First look at Sofia and the Utopia Machine paperbacks!

sofia first look

I was so excited to receive this photo from Epigram yesterday! My books are back from the printers and I’ll be seeing them in person very very soon! Thanks to everyone who has been on this journey with me, and I’ll definitely post again when I know about the launch! The books should be available in Singapore bookstores in the next couple of weeks.

In the meantime, if you want a copy, pre-order from Epigram here and be sure to add it to your Goodreads queue here!

Creative affirmations and the artist’s way

Today I took a special day off to go to Fremantle, the wonderful port city near Perth, where I spent a soul-nourishing day reading the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron and browsing the indie bookshops along the way to Moore and Moore’s, a cafe with eclectic decor.

It might seem a little counter-intuitive that I’ve escaped down under just as my book is about to launch in Singapore, but I find that having an escape hatch is helping me deal with all the anxiety about the reception the book will have when it finally drops. I’ll be back for the launch, of course, date still TBD.

The Artist’s Way is a classic that has defined my artistic recovery from the depths of writer’s despair several years ago. I was recommended it by my friend Oke back in 2013, and I used it a couple of times since getting it. It has never failed in getting my artistic mojo back, and I’m hoping that reading it now will help me jumpstart my next project and also get me writing poetry again, something which I haven’t done meaningfully in a while.

Just re-reading the first chapter today reminded me of how much my inner censor creates a lot of negative self-talk in my own head – the feelings of inadequacy, the inability to admit one is an artist/writer, and especially that one is a good and prolific one. They plague me even on the eve of publication! Just as they plagued me when I was in my office in China, unpublished and anonymous in the huge, unknowing city of Beijing.

I need to allow myself to be an artist. I need to nurture my inner artist child and be kind to it. It’s alright if I don’t measure up to my idols. It’s alright that I’m still learning the ropes. Here are the creative affirmations that Cameron recommends we write out during the first week. I’ve always found them to be incredibly moving to recite aloud or write out in longhand:

1. I am a channel for God’s creativity, and my work comes to good.

2. My dreams come from God and God has the power to accomplish them.

3. As I create and listen, I will be led.

4. Creativity is the creator’s will for me.

5. My creativity heals myself and others.

6. I am allowed to nurture my artist.

7. Through the use of a few simple tools, my creativity will flourish.

8. Through the use of my creativity, I serve God.

9. My creativity always leads me to truth and love.

10. My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.

11. There is a divine plan of goodness for me.

12. There is a divine plan of goodness for my work.

13. As I listen to the creator within, I am led.

14. As I listen to my creativity  I am led to my creator.

15. I am willing to create.

16. I am willing to learn to let myself create.

17. I am willing to let God create through me.

18. I am willing to be of service through my creativity.

19. I am willing to experience my creative energy.

20. I am willing to use my creative talents.

I would recommend the book to anyone who wants to be creative, and who feels blocked in some way. The tools seem simple and even rudimentary, but they worked for me, from taking that first step to reading again on the circuit in Beijing (the first time I read at Spittoon poetry) to becoming a published author (almost!). I’m glad to be reunited with my copy.


Join over 100 pre-orders for Sofia & The Utopia Machine!

I received news from my publisher, Epigram, today that Sofia and The Utopia Machine has received over a hundred pre-orders! I am pleasantly surprised and also gratified that so many people are interested enough in the book that they have already ordered it. You can, too, if you head over to this link at Epigram Books. The book is going to drop pretty soon, in the next month or so, although I don’t have a date right now yet. Of course, I’m thrilled that there are this many people interested in the book, though a part of me is also worried about what they’ll think of the book when they finally get it! It’s just pre-release authorial jitters, I suppose.

In separate news, here is how the cover looks at present, with a peek at the back cover as well! I am very pleased that the designer, Qinyi, decided to incorporate my suggestion to have Milton the tiger on the back

I’m at the last lap of the publication process and I’m both exhausted and relieved! It almost seems surreal that this book is going to be out in the world for real, and the news that people have already ordered it drives this home for me. I just re-read a favourite essay of mine by Zadie Smith today “That Crafty Feeling”, collected in Changing My Mind, in which she says,

I find it very hard to read my books after they’re published. I’ve never read White Teeth. Five years ago I tried; I got about ten sentences in before I was overwhelmed with nausea.

She speaks frequently of that sensation – nausea, upon reading past work. I’m afraid I kind of feel it too, especially in the revision process. I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to crack open the book when it’s finally in my hands and read it from beginning to end like the way I would any other book. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy it as a book, in that sense. Perhaps the nausea is a the literary equivalent of morning sickness, except something which never goes away. One of the reasons why I like the Zadie Smith essay so much is to know that I’m not the only novelist in the world that feels like this about the book I’ve written.

For friends, especially those overseas, wondering how to get hold of the book when it comes out, I promise I will find some kind of arrangement to get them to you when it’s out. Til then, keep spreading the word – just because I don’t think I can read my book from beginning to end doesn’t mean I don’t want more people to!

Blind spots, plot holes and other landmines

So my book is in the thick of the editorial process, including going around to a few early readers, mostly my friends, for comments/editorial feedback, as well as with the editor at the publishing house.

I’ve always found taking feedback to be an excruciating process. I’ve never really taken criticism well, from my years in school where my essays rarely raised much negative comment, to job reviews and meeting with dour HR people with impassive faces. So taking feedback on my book, a labor of love for over six years, is definitely not one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. This, despite the fact that it’s far, far better to get feedback on a manuscript before it’s published than after, when there isn’t much you can do to change it, and I really should be feeling better about this process than I actually am. However, reading marginal comments and structural edits is almost physically painful for me. It’s just my subjective experience of it.

