This week’s Create Your Life interview is with award-winning children’s fiction author, Don Bosco! I naturally gravitate towards children and YA fiction writers because they’re just a super-nice bunch by default. I mean, how awful can a person be if he or she writes stories to entertain young people? Don is as friendly and upbeat as you would expect of a children’s fiction author. Plus, he’s definitely not one to sit on his laurels – do a quick Google search and you’ll see all the accolades he has earned over the years.
Here’s his story:
DON BOSCO is a writer and publisher of thrilling fiction for teens and children. His stories are mostly inspired by Asian legends and pop culture. He started the publishing studio Super Cool Books in 2011. In 2015, his Sherlock Hong series was acquired by Marshall Cavendish for international release. He is a local co-organiser for StoryCode Singapore, which promotes transmedia storytelling across different media formats. He also runs 100 WRITERS, a fiction writing support group and publishing incubator. He has also been a featured speaker at writing festivals and media content conferences. His website is http://www.supercoolbooks.com
1. What were your childhood aspirations?
For a while I wanted to make my own comics. I was mostly inspired by UK titles like Tiger, Roy of the Rovers, Beano and Dandy. They had good character development, and a strong sense of dramatic structure. You could really sense the storytelling craft. Every page
had something clever and fun.
But that didn’t last, after that I wanted to be a rock star. When I was 12, I started to notice music videos on TV. Back then, there was only one local English TV station, and music videos were quite rare.
And then when I was 15, I managed to start a band with some schoolmates and we played a few gigs that year. I got quite serious about the music. Which meant that I styled my hair a lot and I remembered to scowl for photos.
Now that I think about it, I did have a third aspiration, which seemed quite odd so I kept it a secret, but it was very real and I spent a lot of time thinking about it, and that was to get in contact with aliens. It’s not too surprising because my childhood years coincided with the rise of Star Wars, ET, and this wonderfully dystopian TV series called V.
2. What is one thing many people don’t know about you?
That alien thing I just mentioned? Heh.
3. When and how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer, particularly of children’s books?
So when I was 18, I started my first proper band, together with a schoolmate named Leslie Low, who is today of course one of the greatest indie musicians in Singapore history, having gone on to start other hugely significant bands like Humpback Oak and The Observatory.
Anyway, back then, our band was Twang Bar Kings (above) and we were considered underground musicians, and some magazines started to mention us, and I thought that was exciting. But you can’t get mentioned in a magazine every issue. So I asked if I could write some reviews or music interviews and stuff, just so I could see my comments in print, and I enjoyed it so much and did it so seriously that after a while I was earning something decent.
Also, my female friends were so excited because whenever they went to get a haircut they would get a stack of magazines to read, and they’ll always come across something I wrote, and they’d call me from a public phone and let me know. This was in
the early 90s, long before you could read stuff for free on the Internet, long before SMS or Whatsapp. And so that was my first sense of having an audience for my writing, very enthusiastic and encouraging and paid nice too.
For a long time, if I ever tried to write fiction, it would be sci-fi or horror or some really gritty thriller type of story. My favourite authors were actually the cyberpunk guys like William Gibson and Neal Stephenson and John Shirley. I did try writing some stuff, but never could get it together properly.
Jump cut to 2011: I’m the father of two young boys who have just started to read themselves, especially my older son. I’d borrow ten books from the library, lug them all the way home, only to find that he rejects six of them. Why? I thought the books were fun. I thought they were interesting. But he didn’t. I felt like I needed to figure this out, otherwise I’d be killing myself carrying all those books back and forth like that. So we spent a lot of time discussing books and authors and stories over dinner, and what came out of this was that we decided to write and publish a few books ourselves, featuring local characters and local settings and our own crazy ideas. And that was how we got to starting Super Cool Books. It was like a homeschooling experiment, really. I thought it would last maybe six month, or a year.
We got our first publisher, Select Books, within a few weeks, and they released our Time Talisman series as e-books. That was a nice start. Today, Select is still the official distributor for Super Cool Books. Since then, it’s been five years, and it’s a truly delightful surprise to discover that I’m especially productive and creative when writing these books for children.
Plus last year my book LION CITY ADVENTURES won two awards, which was quite unexpected and very heartwarming. It’s not the path I would have chosen for myself, but it definitely feels like the right direction.
4. How do you recharge?
Sleep. Or just lie down and relax and imagine stuff. Read. Listen to music. Watch random stuff on YouTube. Talk to people. Play the guitar or ukulele or some software synthesizers or an electronic drum thing I bought for my sons.
