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!

One child. One story. One dream fulfilled! Part 1

I love what I do. I love to create. I love to create a world where every child has the right to dream and write. I want to teach children to create, then to sell their creation to the world!

Why? Every vision and mission starts with a quest. Why do I want to do this? Why, when my kids are grown up and my duty is done? It boils down to two words: fulfillment and legacy!

When I mentor a child, when I see the light sparkle in his eyes, the aha! Moment, that’s when I feel fulfilled. His learning moment makes my day. Legacy. The word means a lot to me. When I leave this world, I don’t want my kids to remember me as a mother. I want them to remember me for helping other children achieve their dream. I show my kids how to aspire because I am their mother. I show other kids how to aspire because I believe every child has the right to dream. The dream to write!

Building the next generation of thinkers and writers is my dream. My goal. It’s a big, oversized dream but it can be achieved. How? By first building the foundations.

Education. It’s another big word which means absolutely nothing if there is no measure of learning. How do you measure that? We learn everyday, or do we? What do we learn, how do we learn? And how is learning tied in with creativity? Can we learn to be more creative?

That’s where my Young Author Scheme comes in. Can you teach a person to be more creative? That’s what I’ve been asked. Actually, no. You can’t teach a person to be more creative. My contention is that all children are creative. They just think they are not because adults think they are not!

The Young Author Scheme reverses this self-prophesizing thinking. It gives the child to start realizing this, that, yes, I am creative. And how do I know that I am? Because I can think, I can write, and yes, I can author a book. Why? Because these are my ideas and I am free to explore these words together to make a coherent story. So belief + craft = a well-thought out story. (The craft part I teach.)

Concept: Creative Education begins its journey with the Young Author Scheme. I started in 2003 with this one belief, that kids are creative and they can write their own story. After that what next? To me, writing a story is not sufficient. How far can it go? Wouldn’t other people want to read it? Wouldn’t other children want to read them? Wouldn’t other parents want to also want their kids to write their own books? Most important, wouldn’t it be great to publish them, have them available in bookstores and create a belief, a business on the premise (which I’ve proven) that Kids Can Write!