It’s Not What You Look At, It’s What You See That Matters

Welcome to Chapter 3 of my book, Love! Live Dangerously! And have Fun! This chapter is about my dream …. to give every child this right to dream and write. Frankly, I don’t know how I am going to do it. I really, seriously, hope to get a licensee, a strategic partner, who can see what I see. Yes, I’ve had interest from Indonesia, Thailand and Manila. I am keeping my fingers (and toes) crossed that I would be able to bring 10 years of my hard work overseas. Please, Please, make this miracle happen!

Chapter 3

It’s not what you look at, it’s what you see, that matters.
Say that again. This has always been my mantra. I practice this with myself, my children, my in-laws, my team. What’s past is history, learn from it and move on. Take the journey, experience it, enjoy it!
It’s strange that I am writing this here, right on top of the Great Wall of China, on the stone slab, on my IPad. Just imagine thousands of years ago, a young rebellious visionary united all the disparate states and called it Zhongshan Guo or Middle Kingdom. This young 20-something year-old then wanted to keep the “barbarians” off his new found kingdom and built this massive wall.
2,000 years later, now in 2012, it is a tourist attraction with even a cable car leading to it. But imagine the young emperor who had this insane desire to protect the country he founded. Who might not even live to see the Great Wall he envisioned finished before he died. But did he ever worry about it? History has it that he searched for immortality. But he carried on his life’s work. It was what drives him. I am sure he saw a China united, where his people thrived. But first he had to build. His dream kept him going ….. With a fervor that earned him a place in the history books. It was his legacy to the world!
I stand in awe at the very rampart used to keep off invaders. I marvel at what he has done, one lone man who built his own life around his people. I don’t think he cared about how history judged him. I don’t think he worried about how he could get the money to build it. I don’t think he cared about himself. He had a dream, a passion, and he lived it! He came. He saw. He did something!
Is this me? I came. I looked at the children around me. I want to give them hope. Books are my life. Writing and publishing gives me hope. It gives me life. I want to give this to them. I saw that I could build the next generation of thinkers and writers with my Eco-system.
I spent 10 years putting this whole concept together. Can I now build this with the children around the world? Catherine Khoo came. She saw. She created the Young Author family. Now, can she take an extra step and bring this globally? With a team of five, and a super-oversized dream of giving every child the right to read and write?
Why do I do it? Could it be a legacy I want to leave to my three girls? Yes, and something more … I remember Margaret Ko, mother to 13-year-old Nicholas who I mentored in the Advanced Young Author Scheme. “Nicholas did not tell me about his writing,” she shared when she dropped by the office. “I never knew he could write. And especially the last chapter. I was so touched. I felt he was trying to talk to me through this.”
And I realized that the Young Author Scheme actually do build bonds. For what is writing about? It’s about sharing. It’s about communication. Communication that transcend spoken words. For we write what we feel.
I believe in myself. I believe in my dream. I believe in giving. This is what drives me. From the Young Author Scheme to the Young Author Club to the Young Author Award, to the Young Reader Club, I’ve built this dream. Despite the naysayers, despite the countless years of no-pay, despite the “hey-you-are-running-a-business, you-are-just-putting-bums-on-seats” mentality of many businesspeople I’ve met, I’ve done it! I now need to go further.
Can I? On the Great Wall of China, one man did it. The Unique Classroom. Creative education. Building a library of Asian literature. For children. By children. Can one woman do it? I believe I can.


Write Your Own Inspirational Bestseller!

Dear Wicked Witty Women (yes, you know you are ….)

Would you dare to write your own book? And get a chance to be published? Not only that, inspire another person to share her story through your book?

I’m sorry, gentlemen, it’s only for women! Join Catherine Khoo, author of the inspirational memoir, Love! Live Dangerously! And have Fun! as she takes you through moments of love, hope, loss and fun …. And best of all, to write your own story for the next book in the series, under the Wicked Witty Women imprint. Serious! But come prepared for a programme that’s sure to challenge your innermost desires and fan your passion …. And yes, you’ll get to be part of this exclusive club where being wicked and witty is the name of the game!

You’ll need to come with the following:
1/ an open heart to share
2/ a listening ear
3/ a sense of humour (or intending to cultivate one)
4/ patience and perseverance
5/ and yes, dying to write the next inspirational bestseller!