5. Have you experienced anything surprising or unexpected, writing-wise, between your first novel and your current book?
I’m writing a lot faster and I’m also enjoying it even more than before.
6. Have you changed your mind about any part of the process over the years?
There’s this guy, Kamil Haque, he’s a friend who used to teach acting in Hollywood and now he has a workshop studio here in Singapore, last year I started to work with him because I was feeling a bit stuck and I wanted to try integrating acting skills into my creative process. The experience completely changed my approach. I used to spend all my time working with words, now I focus on feeling and building the character. Instead of thinking about the story, I’m now imagining the scenes and walking around the settings. It’s a radically different approach and it makes the creative process so much more exciting. I’ve actually written a book to share what I’ve learnt, this new process, and it’s coming out later this year. It’s called IMAGINE ALL THIS: HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN STORIES and it’s published by Marshall Cavendish. Do look out for it in November.
8. Have you received any advice along the way that was particularly
valuable or pertinent?
I read this interesting perspective somewhere, that the rich kids inherit lots of money, the middle class kids get effective career advice, and the poor kids are taught to settle for shitty jobs, unless they somehow manage to pick up the guitar or paint brush or laptop and teach themselves to make really awesome art, and then this becomes their ticket out.
9. What do you struggle with the most these days and what do you
consider to be your greatest strength as a writer?
My biggest struggle is time. Not enough of it in one day! My strength or superhero power as a writer: many people have told me, separately, that they admire the level of passion that comes through in my writing. Since then I’ve stopped stressing myself out trying to make books “the proper way”, and just work in a way that really allows me to stay passionate, and then share this experience as authentically as possible.
10. As a children’s fiction writer, what is the one thing that you pay most attention to when reaching out to your audience?
That they are actually future adults, and I want them to always remember what a great experience they had, enjoying a story that I wrote for them. Also, when writing, I remind myself that this is something my grandchildren or great-grandchildren will read, and that
makes me want to create a book that’s truly lovely for them.
11. Will you ever consider writing in other genres? If you already do, what is the difference between writing for different target audiences?
For the past two years I’ve been writing YA thrillers. The first few novellas were published in the Super Cool Books iPad app (above), which is like our own digital bookstore. I even started a publishing imprint for this, called Bat and Spider.
And then this year, I know this sounds like a miracle and it is, I co-authored a YA thriller with Ning Cai, better known as Ning the Magic Babe, and our book is being published by Marshall Cavendish later this year. It’s called Magicienne: “Fifteen-year-old Angel Morning Lee grew up in a children’s home, never knowing her parents. Her only escape is performing tricks with an old magic set. One day she is given a scholarship to Modern College, an elite school for girls. There, she becomes close friends with Pammy, a strange schoolmate who has a disturbing secret. To fight the abuse of power all around her, she must find the courage to follow her own heart.”
It’s been an amazing creative experience co-authoring this book with Ning (above, right), in terms of building the story world, developing the characters, and just putting together chapter after chapter after chapter. And it looks like we might get a chance to expand this into a whole series. It’s all happening very fast.
Writing for kids is more about introducing them to the world and pointing out how life is much more interesting than they might think. It’s about family, friends and fun. Writing YA is about characters making difficult choices in life and paying the price for the path
they choose. It’s about independence, surviving your emotions and no more free rides.
12. Tell us what your creative process is like.
People ask me this a lot, so I wrote a free e-book about this and shared it online, which led to me starting a fiction writing support group last year called 100 WRITERS, which led to a collaboration with the StoryCode Singapore meetup group, and this kept growing with more questions and requests coming in from other writers, until earlier this year I decided to write it all down and package it into a book, and quite quickly this ended up being acquired by Marshall Cavendish, and it will be available in November this year. It’s called IMAGINE ALL THIS: HOW TO WRITE YOUR OWN STORIES, and it contains notes, tips, prompts, exercises and also blank space for writing down your ideas. My entire creative process is in there. In detail. For everyone else to apply. If you’d like a condensed version, which many people do find useful enough, download this free PDF from my website, THE 100 WRITERS STORY WORKBOOK.
For early chapter drafts from IMAGINE ALL THIS, check out my Medium page.
13. Who are your favourite writers, artists, musicians, or books?
Oh wow, this is like falling down an endless rabbit hole that goes on forever! Earlier I mentioned William Gibson and Neal Stephenson and John Shirley. I’m just going to throw in a bunch of other names here, this is in no way comprehensive, but just that I like the work in some way, and it’s some cool stuff you could look up.