Sometimes it’s because I do have a massive plot hole there which I was hoping my reader wouldn’t pick up on. Sometimes it’s because there’s a blind spot of mine which I hadn’t noticed before and which now seems terrible and glaring and which I’m not even sure I can wholly fix without completely changing my worldview. It seems to be a moral failing, almost. For example, when one of my readers who is one of the SJW persuasion (I say this with only the greatest affection) pointed out potential racial tokenism or even (surprisingly, as my book has a female protagonist) a preponderance to give males action roles, I immediately started to question whether I was in fact being racist or sexist without realizing it, which leads me down the whole rabbit hole of questioning my woke-ness or liberal/feminist credentials.

The fact is that, having imbibed the literature I imbibed, having been brought up in the society that I was, and despite my best efforts, perhaps I am unconsciously racist or sexist. On the other hand, I am trying to fight the battles of representation for people who are like me in literature at all, and I can’t fight on all fronts of the battle. I can’t be all things to all people, and I shouldn’t have to apologize for not doing so. Every author shows a slice of life and not every project is about depicting every sector of society or representing every experience. Even so, I feel disturbed and wonder if I should be cringing at my own work.

Going through the editorial process has been intense. Although I have never given birth, it is a little like what I imagine giving birth is. Sometimes I feel nauseous, I’m constantly worried whether the book will have severe defects, I wonder what people will think of it when it comes to exist. Xuwen, my best friend and a computer programmer, says the process of taking in feedback and taking it into consideration sounds a lot like the process of debugging. You soft launch it (let beta readers read it) and then people come back to you with a whole list of problems, which you then have to order in order of priority and fix one by one to the extent that you can. And then you go through the process again. And again. Until you run out of time, and then it’s print date, and that’s it.

We haven’t gone to print yet, but it is getting increasingly (worryingly) closer. I worry about not getting enough feedback. I worry about getting too much. I treasure my beta readers and also resent them when they point out a problem I hadn’t seen before. I’m a mess. I hope I get this thing in shape before this thing sees the light of day.

11k words written! or, a deadline lights your ass on fire

by David Hayes

So my second draft (as far as Epigram is concerned – as far as I’m concerned this is my fifth draft) of my novel is due on the 26th of March, and I have been going at this thing like a veritable machine. Today I just sat back, printed out everything I’ve written since the start of the month when I got my editorial letter, and counted – I’ve written 11,000 + words since then. So where did all that motivation come from? Fear, partly, that the book won’t be as good as it could be, and vanity, that, since my name is going to be attached to the thing, it be as good as it possibly can. Writing new material is perhaps more enjoyable than wading through old stuff and trying to make it better, and that’s what I’ll be focusing on in the next weeks. But it’s very good to know that I can go at a 1k/day clip if there’s a fire lit below my ass.


Two months to go and not making my word count…

So the book is slated to drop in May, and I’m right now trying to do the edits my editor wants to the manuscript. It’s honestly kind of overwhelming. Having the deadline hanging over my head is causing me a minor panic as well. However, what has to be done has to be done, and no amount of fretting is going to actually get me over the line the way that sitting down and solidly churning out the word count will. It is moments like this that I need to watch what is probably my favourite video about writing in existence, one which I posted here back in 2013 when I first found it and which I’m reposting again today because it’s just too good to remain buried in the archives:

Yes, Neil Gaiman. I will continue to put one word after the next. I will build that dry stone wall. Even if it isn’t the most beautiful wall, or the most brilliant wall that ever existed in the world, it will still be there and it will still stand. That much I can look forward to. OK, enough of a rant, it’s time to get back to work!


Sofia & the Utopia Machine available for pre-order!

My first novel, Sofia & the Utopia Machine, is now available for pre-order from Epigram Books! This means you’ll get it shipped to you once it drops in May 2018! A great option for anyone who wants to get it as soon as possible.

Sofia and the Utopia Machine cover

Click here to purchase. I’m so excited about the cover as well! I think it looks wonderful. Thanks to Epigram for the lovely design.

Add it to your Goodreads to-read list and help spread the word about the novel!

My novel has been shortlisted for the Epigram Book Fiction Prize!

book stock image

I’m thrilled to announce that my book, The Utopia Machine (working title) has been shortlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize! There are four finalists, all of whom will have their books published by Epigram, and the final winner of the prize will be announced at a gala dinner on the 23rd of November.

I am incredibly grateful for the validation this gives me for my writing, especially my fiction writing, which is relatively new, and both excited and nervous about the final result. It hasn’t been an easy year for me, with health problems and other difficulties, but I am grateful for all the twists and turns that led me to complete my novel in July. Every writer wants to see their work in print and for readers to crack their books open, so one of the best parts of this news is that the novel will be published. Am truly looking forward to holding it in my own hands.

The Utopia Machine longlisted for Epigram Fiction Prize 2017!

I am thrilled to announce that my first novel manuscript, The Utopia Machine, which I’ve been working on since 2011, has been longlisted for the Epigram Fiction Prize 2017! I am beyond happy at the news. Congratulations to everyone on the longlist and I’m keeping everything crossed for the shortlist coming out Oct 21! Check out the Straits Times article here.

In the meantime, I have dug out the first draft of the novel, which I wrote out in longhand before typing into the computer in these two notebooks:


Here’s a peek into them – I basically wore out my Parker Sonnet writing this book. It is now in pieces.


IMG_2346 It’s interesting to see what has changed and what hasn’t changed between the first draft and the version I sent to Epigram for the prize on August 1. There are definitely whole passages and chunks that remained the same since the first draft, but where the plot goes essentially deviated hugely from my initial outline. There are whole chapters I had to discard, and characters that I got rid of an reinserted again. I wonder how many people still write their novels longhand before typing them out?