I have been off radar quite a bit lately as I have been quite tied up with the release of our second book, and until yesterday, been involved in two literary festivals back to back. What an amazing journey though – which I would like to share bit by bit over a few posts so I don’t bore you. But I am excited and thrilled to introduce you first to our new book……
My business partner and I just released our second book two weeks ago. Called The House on Palmer Road, it’s a children’s chapter book for 7-12-year-old’s. It contains a series of 15 short stories based on the adventures of Sing, a tree-climbing, ‘tom-boyish’ 8-year-old girl together with her 9 brothers and sisters. They are all playful, light-hearted stories set in late 1930’s colonial Singapore, just before WWII and the Japanese Occupation. In its pages, young readers accompany Sing and her siblings on adventures in the vicinity of Palmer Road and nearby Chinatown: from frog hunting in the wasteland, to being chased by guard geese in dark godowns, to evenings in the Great World Amusement Park and getting into scrapes in the Salted Egg Incident.
You get a gentle taste of what life was like in the 1930’s through the people she meets and the slices of grown-up life she encounters: such as the itinerant hawkers, the Patriotic Woman who raises funds to send to China to support its war effort (the Second Sino-Japanese war was taking place then), and overheard conversation among grown-ups talking about war in Europe, and how the Japanese army is marching south. While all worrying, these are half-understood by Sing and the adult characters’ distant conversations shield both protagonists and readers from the worrying ramifications of unfolding world affairs. The focus remains on the playfulness of the stories.
These stories and characters are all real, because they are actually based on my mother’s childhood. The wooden house on Palmer Road — after which the book is titled and where her family of 13 lived — was built by my grandfather, a building contractor. The landscape is vividly detailed, all based on my mother’s amazing memory, which we also verified against old maps and photographs and archival material to ensure accuracy. Landmarks mentioned include the wasteland behind the house, the train tracks along towards Telok Ayer piers, the godowns, the embankment by the sea, Mount Palmer, Mariner’s Club along Anson Road, and lots more which have long been demolished.
We released this book two weeks ago, just before Singapore observed the 75th anniversary of the fall of Singapore in WWII (15 Feb 1942). This is significant to us because the story ends when Singapore fell. What’s particularly unique about this book is it presents pre-war Singapore through the eyes of a local, and a child to boot. There is very little written of this period from a local’s perspective: most accounts of pre-war Singapore have been written by the British colonials then, and many local people of that time — except for the local elite — were not educated enough to do so. So this presents a rarely seen account of Singapore. Rest assured, though, this book is not pedantic, and the focus remains firmly on telling fun, enjoyable stories for kids.
My 83-year-old mother had written this initially as her own private memoir for herself and the family. She wanted to recapture her childhood as she had such an enjoyable time then, she told me. But she had such a lovely writing style and the stories were so playful, I persuaded her to let me turn it into a children’s book. There was some rewriting to do because we had to change the perspective from an adult’s retrospective to a first-person narrative in a child’s voice.
Meanwhile, we got a really talented artist Lim Anling to provide us lots of black and white illustrations to go along with it. And finally after a year’s work on it, the book is done, printed and released during the recent #buySinglit festival, a nation-wide weekend affair which focused on the growing body of Singapore literature.
I am awfully proud of my mother, who has become a first-time author at 83! Lots of people who saw the book assumed that I had written it for her or translated it for her, assuming that she could not speak English (which indeed is quite typical of people in her age group). However my mother is an exceptional lady especially for her generation in Singapore. She not only speaks and writes perfect English, she also holds a Master’s degree in Chemistry (she was one of just a handful of girls in the university then). So no, I did not have to translate or write the book for her. I did it with her and it was such an honour to capture a slice of history with her!
It’s available at several bookstores in Singapore including Books Ahoy, Woods in the Books, Books Kinokuniya and online store localbooks.sg