A few writers — Sam Lipsyte, elegant sentence-making. Ben Mezrich, geeky storytelling. David Walliams, effortlessly funny. Lee Child, classy sentences. Warren Ellis, love his comics. Alex Grecian, innovative spin on crime fiction. Johan Theorin and John Ajvide Lindqvist, and others, because I love dark Scandinavian fiction. Grant Morrison, he plays with myths and meta-narratives and pop culture. Enid Blyton, she got me hooked back when I was 10. Stratemeyer Syndicate, they created all those Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, and more. Jerry Stahl, his book I, FATTY is the most satisfying taste of fiction that I can remember right now, although do note it’s not at all suitable for children or those who might be easily offended. He really knows how to use dark humour to break your heart.
Some musicians — Jane’s Addiction, bad-ass yet beautiful rock, plus I once interviewed the singer Perry Farrell over the phone for a magazine, he’s the legend who started the Lollapalooza music festival, a true circus ringmaster. Beastie Boys, they created their own DIY music and media empire. Buddy Holly, I love early rock n roll. Burt Bacharach, his brain is like some superior alien organism that pumps out the most incredibly lovely melodies and harmonies, I suspect your IQ goes up just listening to him. Neil Sedaka, also another wonderful pop music genius. Sonic Youth, their Daydream Nation album is still the most inventive shade of punk rock I’ve ever encountered. Dinosaur Jr is still going strong, three laid-back indie elders. Hayden, a contemplative Canadian songwriter, his concert at Massey Hall in Toronto is on YouTube, do check it out. Luna Sea, the Japanese glam rock band. Marillion, the progressive rock band, I had a classmate who loved them and lent me their early albums, and I’m actually listening to one of their songs right now. Gregory Porter, I just discovered this contemporary jazz singer, really unique style. The Oddfellows, Corporate Toil, The Nonames, Opposition Party, Stompin’ Ground, all Singapore bands that were active around the time I was playing with the Twang Bar Kings, I’m a big fan.
Other creative inspiration — Rem Koolhaas, Joshua Prince-Ramus, Bjarke Ingels, all architects and urban designers, their work sounds and feels like science fiction storytelling. Philippe Starck, love his TED talk. Menton J. Matthews III, he’s a painter and comic book artist, wonderful Gothic style. David Chang the restaurant entrepreneur, I used to work with chefs on cookbooks and I really learnt to appreciate their creativity and showbiz sensibility. Es Devlin, stage designer, so brilliant it’s intimidating. Ridley Scott, love his films, especially all the preparation that goes into them. Henry Rollins, punk entrepreneur and I love his weekly radio show, he plays classic and obscure punk rock, you can listen to it on the KCRW website. Steve Wright is the other radio DJ I love, you can hear his weekly show Steve Wright’s Sunday Love Songs on the BBC Radio website. Quentin Blake the illustrator of children’s books, especially the Roald Dahl classics. Ben Templesmith, illustrator and comic book artist, he has a sinister scrawly style. Kevin Kelly, used to be the editor of Wired magazine, he’s an inspiring curator of ideas. Will Wright the computer game designer, his signature game Spore is a big thing in my house, educational and inspiring on so many levels. JJ Abrams, he’s the master of modern mystery storytelling, and he’s also a genius at growing story franchises. Trent Reznor, the mastermind behind the rock group Nine Inch Nails, and a gutsy creative entrepreneur. Jay-Z, rapper and creative entrepreneur, very focused business owner. Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon, he has an impossible amount of vision and passion and courage and energy and humour. David Blaine, street magician and endurance artist. Dave Eggers, literary entrepreneur and literacy activist. Blue Man Group, absurdist rock theatre.
I hope you have fun exploring these recommendations!
14. Where can people buy your works?
The paperbacks that I’ve published with Marshall Cavendish are available at the major bookstores in Singapore. This would be the Sherlock Hong series (above), the Lion City Adventures series, the Superkicks series, Magicienne and Imagine All This: How to Write Your own Stories. They’re also available on Amazon and Book Depository. Some paperbacks published independently by Super Cool Books are available through the Select Books website. You can also buy e-books on our Super Cool Books iPad app (above), which features many exclusive stories. These are the main outlets.
15. What’s in the pipeline for you?
Launching the three new books later this year: Superkicks for kids (above), Magicienne for teens, and Imagine All This for story writers of all ages. Also, my book SECRETS OF THE HEARTLANDS (Lion City Adventures, Book 2) has been nominated for this year’s Popular Readers’ Choice Awards. Vote for your favourite books on the list here, and you might win a $50 voucher plus 1-year Popular card membership.
Thanks for sharing, Don!
Got more questions for Don? Drop them in the Comments section below! Feel free to get in touch too, if you’d like to share YOUR story here (contact details in bio on the right).