Still can't quite believe I did it! Published my first novel? Ouch! That's me pinching myself. Since the day I penned my first story, almost four decades back, I have wanted to see my name as an author stretching across a book cover. At the rate things were developing, I thought my prayers might be answered in a different way. For example, having my name on a book cover like 'MURDER in CLASS' - a novel about SiewJin Christina Jee, a teacher who single-handedly took the lives of fifty students in her Maths class. Man, I did fantasize about that (not the book cover, the actual deed itself), when my contribution to mankind seemed to be turning a class of fifty teenagers into cave men and women. Don't get me wrong, I like teenagers. I just do not enjoy trying to get them to achieve anything.
Back to the origins of this novella. Right after getting over the euphoria of going into retirement which involved lying in bed a whole day, finishing a thick novel at one go, buying my pet parrot Buddy...I think this euphoria thing requires another post, I sat down to write. The problem was ....write about what? I mean I have plans to write a historical novel on the Brooke era, a peranakan piece centring on a female Heathcliff -like character and so forth but these would take a lot of time and research. I needed to do something easier to complete, more contemporary and wildly imaginative just to prove to myself that I have it in me.
So there I was, at the kitchen table, one early dawn, casting around for ideas when everything started coming together. The rats could be heard squeaking down in the pipes below the kitchen sink, climbing the gutter leading up to the roof and gambolling in the plaster ceiling above my living room. Irritation at their intrusion into my Zen corner turned into speculation about their livelihood and slowly but surely there evolved this tale about mice and men. The character Motley/Temper came about after listening to one particularly loud squeak from a distressed rat residing in my kitchen pipes. The character Ju was an ode in prose to the teenage boys I had taught before especially the ones who were not that bright. I never had a chance to tell them that though I frowned and chastised them for looking out of the windows at the activities on the basketball court, for having fights behind the sports equipment store....I totally understand their need to do so. Some of their unsavoury activities are featured in this book and I'm sure my students from SMK Green Road will smile when they read certain passages and reminisce their school days there. As for Ju being cancer-stricken, my own relatives, colleagues and friends were getting it on a regular basis then. Needless to say, I was affected, well enough to 'infect' my main character with it.
I think I started on the book sometime in May 2008 and finished it just before the Chinese New Year in 2009. In long hand, mind you, much to the anguish of my family members. To my chagrin, they wrung their hands, hit their foreheads, 'tsk,tsk'ed like mating lizards and jigged around me like aborigines praying for rain. Much was said about my computer skills. "Technologically disadvantaged" was one of more polite phrases used. The rest were downright unflattering and designed to drive me towards the computer. If I dwell too much on the words used, I think I'll regress. Oh did I tell you, they succeeded in their quest. I'm better, much much better at it now.
As every author will attest, writing turns out to be the fun part of producing a book. I would wake up at 3 or 4 in the morning and start work. Around 6 or 7, distractions like phone calls and daily chores take over. I did not plan much, preferring to let the story just flow like the meandering Rejang River. It was more fun that way. I look forward each day to getting up and finding out how the story would move on. Occasionally it would hit a snag and I would have to sit morosely at the kitchen table until the ideas started flowing again.
Once the novel was finished, I had to edit and revise it again and again. The minute I was satisfied, I started looking for a publisher. Gave the local ones a shot first but was rejected. Then moved onto the ones in UK and US. Failed. Tried finding agents. Failed too. Hubby did tell me about self-publishing but the idea of spending my hard-earned pension on producing books and selling them on my own put me off. I was pretty jaded by the time I happened upon an article about e-publishing and Smashwords in the Borneo Post. Just had enough presence of mind to tuck it away in my drawer. After getting the year 2011 off and feeling more settled, I took the article out, google Smashwords and the rest is history.
Quote from THE BORNEO POST (Your guide to Good English) Wed. 31/8/2011 Pg 9
"If you can pay your bills and are happy doing what you're doing, that's the key. It's really pretty neat being surrounded by your passion."