#CreateYourLife: Joyce Chng

I first met Joyce at the Singapore Writers Festival last year (Nov 2015), where we both shared a panel with Rachel Hartman (author of the YA fantasy series, Seraphina) and shared our thoughts about insta-love in young adult fiction. We had lunch before the panel, where she introduced us to her precocious preteen daughter. They were a joy to talk to and so completely in sync with each other .

I’ve always wanted to know what it’s like having an artist for a parent – be it a writer or painter or someone who pursues the arts – and I caught a glimpse of what that’s like by watching Joyce and her daughter’s interactions. Joyce nurtures her daughter’s imagination, lets it run wild. She entertains her daughter’s fantastical ideas and builds on them. That’s probably why she makes a fierce fantasy/science fiction writer who writes about dragons and collects medieval swords.

Here’s her story:


Born in Singapore, but a global citizen, Joyce Chng writes mainly science fiction and YA. She likes steampunk and tales of transfiguration/transformation. Her fiction has appeared in The Apex Book of World SF II, We See A Different Frontier, Cranky Ladies of History, and Accessing The Future. Her YA includes a trilogy about a desert planet  and a fantasy duology in Qing China. Joyce has also co-edited a Southeast Asian steampunk anthology titled THE SEA IS OURS:  Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia with Jaymee Goh. Her Jan Xu Adventures series, an urban/contemporary fantasy set in Singapore, is written under the pseud. J. Damask which she will tell you it’s a play on her Chinese name.

  1. What were your childhood aspirations?

Don’t laugh. I wanted to be a fighter pilot.

Languages fascinated me (still do). So, I wanted to be a translator for aliens.

  1. What is one thing many people don’t know about you?

I am actually very quiet and I watch vet shows to de-stress. (Well, that’s two things…)

  1. When and how did you realise that you wanted to be a writer, particularly of children’s books? 

I was about nine or ten. I started writing. Simple compositions. The more intense writing came during the teenage years.

I only started writing children’s books, when I started teaching. I love the interaction with teens.

  1. What and/or who inspire you?

So many things inspire me. The world inspires me. The land inspires me. For people who inspire me: countless. They all appeared at various stages of my life. The late Professor Philippa Maddern, my MA thesis supervisor. She inspires me and I aspire to be like her when I teach. She taught me to be humble, kind and empathetic.

  1. How do you recharge?

To be honest, I sleep a lot. I am a fan of napping. I also like to be in nature. Greenery recharges me. I am also recharged by the ocean/sea. Give me time to wander along the shores, picking sea glass – and I will recharge.

  1. Have you experienced anything surprising or unexpected, writing-wise, between your first novel and your current book?  

My writing style has become more and more sparse. I am not sure how to describe it. I am using words to describe people/landscapes/worlds – and I would use the exact word to cut down on excess. As I have said, it’s hard to describe this change of style.

  1. Have you changed your mind about any part of the process over the years? 

It only makes me more determined to hang on. The entire process isn’t an easy trip! No free lunches!

  1. Have you received any advice along the way that was particularly valuable or pertinent?  


My teacher told me once: reduce the over-kill in your writing. I used to heap on many adjectives, impressive vocabulary. It was nice in the beginning, but it stifled reading, because the story would be just thick with excessive description. It’s like eating a rich cake. Too much – and you get sick of it.

  1. What do you struggle with the most these days and what do you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer?

Impostor syndrome. The worst-ever thing a writer would ever experience. I tell myself not to compare myself to other writers who seem to have awards, big deals and yadda yadda. Writing is not a competition nor is it a zero-sum game.


It’s easier said than done.

My greatest strength? Tenacity. Sheer grit. I wanted to give up so many times, wanted to throw my towel and just leave the entire business… and I still hung on.

  1. As a children’s fiction writer, what is the one thing that you pay most attention to when reaching out to your audience?