Venue: 442-A Joo Chiat Road, Singapore 427655
Dates: Aug 14, 15, 16, 17  Time:  14:00 to 18:00 (tea provided) or Sept 20, 21, 27, 28 Time: 14:00 to 18:00 (tea provided)
Fee: $380
Limited to maximum 8 wicked witty women per intake. Call 63368985 or register your interest by emailing

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

Can a woman Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! Sure, why not?

I've come this far, jumped this high .... I know I can do it!

I’ve come this far, jumped this high …. I know I can do it!

If You Don’t Try, You Will Never Know!

Welcome to Chapter 2 of my book, Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! I’ve lived this maxim since I was a teenager … and strange enough, it applies so much more as I grow older. Sure, sometimes I jump in without thinking of the consequences, and I fail, but how many times have I brushed off the blood and dust and moved on? Think of it this way, at least I figured out another way not to do it! Truth be told, though …. I love this journey I’m on to build the next generation of thinkers and writers, and you know something? Life is too short for regrets. Break some rules! Have Fun!

Chapter 2

If you don’t try, you will never know!
I like Phil Knight’s statement: Just Do It! Because if you don’t, you would never know what it’ll be like if you had tried.
When I was but 13, I had a crush on a boy who lived in the opposite block. He was from St Joseph’s Institution, just a road away from my school, CHIJ. He lived on the third floor, nearest to the staircase. I decided he was someone very similar to the strong, silent, intellectual sort in the Barbara Cartland novels I devour, or maybe a bit of Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind. So I waited for him at the bus-stop, purposely taking the same bus, hoping he’ll notice me. Me a bespectacled, nondescript girl who always had her eyes permanently glued on a book during the bus-ride. I waited for him everyday, hoping he’ll look my way and smile. Now how was he ever going to smile if I don’t even dare to look him in the eye? Throughout the 30-minute journey, I kept my eye on my novel, never daring to look up. Oh, were they the most frustrating bus-rides of my Secondary One days!
Then, one day, he did not come to the bus-stop. And another day. And another day. I was frantic. Where was he? For two weeks, I used my father’s binoculars to stare at his flat, hoping to see him. In my days, it is a teenage crush. Today, it is called stalking!
I did not see him anymore after that. Now, if only, if only I had found the courage to look him in the eye, smile and say hello. What could happen? I would never know. I promised myself I would not repeat this mistake with the next guy I took a fancy to. That was in the 1970s. My mum would have called me brazen.
At 15, it happened. He was from the same school as my first crush. We were in the same group in the Interact Club. My school organised a trip to a MINDS school in Margaret Drive with SJI. I partnered this guy who I thought was really nice. He was helping me feed a nine-year-old boy who refused to eat because everytime he tries to feed himself, he couldn’t lift the spoon far enough …. My SJI friend and I held the boy’s hand to scoop the porridge and gently guided the spoon to his mouth. And the smile the boy flashed warmed my heart. We looked at each other and smiled a kinda-camaraderie grin.
I found out his home number. And I surreptitiously went to the public telephone, put in my ten cents (yes, with another two more coins in my hands in case the call exceeds three minutes), took a deep breath and dialed. Each time my finger turned the dial and I heard the whirr, my heart skipped a beat. But hey, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know! Imagine the relief when he himself came to the phone.
“Hey, I’m Catherine, you know, the girl at the Interact Club …”
“Catherine …” I said it a bit louder. This was going all wrong.
There was a ten-second silence. I wanted to hang up the phone.
“Oh …” he mumbled. Finally a response. Not what I expected.
“I was wondering …” I started, “would-you-like-to-see-a-show-with-me?”
In case you are wondering, yes, he agreed. That began a two-year relationship. I was in Secondary Three, he was in Four. Now I know why parents frown on BGRs. They confuse you, they distract you. Needless to say, he did not do well in his “O” Levels. His mother blamed me. And I did not do well as well. I blamed no one, though. I guess if I did not make that phone call, all this wouldn’t have happened. But well, it was a crazy two years of my life. There! If I hadn’t asked, I wouldn’t have known!
It was this same philosophy that guided me to get into the career I loved. Publishing. I started out at 18 as a general clerk with just my “O” Levels. Got married at 23 and as with all mothers then, having children was top priority. Along came Pat in 1985. Pat made my life complete. I came home early every day because I wanted to be with her, to play with her, to hug her …. and when she mouthed her first words, “mama,” I felt tears welling up in my eyes.
