I am a published author.
Well, more like a published writer.
Okay, technically a writer who has had the experience of being published. And not necessarily because of the quality of my work, but rather because of my effort. Think of it as a consolation publication. But what do you expect? I was only 13 years old.
I’ve always enjoyed writing since I could first pick up a pencil to make somewhat legible scribbles. Of course, I loved reading. ‘Avid’ doesn’t do my younger self justice. And I loved fantasy. I tore through Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Terry Pratchett, Terry… Robert Jordan, Stephen R. Lawhead, just to name a few. When I heard of an annual competition-without-prizes called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which challenged the brave and courageous to write a 50,000 word novel (roughly the length of ‘The Great Gatsby’ or ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’) in 30 days during the month of November, I decided to participate. And I wrote a fantasy novel.
As aforementioned, there are no prizes. No one keeps you accountable (so you’re free to cheat). But what you do achieve is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, a pat-yourself-on-the-back, and an immensely crappy manuscript that your family members and relatives can boast about to other family members and relatives during New Year gatherings.
Oh, how I wish I still had that innocent naïveté! That unadulterated confidence in myself! That Beowulf-like fearlessness and Stephen King-like prolific writing ability to churn out tens of thousands of words without breaking a sweat!
This was back in 2005. 9 years ago. I was 13 and had just graduated from middle school. I was also back in Singapore for half a year as my parents took a brief furlough from their missionary work in Japan. During this time, I was internet schooling, which meant sitting in front of the computer 24/7. Naturally, I spent more time on the writing program typing out my novel (I think it was Scrivener) than on my studies. Interestingly, I don’t remember ever feeling stuck or dry. Writer’s block was a thing of the bloody future and like puberty, it was a mystery yet to be discovered (and loathed). Before I knew it, November was over, I had my 50,000 words (100 pages, Times New Roman, single spaced) and I wasn’t even halfway through my story. I had done it. I was rather proud of myself.
During the month of November, a Municipal Liaison (a volunteer coordinator) called Rosemary Lim (a lovely lady from Northern Ireland who is an award-winning writer, editor, publisher) organised various gatherings for the NaNoWriMos in Singapore. These were held at the Earshot Cafe at The Arts House at the Old Parliament and mainly involved getting to know each other. Moral support was a necessity, and it was a comfort to know we weren’t alone in our reckless endeavour. There were also frequent writing sessions. I never told my parents what I was doing, neither did I mention where I was going whenever I sneaked out of the house to these gatherings to meet complete strangers. It was thrilling, though I felt fairly guilty (do understand, I was a good kid and this was the best I could do when it came to rebellion). But soon, they ceased to be strangers and instead turned into my trusty companions on a strange journey of words and worlds, accounts and anecdotes. It was brilliant. And when November ended, we were all winners.
But that wasn’t the end. Out of the 185 Singaporean participants, 19 people successfully produced 50,000 words within the 30 days. And Rosemary suddenly revealed to the 19 of us that we were going to be published in an anthology of our novel excerpts. That was exciting news but funnily enough, I wasn’t jumping up and down. In fact, I received the news with unnatural calmness. Was I too young to understand how ‘cool’ this was? Or was I, in my carefree arrogance, complacently thinking that it was bound to happen, that I was off to a good start on my writing career? Either way, I picked an action-packed passage from my novel, sent it to Rosemary for editing, and it was 1 of 19 excerpts published.
I remember the anxiety I felt when I was told my parents had to sign a contract since I was underage. If you remember, I had not breathed a single word about NaNoWriMo to them. I still remember going up to them with the contract form in hand, asking them to sign it, hoping they wouldn’t read it. ‘What is this?’ they asked. As nonchalantly as possible, I remarked in a deadpan tone as if it were no big deal: ‘I wrote a novel and they’re publishing an excerpt of it in a book.’ I can only imagine the surprise they felt, but to their credit, they remained calm, said ‘Oh’ and signed the paper. Classy.
So in October 2006 (I was 14 by then, but ignore the technicalities), So You Think You Can Write A Novel? (ed. Rosemary Lim) was published by Marshall Cavendish. Here’s the blurb:
This collection of novel excerpts showcases 19 eclectic pieces of homegrown, original fiction from some of the most promising new writers to have emerged from Singapore’s literary scene. From lighthearted romance to dark murder mysteries, period pieces of historical fiction to wildly alternative fantasy worlds, So You Think You Can Write A Novel? has something for everyone and will whet your appetite for more.
It was great holding a book with your name and written work in it. It was great signing your name in other people’s copies. It was great seeing your family members and relatives telling each other about it and making sure they bought loads of copies (albeit slightly embarrassing). It was great seeing it on the shelves at Kinokuniya (which at the time was the largest bookshop in Southeast Asia). It was great receiving royalties of 25 Singaporean dollars / 2000 Japanese yen / 12 British pounds / 20 US dollars (which isn’t much but still).
And it wasn’t long (2 or 3 years later?) before it went out of print. Completely understandable since we were amateur writers, and the book was advertised and sold based solely on the concept. But don’t fret! You can still get it for US $61 (+ $3.99 shipping) from Chapter 1 Books in South Africa! (If you were seriously planning to purchase it, please don’t, it’s not worth it. Now if you miraculously manage to find a cheap used copy, by all means.)
What was my book/excerpt about? Well, you see, I wrote it when I was 13. I recently reread my excerpt and barely made it through. The writing is horrendous. I know, I know, I was young, it couldn’t be helped. But it’s definitely not something I’d want people to read. I feel sorry for Rosemary who had to ‘edit’ it (she must have wanted to scrap it completely).
Well, if you insist, I’ll post a summary. My novel was called The Bones of Tears. This is the description that appeared in the book right before the actual excerpt:
Genre: Dark Fantasy Sword-and-Sorcery. This fantasy novel centres around a conflict between good and evil with characters that can shapeshift and other magic elements.
Story so far: Sildir Philman — half-human, half-elf — is foretold by the prophecy as the only one who can stop the evil wizard Michander Stailre from taking over the world. He begins his journey with his trustworthy dog, Flame, across the World of Andreaum in search of the legendary Bones of Tears, the only weapon strong enough to defeat Michander. The Bones of Tears are supposedly the bones of the most powerful sorcerer that ever lived named Mmessunka, and contain an almost unimaginable power.
Along the way, Sildir meets a variety of characters: a wizard named Wycax Droaon; a thief and fighter named Richard Beast; a lady named Rosella Livyan; and a performer named Faelon Ethringer. As they travel together, facing hardships and troubles and also joys and laughter, they learn to trust each other more. In the end, will they find the mythical Bones of Tears and will Sildir finally defeat Michander and save the World of Andreaum from a horrific fate?
I guess you’ll never know. (And what kind of name is Mmessunka?!)
- Justin Lau
- Marshall Cavendish
- Municipal Liaison
- National Novel Writing Month
- Robert Jordan
- Rosemary Lim
- So You Think You Can Write A Novel?
- Stephen R. Lawhead
- Terry Brooks
- Terry Goodkind
- Terry Pratchett
- The Bones of Tears
- The Great Gatsby