Their voice(s). We are not supposed to impose our adult nonsense on them. Listen to how they speak, think, express themselves. Think like them. Be in their shoes. Think back to the times when you are a child or a teenager. What are the common themes? Identity? Wanting to belong? Finding self? Still the same.

  1. As a fantasy fiction writer, how do you go about building a world?

I am a sucker for landscapes and traditions. I go for how the people(s) express themselves via their customs, their languages and their food. I am quite big about food, hehe. I am a firm believer of the land affecting how a race or an ethnic group is created.

Also, if you are writing fantasy, be daring. Go big. Think big. Ultimately, you are telling a story.


  1. Will you ever consider writing in other genres? If you already do, what is the difference between writing for different target audiences?

I also write adult/general science fiction. Adult/general science fiction looks at mature or hard issues. The language and tone used should be appropriate.

I also write poetry. I just write.

  1. Tell us what your creative process is like.

I am not much of a planner. So, in writing terms, I am a pantser. I would get an idea or an inspiration, nurse it a bit in my head, let it percolate, before I start writing it down. Sometimes, the story idea would just appear from nowhere and I just have to write.

If I am writing something longer (not a short story), I will take about a couple of months (or half a year, if it need be). No rush.

I would also draw.


Joyce’s original illustration posted on Facebook

For a YA with racing dragons, I actually drew the dragons and things that were in the story. As I am a visual person, drawing helps a lot to help me see the food, the daily items, accessories etc. If you can, draw it out. Sketch a mind map if necessary. There are people who use the snowflake method (go Google it). Different writers use different processes and methods. Use things you are comfortable with.

  1. Who are your favourite writers, artists, musicians, or books?

Again, countless.

Terri Windling, Charles de Lint, Judith Tarr, to name a few.

The book that got me thinking, “There are science fiction writers in Singapore!” when I was a kid is Star Sapphire by Han May (below).


Books that inspire me to think big and broadly:

Dune by Frank Herbert. I love the world-building of the series – and how religion and politics intertwine (very pertinent for this day and age).

As I love reading about plants, Richard Mabey’s Fencing Paradise: Uses and Abuses of Plants is a good examination of our relationship with plants and nature. Do plants need us as much as we need them?

  1. Where can people buy your works?

I have a website/blog and links to where you can buy my books. The blog is called A Wolf’s Tale. Check out the links/pages on the side-bar.

My urban/contemporary fantasy

My Qing-dynasty YA fantasy


Dragon Dancer, a picturebook under Lantana Publishing (above).

I also upload free stories on Wattpad.

  1. What’s in the pipeline for you?

I recently completed a MG story titled Sun Dragon’s Song. This will be illustrated as a graphic novel/comic by the talented Kim Miranda.

Wolf At The Door, my urban fantasy novel, will now be published by Gerakbudaya from Malaysia. Hopefully, we can see the book on the shelves of bookstores here.


Thanks for sharing your story, Joyce!

Got more questions for Joyce? 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).


#CreateYourLife: Don Bosco

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).

#CreateYourLife: Rebecca Donahue

Have you heard of Maggie Stiefvater’s Critique Partner Love Connection? It’s this wonderful initiative organised by the New York Times bestselling author of the Mercy Falls trilogy, where she gathers writers who are looking for critique partners (CPs) and feedback on their work, and allows them to match up based on their interests. It’s very much like a third-party dating app, hence the name.

That’s how I’ve met some of my kindest, most supportive and talented writer friends. Becky is one of them. I only just started connecting with her a few months ago, but we hit it off really well, probably because we write in the same genres (and even the same topic! hint: Backstage).

So here’s Becky’s story (prepare to be blown away by her talent):


Becky Donahue is a former editor and current project manager for an academic publisher, but she dreams of becoming a full-time author and artist. She’s been writing novels since she was thirteen and doing art since she could hold a crayon and reach the walls of her parents’ house. She has a delightful green-cheeked conure, Carmie, that keeps her company while she’s writing or drawing.

