Dear friends who are following my blog, I am tracing my lineage beginning from my grandmother who ran a gambling den in Geylang way back in the 1940s. My dad swore off gambling because of that! It’s for a novel I am writing about a highly adventurous and courageous female who lived 1868 to 1958. Think Gone With The Wind. …. that’s my muse

Seriously, I lost touch with all my Dad’s relatives, so now am tracing way way back. Tough but hey, learning as I go along…. My grandma’s one tough lady!

I need lots of help. I will be posting photos and letters my Dad left behind on this page and thoughts as I travel this journey into my past. If it seems familiar or if you think you know someone, please, please let me know.

Take care and speak soon,

Catherine Khoo

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 …”
“Who?”
“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!

The Healing Power of Conversation … And 5 Things To Do Before I Turn 55!

The Healing Power of Conversations and Five Things To Do Before I Turn 55

How did Pauli and me celebrate Chinese New Year? Never thought it would be so heartwarming, so much of an eye-opener to me. Invited Raymond and Johnny for a Chinese dinner, and yes, celebrated both their birthdays for them. Raymond said, “This is our reunion dinner,” and it made me feel so connected with them. Both did not go back home …. in fact, Johnny worked in Cha Time and he made bubble milk tea, my favourite. Raymond’s working in the rural area, he’s a nurse and loving his job, and he is going to buy alpaca and buy farmland ….

But the conversation that ensued as we sat around eating the tiramisu cake (and I must say, it’s one of the best I’ve ever tasted! Raymond and I agreed it must be the weather, or maybe, it’s natural ingredients 🙂 ) the conversation lasted three hours …. But it’s honest-to-goodness sharing which I do not get back home. Tell you why …. Johnny’s from Hong Kong and same age as Pauli, Raymond’s 30 and reminds me of the child I could have got … Yeah, 1983, would be his age …. Three of them reminded me of when I was their age …. Full of dreams and wanting to do so many things, but worried about the future. The common factor linking them is a country that is overcrowded, that has forgotten what it is like to stop and smell the roses, coz there are no more roses and stopping is not recommended for economic growth ….. And the question on their lips but never asked, “What has gone out of the window in pursuit of material gains?” They like it here, and sometimes I think life is like a deja vu, our ancestors came out of China to seek better pastures for themselves and their children not so long ago …. Now our children are doing this for themselves.

It’s a bit different now, coz with so much gadgets (I thank the people who invented the Internet 😀 ) you can communicate so easily. And my advice to every young person who is reading my blog ….. Go out and experiment and experience! When I was your age, I had the same dreams, hopes and plans. The world is a scary place if you feel it is scary. It is a place of opportunities if you just follow your heart. Don’t be afraid to explore, for only then do you learn. More important, whatever you do, have compassion ……. Just as one famous human rights activist, I forgot her name, said, “Live simply, so others may simply live!” So simple words, yet so profound.

So I’ve made a list, 10 Things To Do Before I Turn 60. But then, that’s almost seven years away, and life is too short to plan so long. So, I’ve made a shorter one. Top priorities …. Top 5. Yes, 5!

1/ Sell 10,000 copies of my book Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! And have it translated into five languages. (5,000 per year quite do-able, considering I turn 55 in Dec 2014)

2/ Establish ( now, be very careful of the word, establish) okay, ensure, no, plant the seeds sound better, plant the Young Author Scheme and The Unique Classroom in 3 countries ….. Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia. (in no particular order). Why Australia? Met the people from BBX and have this funny feeling there’s a reason why Pam came to Adelaide in 2006 and Pauli is here. This year is the 8th year my kids are here. 8 is a magical number for me! Strange too, when Pam first came, I had dinner with 2 boys from Bradford (used to be called Alexandra Lodge) their reunion dinner in Chinatown, and this year, I also had dinner with two boys who used to stay in Bradford. And Raymond came in the same year as Pam. Uncanny! And yes, my dream to nurture a Booker Prize winner …. Maybe Asian Literary Prize …. That’s more do-able.

