky to be in the right industry and have the relevant skills.
What were the challenges? What are some of the highs?
In publishing, time management is always the biggest challenge. Coordinating the various creatives like the illustrator and the layout artist/letterer to meet the deadline as well as the editing and proofreading is the key. The biggest satisfaction for my first publication, the graphic novel, was getting Sonny Liew (Eisner Award winner) to review it.
What are some of the things you had to do to ensure your books get noticed, sold, and distributed?
It’s not enough to think your book is good, or that your mother and friends said so. Get established and/or well-known people to write a review. I think this one most important element is absent in the Malay book industry. The next key element is to get the media to feature your book. It is definitely a challenge, but worth the effort. A good product would be nothing without the right exposure and creating excitement among its target audience, hence having a good book launch is highly essential for gaining initial attention and momentum for your book. How to plan a good book launch? Attend my upcoming workshop in collaboration with Ungu Pen.
Would you do it again? Why?
They say once you’ve written and published a book, you want to do another and another. Personally for me, writing and publishing books is a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It has become a creative outlet and a way to share my ideas and stories with a broader audience.
Some advice for aspiring authors?
Try, if you fail the first time, try again, and if you fail again, take a moment to reflect and identify areas that need improvement. Consider enrolling in writing courses to enhance your skills and overcome challenges.
What pitfalls to look out for?
Be vigilant. Look out for fraudulent companies that claim to provide publishing advice but are, in reality, scams. Seek advice only from trusted sources.
Don’t fall into the SS syndrome. SS stands for Syiok Sendiri. In order to save costs, writers and self-publishers resort to doing things themselves like illustrations, design, and layout, knowing they don’t have the necessary skills to do so. The result: amateurish-looking publication that they are still proud of (syiok sendiri) because it’s their handiwork. If you have the necessary skills, by all means, please go ahead, but if not, please engage professionals.
What tips to ensure some things work out better?
The foolproof tip I can give is to acquire sufficient knowledge before attempting anything new.
Join Rhaimie’s Workshop: From Idea to Print – A workshop for aspiring authors. Details and registration at bit.ly/IdeaToPrint
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