1. Let’s start from the beginning: what were your childhood aspirations?

My earliest memories are of drawing – in sketchbooks, on my parents’ walls, on my relatives’ walls – but I always had stories in my head. I’d entertain myself on the bus to school by telling myself stories, and it’s something I still do today whenever I’m walking or driving somewhere. But it wasn’t until I met Sarah Dessen when I was about twelve or thirteen that I realized writing books could be a real job.

(Joyce: I don’t usually interrupt, but YOU MET SARAH DESSEN?! She’s like my YA superhero. One of them, anyway. But she’s definitely up there in the ranks.)

2. What is one thing many people don’t know about you?

I don’t keep my old books. I know a lot of people do, but I find it ties me down. I threw away a dozen manuscripts this past summer that hadn’t worked for one reason or another. Also, I can only draw upside down.

3. When and how did you realise that you are a writer/artist?

When I was in my first year in college, my creative writing teacher told me I’d never be good enough to write a novel. And you know what? She was right – I’d never be able to really write the kind of novels I was trying to write back then, because those novels were what I thought I should be writing, what I thought people wanted to read – and not what I really wanted to write. It took me awhile to realize that, of course. But what mattered, was that I kept writing anyway, and even though I haven’t published yet, when I look back at that, the fact that I could’ve quit right then and didn’t, that made me realize that I was truly in this for the long haul, no matter what it took. Plus, if I had quit, I never would’ve discovered the kinds of novels that I love to write, the ones that are completely and totally me!


Art’s always been a bit different. I started selling my work when I was fifteen, but it never really clicked that I was an artist because of that. I took a good ten years away from it because I didn’t really know how to be an artist or what it meant to be one. But then I got laid off from my job this past February and I had a whole month where I could do anything – so I taught myself how to use colored pencils, the one medium that had always terrified me. And I loved it.

4. What and/or who inspire you?

Everything inspires me! I feel like so many people say that, but it’s true. The texture of the sky on a misty morning, a song that I’ll listen to on repeat for weeks, a conversation overheard on the train, a particularly good novel where the story and the words are just so perfect. I think it’s important to always be paying attention to everything, both because it keeps me present and also because I never know how the world around me will add to whatever story or art piece I have brewing in my head.

5. How do you recharge?

I once told my boyfriend that I was like a smart phone battery. Sometimes, I have to go sit in the corner of a room, by myself, with nothing but a book or a sketchbook to keep me company. I get overwhelmed easily when I’m around people for too long, so I try to have some alone time every day. Though, I have been known to do crazy things, like fly helicopters, when I get truly stuck on either writing or art work. Sometimes, I’ll journal or free-write for a bit, and my bird, Carmie, loves to hang out with me while I do that.


6. Have you experienced anything truly surprising or unexpected, writing-wise, between your first novel and your current book?  

My first book was a long, rambling mess that was based on a spin-off of superman and it was so, so bad. I had no plot or character development. I also tried to write too much like other authors I liked. With my current book, I have a much better understanding of who I want to be as a writer, and that definitely helps focus me.


With art work (even though this wasn’t what you asked, I’m going to answer it anyway!), when I first started drawing, I would draw things as I thought they were supposed to look. Here’s a nose, I’ll draw a nose, and it never wound up looking like a nose.

Now, I’ve learned to look specifically at shapes and shades, and I shut off the part of my brain that tries to tell me what I’m drawing is a nose. It helps me get it right, if that makes sense. Drawing upside helps too.

7. Have you changed your mind about any part of the process over the years?

becky-donahue-3When I first started writing, I refused to outline or even plan out any part of my novel. I didn’t read any writing guides either. I thought it would somehow stunt my creativity. Which, of course, is silly. Now I read all of the writing guides I can find (my favorite are by Lisa Cron), and I outline and plan (and plan and plan). I won’t start a novel until I’ve built a solid foundation for it, so it doesn’t wander off and get tangled up in loose plot threads. Also, I like to know the end before I begin, so I have a place to head towards.