3/ Do book tours. (Must be more specific). Okay, my imprint. I’ve decided on Witty, Wicked Women, logo www, and the first book under this is Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! …. Ooh! I love exclamation marks! Makes everything so zesty! I’m going to do workshops around this book first. I also have the Amazing Journeys Travelogue (gotta start putting it together …) Cambodia, next Dharamsala. Promised Jinpa. Why workshops? Family bonding …. Parents and children to understand one another, to communicate …. that’s really my life’s mission. I feel so happy when parents and their children are happy doing things together. Let’s see where the Amazing Journeys will lead to ….

4/ Write 3 more books.
I Can Write. So Can You! (Must finish this by mid March …)
Ordinary Lives. Extraordinary Struggles.
Tips for Mothers with Children Studying Overseas (working title only. As an afterthought, yes, would include views of their kids as well, so more balanced)

5/ This is actually the fulfillment of my father’s and brother’s dream. My father planted it in me, my brother kept it growing in me …… Do my Phd in Creative Writing. Why not? First, I want to write a novel about women and why they write …. Too broad, gotta narrow it, but yes, it has got to be a literary novel …. And research is involved, and lots of reading …. I just love it. It’s also the fulfillment of my own dream …. One I had since 13 ….. Waited 40 years to see it come true ….

Life is indeed what we make of it ….. It’s good to build castles in the air, because it’s where they should be. Now put foundations under them! Look out, world! Life begins at 53!

My latest book …. a tell-it-all! :-)

photo

Love! Live Dangerously! And Have Fun! My latest book! A tell-it-all book …. Hey, in a goody, goody, cheeky way 🙂 took three years in the making …. But six months to get it all written.

Yes, it’s going to be published under Experiences & Experiments, my publishing company. It’s amazing how it all fits together. I founded E&E in 2005 to publish my young authors’ works …. Stories that would never see light of day because no one believed in them. And to-date we have close to 500 stories under the Young Author Club imprint.

Now, exactly eight years later, something big is gonna happen. I will launch a series of books under a new imprint. Books about women, for women. I hesitate to say “by women” because hey, men can write books about women! But it has to be books that will help women to understand themselves, that’s my only criteria.

So what do I call my new imprint? I’m toying with “www” Witty Wicked Women, “MAD” Mothers And Daughters. Hey, isn’t this what life is about? You experiment, you experience …. Don’t know what comes first, but I am crazily, insanely, deeply in love with what I am doing!

One child. One story. One dream fulfilled! Part 2

So, Concept: Publishing. Most people don’t understand publishing. They feel the author writes the perfect book, it gets printed and that’s all there is to publishing. That’s as naïve a view as thinking that having tuition and doing assessments would make a smart kid. Okay, no clear link between the two analogies. (Just wanted to make a point!)

Publishing is an art by itself. That’s why I am in it. That’s why I am passionate about it. There’s nothing so fascinating as taking a manuscript in its pure war MS Word format, and transforming it with editing, design and layout into a book which another person, a stranger, someone else halfway across the world, picks up and reads it, and better still, finds it an enjoyable read.

Imagine this scenario. A child writes a story. He sends it in for the Young Author Award. It gets shortlisted. He wins a prize. The story gets published and he’s on top of the world! Research has shown that this spurs his commitment to do more. And that’s better than all the tuition in the world!

Okay, publishing is an art. But it doesn’t end with getting the book out. The most crucial is getting the book off the shelves and into somebody’s reading list. That’s the challenge. But as the world evolves electronically, so does the publishing world. And this is where I feel the opportunities are endless. Imagine I write a book today, it gets published into an ebook, it goes into multiple platforms: amazon’s kindle, google books, Ipads, androids – imagine the possibilities!

And this is what I offer – the 3 in 1 solution to any young child! So, all the way from learning to create, to creating, to selling his creation to the whole world!