Today has been an emotional rollercoaster ride of sorts.
It all started this morning at the memoir writing class I attended with veteran children’s book writer, Emily Lim. She is also a memoirist who wrote about a period in her life when she lost her voice due to a rare neurological disorder called Spasmodic Dysphonia. She struggled for 10 years with this condition and finally has her voice back; it is now gently whispery with a character of its own and she sounds positively divine. Her story is one of heroism against all odds. Heart wrenching. Encouraging. Miraculous. Her book, Finding My Voice, is a page turner. I finished it in one night’s reading and you can too. Her story touched me in so many ways and it will touch your lives too.
Emily also conducts workshops on memoir writing. I’ve always fancied myself writing memoirs of sorts. I started with blogging about my food trails when living in Paris. The blog soon took off with a life of its own. With each food discovery, I also discovered that recipes themselves have stories of their own which led me to researching the myriad ways of cooking and eating the many familiar but taken-for-granted dishes of my childhood; these researches formed the backstory to the memories of savouring particular dishes with friends and family. Hence, the blog became a food memoir which traces my journeys in the City of Light looking for veritable Asian dishes because I was missing home. Now, my life has taken another path and I’m now a freelance writer, with a children’s title to my name. The food blog has had to take a bit of a hiatus, unfortunately. But I’m sure that with my next writing venture in mind–memoir writing, the blog will rise from the ashes iminently.
The next thing that happened was listening to Maggie Lai, another memoirist, tell of her story in writing a memoir about the period in her life when she was an educator to wayward teens in an educational institution where her students saw very little hope in their lives and “where some say “It’s The End” [book blurb]. In her memoir, Raw Diamonds, Maggie traces her experiences of being that educator to those who needed boundaries set, encouragement beyond the call of duty and embracement of a kind that some children have never had.
As an educator in my past life, I understand the challenges Maggie went through in trying to bring the love of learning to students who can’t see the importance of education in their lives because their worlds have been turned upside down from abuse, neglect and poverty. Every child mattered to Maggie who struggled to make a difference in these children’s lives. Her story resonated with me. It triggered memories of being a teacher in an inner-city London comprehensive where more than half the lesson time was spent in setting boundaries for teens who would throw their pens at me, disrupt the lesson at every juncture or talk incessantly amongst themselves. It took me a good part of 7 months to gain respect from my class. It took a personal story of struggles that struck a chord in these teens I was teaching because my story resonated with their own struggles of being a constantly overlooked teenager that society turned a blind eye to because they didn’t fit into the mould. Square pegs round holes, was what my Head of Department called these kids. Every Child Matters, was what I learnt. “This is what inequality looks like” was another lesson learnt.
The following thing that happened took place after the workshop.
In a rather busy area of town, there is a shopping mall, specialising in books and art supplies, housed in an old, lacklustre monstrosity of a building, a go-to for locals looking to buy second-hand books, past-year exam papers, books and stationery. There, I quickly found my way to the most popular bookstore in Singapore, aptly named… Popular Bookstore. I wanted to see if Open – A Boy’s Wayang Adventure has been stocked.
Imagine my joy when I saw those blue books sitting on two shelves independently. Blue is Open’s favourite colour, by the way. So, in discussing the design of the book cover, it only made sense to have the background in blue. Many folks have asked me about the illustrator who worked on the cover. I’m so privileged to have worked with an illustrator whom I met because as many children book writers will know, writers and illustrators can sometimes live across oceans and never meet. Liz Lim is young, likeable and super talented.
Emotional rollercoaster ride.
The minute I saw those blue gems shining in their own light under some very bright lights provided by the bookstore, a lump immediately formed in my throat. You mustn’t cry. No, no, I won’t cry. Keep a straight face, get over yourself. And I did. I composed myself, made the hubby take some photos and even managed to sell a copy of the book to a lovely bespectacled boy who was looking for suitable reading material. I asked him if he’s heard of a condition called autism and he said no. I went into overdrive and persuaded him, rather his mother, to buy Open so that he can learn about the world of a little boy who lives with autism. The mummy kindly bought the book and I obliged with an autograph dedicated to Wayne. If you’re reading this, you get a mention, Wayne, for being a risk-taker and choosing this story over another one that you could’ve asked mummy to buy. Well done, you!
For those of you who don’t know where Popular Bookstore is, they have a website with a store locator. That’s for those who are visiting Singapore and want a copy of Open. Treat the book as one of the many souvenirs you’ll be buying. There’s more packed in there than raising awareness of autism.
Every Child Matters.
When you purchase your copy, please take a selfie with the book and hashtag, #Openeverychildmatters. Spread the love of reading books, be that risk-taker like Wayne, who chose a book with text over a graphic novel. [disclaimer: nothing wrong with graphic novels, I read them too.]