8. Have you received any advice along the way that was particularly valuable or pertinent?  

The best bit of advice I’ve received is if you want to do something, find someone who already does it and learn from them. Learn from authors who are successful – read their blogs. How many books did they write and how? More importantly, how many books did they write that didn’t work and how did they overcome that? Victoria Schwab has a fantastic post about this. It’s the same for art. How do artists make a living today and how can I learn from their experience?

9. What do you struggle with the most these days and what do you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer?


Doubt has always been my biggest weakness. I took years off of art because I doubted I was good enough. I stopped sharing my writing for ages, because I doubted it was good enough. I’m slowly getting past that, but it’s always in the back of my head. I think my greatest strength is that I refuse to give up. If one novel doesn’t work, I’ll start another one. I try not to get hung up on things that aren’t working and move on as quickly as possible to something that is.

10. As a fantasy writer, how do you go about building a world?

I find that when I’m building a world – any world, fantasy or not, – the bits I focus on are the ones that will have the most meaning for my protagonist. If something doesn’t mean something to her or him, if it doesn’t impact the way they see the world or tell me something about them or affect how they’ll change later in the story, then I usually won’t include it. This also means that whether my story is contemporary or fantasy usually depends on what my protagonist needs out of the story, and from there, I start creating a world that will force him or her to change. By the end of my story, my goal is for my main character to see the world differently than she did at the beginning.

11. Tell us about your creative process.


I used to listen to a lot of music when I wrote. Now, I tend to write in quiet, alone, and often on my couch. I get a surprising amount done in libraries or coffee shops (but only if there’s no one sitting near me). Though, I find if I’m out in public, I can’t write without headphones. I’m currently working my way through Lisa Cron’s latest Story Genius, and I’m already finding it’s helping me develop my story better. Setting myself realistic goals is key, and so is having a way to hold myself accountable, whether it’s with a critique partner or through a calendar/sticker system. I have to write early though. If I wait until I get home from work, my brain is too crowded from the day to filter through to my story. I also tend to work with paper and pen a lot, rather than a computer, especially towards the beginning of a story or when I get stuck in the middle.

12. Who are your favourite writers, artists, musicians, or books?

I have too many to list! I adore Naomi Novik, Victoria Schwab, Maggie Stiefvater, Laini Taylor, and Neil Gaiman. For art, I’m a massive Norman Rockwell fan – I love the way he uses art to tell a story. Heather Rooney’s gorgeous drawings inspired me to get into colored pencils. I also love the Atlas of Beauty photos and would love to draw them someday. Music I am all over the place. I’ll listen to country, rock, sometimes even rap or classical. I am a bit obsessed with Ed Sheeran.

13. Where can people buy your works?

I don’t have a store set up yet, but I’m looking at joining some local galleries for my art, and possibly Etsy or Society6. I have dreams about what publishers I’d love to work with, so hopefully that will happen in the next couple of years!

14. What’s in the pipeline for you?

I’m working on a novel right now about dangerous art and faeries and growing up in a spotlight.


For art, I’m working on a couple pieces – some with chalk paint, another colored-pencil portrait, and a couple new fun portraits with acrylic paint.


If you have any questions for Becky, 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).

#CreateYourLife: JF Koh

So we’re kicking off this series with JF! He’s a really supportive friend who is tireless in organising fairs and meetups for writers and artists. It all started when he took the effort to send me an incredibly kind fan mail. It made my day! Since then, we’ve been exchanging emails ranting and raving about the creative process.

Having spoken with him, I can tell that he is genuinely passionate about storytelling, and very generous in sharing everything he has learned along the way. So here’s his story:

Create Your Life banner - JF

JF Koh is a freelance web programmer aspiring to be a full-time writer of science fiction, fantasy and horror. He is keen on writing in prose and comics. Since 2010, he has been organising the Singapore chapter of the annual 24-Hour Comics Day (similar to the NaNoWriMo challenge), which attracted some 200 participants last year. In 2014, he founded the Panelgraph Showcase comics anthology magazine (www.panelgraph.com), which he edits. In 2016, he started Starving Artist Fair in Singapore (below), a mini Comic-Con that doubles as an incubation programme for comics entrepreneurs.