But there was this deep, gnawing desire to be working with books, my first love. But which publisher was going to employ me? No experience, no qualifications? And so I decided I had to write a book.
If you don’t try you don’t know!
It didn’t happen until Pam came along in 1988. I was by this time contributing short stories to a magazine published by Eastern Publishing. Pam was the sweetest baby I ever had. She slept at the right time, which was at night, and at one month old, she hardly woke up for her milk. When she stirred, all I had to do was to stretch my hand across to her cot beside my bed and pat her to sleep. I have to thank her for giving me time to think of writing a book. The result: Love Notes. Falling in love Singapore Style! Part-fiction, part-real ….. I had great fun writing them! I’ve decided to include my selection of the best four in this book. I still think these old-fashioned values hold true today. You be the judge!
Okay, now that it’s written …. Well, typewritten, which sometimes I feel makes writers think harder, as we try to think of the best word so as not to have to do the xxxx backwards. Trust me! So, with a finished manuscript …. What’s left is to find a publisher! I heard horror stories that rejection slips are the norm for first-time authors. Some as many as 20! At the back of my head was the nagging doubt that no publisher would want to publish my book. I wrote to Federal Publications, who sent me a very curt note that they don’t do fiction. I gritted my teeth and went down the list. Heinemann? Sounded foreign, but worth a try. So, again, I slipped the 80-plus pages of my book into the envelope and wrote a “please-please-would-you-care-to-look-at-my-manuscript” letter. It took two weeks …. And one day, a letter from Heinemann came. It is true, the expression, my heart missed a beat, mine missed two … Do I open and be disappointed or do I not open and keep my hopes intact?
Rather hesitantly, I slit it open and dragged the letter out. The letter read, “We have read through your manuscript and would like to inform you that we would like to publish it under our Writing for Asia series.” Short and terse, signed off by the Managing Director, Charles Cher. Charles, if you are reading this, you gave me my first break because you believed in my book. Thank you, thank you very much!
I read the letter through, word for word, again and again. It felt so good, I don’t think anything like this can be put to words, but I’ll try. It’s like you discovered that someone believes in you, that that someone who has not seen you before likes what you have written and is willing to spend money on it. That it’s going to be in the bookshops. That’s the heady dizzy feel. Then when you actually see your book, actually hold it in your hands, you cannot, still cannot believe it. Till today, I don’t think any published author can adequately put into words how they felt when they first see and feel their book! I held mine against my chest, breathed in the fragrance of the pages, read and reread every word in every page, and yes, put it next to my bedside table. It was the last thing I looked at before I slept!
I used this book to apply for the post of an editorial assistant in 1990. At the mature age of 30, I decided it’s now or never! My lifelong dream was to have a career in books. I was addicted to them. Anthony and me used to scour the secondhand bookshops for our favorite novels. Can you believe it, it was just 50 cents for the well-read dog-earred ones, but it’s the words that matter, isn’t it? Our dream was to set up a bookstore along Bras Basah Road, then the bastion of any kind of book. We’ll stock it up with books we love to read … Agatha Christie (I had a whole collection of them, but our favourite detective was Hercule Poirot), Franklin Dixon, who wrote the Hardy Boys series, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, with his Sherlock Holmes and Prof Challenger series …. It was really so cool! We could read all the books we sell!
Anyway, I wrote in to every publisher listed in the Yellow Pages and asked if they’d take an editorial assistant, without any experience whatsoever but has published a book? None replied. I took stock of the situation. Do I resign myself to my fate of that $1200 salary, typing and filing papers in a public accountants’ firm? I had this love for the written word, I wanted to share it with everyone, oh! If only someone gave me the chance! And I decided. If I want something I never had, then I have to do something I’ve never done. Convince them that I can do it! So I picked up the phone.
It took one year and a whole lot of calls before I landed a job in Hofer Media. My Love Notes opened the door for me. But the door shut on me because I did not have the experience. Again, it was dear sweet Vivien Kim, the editor then, who took a risk with me. Vivien, how can I ever thank you?
It didn’t matter that I left the CBD chic for the dress-down Jurong industrial crowd. It didn’t matter that I had to key in manuscript after manuscript (the Macs were just beginning the revolution into desktop publishing), it didn’t matter that I had to take a drastic pay cut! …. I was in a career I loved!