The Stories of David Seow

Hello David! We are so excited and eager to feature you for this month’s Meet the Storyteller section in Gathering Books (August 2010). *clap, clap* Our warmest welcome and greetings go out to you! It is our great pleasure and honor to have you in our pages. We have quite a number of questions to ask you, I hope you don’t mind.

How long have you been writing books for children/young adult? Any special reason why you chose this particular genre?

I’ve been writing children’s books for about 13 years now. I used to babysit my niece and nephews once a week and I would make up stories about them at bedtime and they loved it. So I decided to see if I could get the stories published and luckily, they were picked up.

When did you discover you wanted to be a writer? I read in one of your jacketflaps that you used to write for television, could you share with us a bit of your history on that?

I don’t think that there was a big light-bulb moment, when I decided to become a writer. It just evolved organically, I suppose. As a kid, I used to make up my own stories and I always enjoyed creative composition in school. At college I took a creative writing class.  It was while I was working at an advertising agency that I signed up for a scriptwriting course with MediaCorp, which was then known as the Television Corporation of Singapore. I was hired as a sitcom writer and  let me just say being a sitcom writer was far more dramatic than I could ever have anticipated.

What are some of your favorite children’s books/YA fiction?

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Danny Champion of the world; Nim’s Island; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and anything by Dr. Suess.

I grew up on Dr. Seuss so I adore him as well. Timeless and perfect for just about everyone, not just kids. Especially the young at heart.

Who are some of your favorite authors in the YA lit/children’s book genre whom you feel may have influenced or inspired you in your writing?

Wendy Orr, Ludwig Bemelmans, the author of the Madeleine series and Roald Dahl.

My daughter loves Roald Dahl as well. His books are constantly engaging, witty, and entertaining. Perfect for a read-aloud too. What constitutes a good children’s/YA story for you?

Something that grabs your attention the moment you pick up the book. It’s got humor, adventure, the gamut of emotions that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.

Who are some of your favorite children’s book illustrators?

Maurice Sendak, Enrico Sallustio, LK Tay Adouard, YT Chieu

I noticed that the earlier books that you have shared with me: Sebbie’s First Day of School (1998),

Gramps has the Grumps (2000),

Underwater World Adventure (1998)

were all published by Educational Publishing House – were they done on consignment?

We knew one of the editors at the time and we arranged an appointment and I went in with my first three stories: Sebbie’s First Day of School , A Singapore Christmas and Underwater World Adventure and they offered me a contract for a 12-book series on the spot. I worked on a royalty basis where the author gets a 10% royalty.

Was the Underwater World Adventure (one of my favorites during this period of your writing) meant to invite/encourage young children to visit such a place in Singapore? As far as I know there is an underwater world kind of place in Sentosa, are you referring to this place? Or are there other underwater world areas/places which we have not visited yet?

Yes, it’s about the Underwater World attraction on Sentosa.  The story started out with the stanza:

“Oh goodness gracious me!

That’s not a fish at all.

That’s Di-Di-Di!

From that I had to weave my way to the beginning, where  I had to decide where the story would take place

In Alexander’s Adventure Machine you dedicated the book in memory of your dog Bonnie, was this instrumental in introducing a dog “Bonnie” along with Alexander in the narrative?

I wanted to write a book in which my youngest nephew Alexander was  the main character. Our dog Bonnie died right before the book went for printing.

You also made frequent mention of your nephews and nieces in your dedication page (they must be positively beaming with pride seeing their names in your published works), and during our coffee and conversation at the Arts House you made mention of how your nephew Jeremy has inspired you in your writing. Could you share with our GatheringBooks readers some of what you have shared with me about your valuable sources of inspiration?

Samantha, Sebastian, Jeremy and Alexander have inspired me since they were toddlers. They’re all very different.  Jeremy’s the ringleader when it comes to planning mischief.  He’s always got the I’m-up-to-something glint in his eye.

Jeremy sounds like a real creative young boy (must be a young man now). I believe that part of what makes anyone a great writer is their capacity to peek into the souls of young people and note what’s going on there – that kind of sensitivity can only be brought about by such close connection as you’ve had with your nephews and nieces.

The book The Littlest Emperor reminded me of this oft-cited quote of searching the entire world for the elusive “bluebird of happiness” which happens to just live in one’s backyard – what was your inspiration for this book? If you had absolute freedom to rewrite it in any manner that you so choose, how would you re-introduce the character of the Littlest Emperor?