Starving Artist Fair pic 1

1. Let’s start from the beginning: what were your childhood aspirations?

I was very timid and shy and didn’t think much about doing anything big, but I’ve had the usual childhood dreams when I thought I wanted to be a fireman, astronaut or scientist.

2. What is one thing many people don’t know about you?

I’m a martial arts fanboy. Six months of Xingyi, a year in Taiji, two years Wing Chun – I’ve dabbled in these arts but have yet to attain a decent level of skill. That’s why I can really identify with Po in Kung Fu Panda. One day – one day! – *awesome pose* I will become the Dragon Warrior … eaurgh, maybe. But it’s not about getting somewhere. It’s about the journey. That’s the awesome part. Most of the benefits have been from the philosophy aspect that has benefited mind and character. I learn it not in order to go and pick fights with mortal enemies, but to gain mastery over the self. It builds self-confidence, and the more I know about martial arts, the more authentically I can write about it.

3. When and how did you realise that you are a writer/artist?

It was in Secondary 2 when I became obsessed with Big Foot after watching a kid’s TV show and reading about the mythological creature. I invested in an exercise book, went to my school library, and tried to write a story about a boy who makes friends with Big Foot and they have all these adventures together.

My Big Foot story didn’t get very far because I didn’t know anything about storytelling at that point, but it was a defining moment for me when I sat there in the library, thinking that this was something I really loved doing, and it was what I wanted to do with my life: writing stories.

I started reading Isaac Asimov‘s science fiction short stories. In his writing, he also shared his thoughts about being a writer, and he deepened my interest in becoming a writer.

4. What and/or who inspires you?

Oh this is a big one. I’ll have to summarise or I’ll go on forever.

Reading both fiction and non-fiction is important to me. Keeping an eye on what’s happening in the world – both the important world-changing stuff as well as the small, uplifting personal stories – feed my thoughts. A surprising amount of story ideas are inspired by reading newspapers.

I always get psyched up by a good book or TV show. George RR Martin (Game of Thrones) and Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead) are the more recent successful writers who have shown me how successful you can get with a good story.

My long-time heroes are Neil Gaiman, Brad Bird, JJ Abrams and Rumiko Takahashi, just to name a few.

Brian S. Pratt is not very well-known but is a hardworking author of fantasy e-books. He inspires me with his grit, generosity and willingness to embrace online publishing platforms.

Stories I keep going back to again and again for inspiration include the How to Train Your Dragon franchise; Nickelodeon’s Avatar series, both Aang and Korra; Fringe by JJ Abrams; Dexter, which started life as a novel by Jeff Lindsay; Asimov’s robot stories; among many others.

And then there is this award-winning author by the name of Joyce Chua who was churning out so much writing at a time when I was stuck, that I had to do something to restart my own engine!

5. How do you recharge?

I need to get away from people so that I can breathe and think!

6. Have you experienced anything truly surprising or unexpected, writing-wise, between your first novel and your current book?

Well, I’ve yet to write my first novel, but something unexpected did happen between issues of my Panelgraph Showcase comics anthology magazine. My friend Kelvin Chan did the cover art for the 2016.1 issue – a piece called Crow Maiden (below).

Panelgraph Showcase 2016.1 cover by Kelvin Chan

All of a sudden I found myself writing a short story called Daughter of the Crows, about a girl raised by crows and adopted by a human family. Before long, I found that I may have enough story for a novel.

You can check out Kelvin’s cover on my Panelgraph website at https://www.panelgraph.com/

7. Have you changed your mind about any part of the process over the years?

Yes. Early in my life as a writer, my view of writing was that it should be free and without constraints. I didn’t want to follow any established “rules”, but just wanted to write new things in new ways that have never been done before.

I went through an experimental phase in which I valued only the freshness of the form and not its appeal to an audience. I was writing a lot of surreal stuff which I thought was really cool but nobody could understand. Eventually, I realised that I was writing only to please myself, and as a result I had no audience. But the real power of a story is when it can connect with people out there.

believe in the reader

After that, I became drawn to genre and devoted myself to the study of craft – the rules which, if you took the time to master, save you the trouble of reinventing the wheel and finding out what works. When you know the conventions, you can use them to open the door to more readers, which adds value to what you write, and allows you to turn it into a living.

8. Have you received any advice along the way that was particularly valuable or pertinent?

Robert McKee’s Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting exposed me to story structure – a very useful thing to know when you’re writing fiction.

Joseph Campbell‘s theory of the Hero’s Journey in Hero With a Thousand Faces is also about structure as in the physical shape of the story, but also about story’s psychological mirror to the life issues that people face. I’ve gained a lot from this understanding.

More recently, in Wired For Story, Lisa Cron argues that our brains are biologically hard-wired to turn on when we come across a good story, and there is scientific and evolutionary basis for this. People consume stories like they consume gossip – for survival value. Stories help us navigate the world and make sense of it. Her idea is that stories are as essential to survival as the food we eat. Once you get that, you realise people will always have a need for stories, and writers will never be out of a job. This understanding has helped me pursue writing with a greater sense of purpose.

Related to this, there is a free book which you can find on the web, called Dramatica, by Melanie Anne Phillips & Chris Huntley. Not an easy read, but the book talks about how a story, specifically the type they call the Grand Argument Story, can be a tool for resolving an issue faced by the human mind. They argue that a story can have a mind of its own (called a Story Mind) which can be structured to consider all the different sides of a problem, in such a way as to help people navigate these angles and make sense of the life issue they are facing. A story doesn’t feel complete until you’ve covered all these angles. If you’re interested to learn more, you can find it here and here.

Earlier this year, I learned something valuable from a storyboard artist called Davis Vu, who teaches a method to generate emotional beats for a story. This ties in nicely with story beats or the beat sheet which many writers work with as part of their process. Because as much as story beats are useful, you can make your stories so much more powerful if you pay more attention to the emotional experience.

9. What do you struggle with the most these days and what do you consider to be your greatest strength as a writer?

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about something which I find very difficult to deal with. Writing is lonely work, so family support becomes all the more important. My family is not supportive of my creative life, and they have even worked together to sabotage my writing efforts. I struggle with this because I’m carrying around a lot of disappointment and sadness when I should be channelling that energy into creative work. I am constantly on my guard because I never know when they are going to pull another stunt on me.

When I see Joseph Schooling achieving gold and acknowledging his parents for their love and support, it’s poignant for me because I’m happy for him but I know I live in another universe and I have to make it on my own.

I share this because I have no doubt there are other writers and artists out there facing similar issues, and I want you to know that you are not alone.

24HCD-2015-459 closing group pic

JF with his tribe

Thankfully, I believe I have a couple of cards up my sleeve. I am very clear about what I’m out to achieve. Writing is a marathon which I have been running for years and will continue to run for many more. When I immerse myself in something, I have produced results that surprise even myself. I also have friends who support me – and to me, friends are family by choice.

10. As a fantasy writer, how do you go about building a world?

Research is important, because fact is often stranger than fiction. I mine ideas from reading newspapers and non-fiction. I like to ground my world-building in reality. Even though readers want to be taken to a faraway place which is totally different from their everyday experience, they also want to discover the familiar in this fantastical world.

I like my settings to have a historical or factual basis. For example, a setting I’m working on now was inspired by the history of Australia as a British convict colony. In my setting, this is an alien planet populated by exiles.

In fantasy, there are tropes which readers of the genre generally accept and expect, like magical creatures and shape-shifters. I won’t try to invent a setting which is too crazily different from the expected conventions.

I use the TV Tropes website as a research tool. Wikipedia is another favourite for research.

I also write science fiction, which I find a lot more challenging if I want my setting to be scientifically plausible. You can’t just make things up like you can with fantasy.

11. Tell us about your creative process.

I start with extensive research, which is hard work I cannot run away from. I write a lot of notes during this phase. If a story comes to me easily, it just means that I’ve already done enough past research relevant to this story, and I’m just dredging things up which have been cooking for a while.


After research, I try to draw the broad strokes, which include the ending which to me is the most important part. I have to know the ending and also what the story means for me (a.k.a. the theme). Knowing the story’s meaning, and whether it resonates deeply with me, motivates me to write it.

I develop the broad strokes further into a beat sheet followed by a step outline. This is the thinking and plotting part, which I find more useful to keep separate from the actual writing part. I write tons of notes throughout the research and thinking stages. My notes are usually pretty messy, but they help me clarify the story to myself.

When I feel that I know the story well enough, then I start writing. If I did the work well in the research and planning stages, the writing becomes a breeze.

This is a method which works well for me. If I ever get stuck, I can usually get unstuck when I’m in the bathroom. I call these my bathroom moments, when ideas visit me when I least expect them. But this works only if I’ve done the research.

My friend Raymus Chang says that when he gets stuck, it’s because he hasn’t planned enough, and he will go back and work some more on his outline, then he can continue writing again. I’ve found this works for me, too.

12. Who are your favourite writers, artists, musicians, or books?

Writers: I love Isaac Asimov (robots!), Angela Carter (dark fairy tales), Neil Gaiman (the short stories especially), Jorge Luis Borges (magic realism), Jeanette Winterson (magical realist moody settings), Kurt Busiek (Superman: Secret Identity), Frank Miller (Batman: Year One), Brian K Vaughan (Saga), Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), George RR Martin (Game of Thrones), JJ Abrams (Fringe, Lost, Super 8), Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles), Pete Doctor (Up), Hayao Miyazaki (you know, I know, I don’t need to say), Rumiko Takahashi (Inuyasha), Laini Taylor (fantasy), Paro Anand (a recent find: an amazing writer of hard-hitting stories), Robert Aickman (subtle ghost stories, maybe a little too subtle for most readers), Roald Dahl (British wit) – speaking of whom, a recent discovery is a dead British ghost story writer by the name of A. M. Burrage … just to name a few.

Writers of books about writing and creativity: Robert McKee (Story), Larry Brooks (Story Engineering), Steven Pressfield (The War of Art), Jack Foster (How to Get Ideas), Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics and its sequels).

Artists, mostly working in comics: Andrew Loomis, Alex Ross, Milton Caniff, James Jean, David Mazzucchelli, Stuart Immonen, Fiona Staples, Dave McKean, Junji Ito, Rumiko Takahashi and Hayao Miyazaki again.

Musicians: I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks, so: John Barry, Danny Elfman, Joe Hisaishi, Kenji Kawai, and John Williams. And a ton of other stuff, like jazz, blues, electronica, trip hop, pop – too many to name. The music often contributes to the stories.

13. Where can people buy your works?

Ha ha, I don’t have anything out yet that people can buy, but Amazon when I have something 🙂

14. What’s in the pipeline for you?

I am adapting a short story, Lions of Stone, for comics. It’s an award-winning horror piece by my friend Grey Yuen. The artist is Chris de Joya. We’re doing this mainly as a learning experience.

I have an ongoing comics collaboration with the artist Kelvin Chan (below, at work), working on a series called Kaiju Girl. It’s fun and cheesy science fiction.

24HCD-2015-188 Kelvin Chan

24HCD-2015-381 Kaiju Girl by Kelvin Chan

Kaiju Girl by Kelvin Chan

Prose-wise, I’m working on a series of science fiction stories about robotic infiltration units (RIU). I’ve written a fantasy short story called Daughter of the Crows which I hope to expand into a novel.

I’m working towards commercial book projects which I want to get on Amazon to start selling and building a fan base. We live in interesting times now with social media, Kindles and e-books – lots of tech disruption which opens up opportunities for the enterprising writer.

Thanks for the interview, Joyce!


If you have any questions for JF, 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).

Some chicken soup for the creative soul is brewing…

I know. It’s been more than a couple of weeks, and I did promise I’d blog at least fortnightly, if not weekly. But in between a back sprain and nonstop events for work, it’s only now that I managed to squeeze in some blogging time.

It’s been two week of aches and pains (which means I have to do everything slightly slower now so I don’t aggravate my back – this is torturous for someone who typically walks at 6.5km/h), and with all the work piling up in the office, I’ve been completely overwhelmed. Well okay, I got to attend a movie premier and a couple of makeup launches which weren’t quite so bad but man, the day job just doesn’t quit (pun intended)!
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#friyay #tgifridays #onassignment

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I’ve only been able to snatch a few moments here and there to work on the manuscript , but at least I’ve got some inkling of where it’s going. I’m at page 186 now so things are gaining speed, as they should. If only I can devote the time to write! As it is, I’m still trying to catch up on work and finish up a report (UGH, Excel. UGH, number-crunching)
Still, the plus side of my job is that I get to write about the things I like, such as:
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So there’s that, at least.
Also, I’m preparing to launch a series of interviews with creative types called Create Your Life.
The name for the interview series came about from the quote above. We’ve got a lot of storytellers in our midst – writers, artists, songwriters, musicians, and people who champion the arts – who have a lot to share about their own creative processes, inspirations and hangups. And as a writer myself, I am fascinated with how others find their stories. How they carve out a path for themselves as they venture into the unknown. How they satisfy their imagination and curiosity. How they overcome all the odds to make their dreams a reality.
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#qotd for the dream chasers @yuyanpeng

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I think this is one of the main reasons why I like Eddie so much. Not just because he’s a pretty face – there are many pretty faces around, but what makes me relate to Eddie on another level is because he is someone who is incredibly passionate about acting. He’s not just a celebrity – he’s an artist. He revels in the process of delving into his characters’ psyches, experiencing the world from their shoes, and presenting it on the screen. To him, the process of understanding and portraying his characters is what brings meaning to his job. He gets to experience life from various points of view. To him, the outcome (box office success, awards, etc) doesn’t matters as much as the process.
As writers, we aim to do the same. We want to view life through different lenses, from different perspectives, and create characters that readers can relate to, root for, and find solidarity in.
And sometimes, when it seems like the manuscript is never going to be done, or that I will never be able to find the time I need to finish it or devote more of myself to my craft, I turn to Eddie-isms, his quotes on fighting for your dreams. He’s suffered setbacks before in his career (he even considered quitting before), but through sheer grit and hard work, the willingness to take risks and to devote himself entirely to his one true passion, he has now made a name for himself and is able to do what he loves for a living.
Here are some that I return to every time I feel stranded on the same spot:
The places you’ve been, the things you’ve seen, will shape your life. If you get stuck along the way, never let yourself remain stuck. Tell yourself this is what you have to go through now so that you will come to cherish the fruits of your labour even more.
Some dreams start off very far away from us. But the more you strive to achieve them, the closer you get to them.
Stay grateful for everything you have experienced and you will find the road to your dreams a lot easier to endure.
This is the reason why I’m doing the Create Your Life series. It’s to understand other artists’ journeys towards their dreams, their struggles, their fears, what drives them, what defeats them (temporarily). Hopefully it will awaken the dreamer in the rest of us and inspire us to make something good out of our one wild and precious life 🙂
Joyce x
[Psst! You may like to read more quotes here: Writing Inspiration for the Week]