One year the kids were dressed up in their little outfits for Chinese New Year and they looked like little emperors, so I drew my inspiration from that.

As for the plot, well it was taken a bit from life here, where kids spend so much time doing their schoolwork. There is so much pressure for kids to be the best rather than be their best that there seems to be hardly any time left for them to have fun. As for rewriting it in any manner, I would keep the story in its original active voice instead of the ‘passive’ voice that the editors decided upon. I would also keep more of the humor that was originally in the story.

Monkey, The Classic Chinese Adventure Tale – is quite different from the nine books that you shared with me in the sense that it’s the one which is richest in narrative and text – any special reason for this? The ending was somewhat of a cliff-hanger, does this mean that there would be a Part Two for this book?

The story was far shorter and simpler than the  finished product. It was originally intended to be a story for the 4-8 year olds but it evolved into something more. I think it’s more of a picture book for adults; the artwork is amazing.

(I couldn’t agree with you more on this aspect, David – I spent quite awhile just looking at the details of each image – the muted watercolours give a sense of such quiet and striking simplicity – it’s truly awesome).

It was also a very interesting experience as I was adapting a Chinese classic. Yes, it was intended to be possibly one in a series but that didn’t happen.

I guess it could be used to whet the appetite of those who are unfamiliar with Monkey King.

In your recent (2010) publications Blow a Kiss (my daughter’s favorite, she excitedly blew a kiss out the window at the end of the story)

and There’s Soup on My Fly

your tone as a writer seems to be more playful, lyrical, and exuberant – unlike the previous sets (Sebbie’s First Day, Underwater World adventure, Sea Lion Story, Monkey) which were a tad instructive (although still playful, fun, and with hidden mischief embedded) in orientation – any special reason for this?

I think the difference is that I’ve learnt more about writing for kids. As writer you’re always learning and you’re always trying to improve.  I think the main thing is that I have total creative freedom now. I make the final decisions after consulting with my extremely capable editor, Sue Flotow, who also happens to be a children’s author.

What are your top-three favorites in the 26 books that you have published so far?

Underwater World Adventure,

The Littlest Emperor,

There’s Soup on My Fly.

What are some of the joys in being a writer? What are some of the difficulties that you have encountered so far in writing? How about in publishing?

When you get an idea and you let your story take you where it wants to. To be completely honest, I never know a story is going to end. I like the uncertainty of the creative process. If you don’t know where the story will lead you, neither will your readers.  The biggest difficulty I’ve encountered has been finding the right publisher.

With publishing my own books, the difficulties have been finding the right illustrator, printer, binder, etc.  At the moment, I’m trying to get the new books distributed overseas.

I noted that your latest books The Littlest Emperor (2004)and Monkey were published internationally? Was it quite an ordeal (and a major accomplishment if I may say so as well) to have the books out there in the big bad world? What was the process like in having it published in other countries?

I was lucky that Tuttle signed me. Both Littlest Emperor and Monkey are available for sale overseas. There are so many great books published every year, and each book is fighting for a place on a bookstore’s shelves.

Would you share with us in Gathering Books how your first book got published? What was the feeling like? Are there special issues that you think are being faced currently by writers coming from Asia? What is it like to be a children’s lit writer in Singapore?

I first got published in 1998 after I had written three stories about my niece and nephews. It was a thrill to hold that first book, straight off the press, in my hands.  There are a lot of issues that children’s authors face here.  It’s difficult. Your books have to be vigorously marketed at international book fairs and online.  Now you’ve got to think  of various ways of marketing your books and converting them into digital format as well. You’ve got to keep up with the trends. It’s not very easy to do that here, especially since I find that children’s publishing is still in its infancy here.  There is support for first time writers and that’s great, but there also needs to be support for the children’s writers who have been around for ages.

I noticed that most of your works (19 of them) were illustrated by Enrico Sallustio, how would you describe your “partnership” or “artistic collaboration?”

It’s like any other collaboration. There will be times we agree and times we don’t.  Mutual respect is of paramount importance.

What inspires you to write? Any advice for our young writers out there?

The kids as always inspire me to write.   Just write and keep on writing.

Thank you so much, David, for your lovely responses to our questions. GatheringBooks is truly honored to have such a prolific author such as yourself be a guest in our pages. I’d like to end the feature of David with lovely pictures from Blow a Kiss.

Over and above the beautiful images found in each of the page, I commend David for the positive vibe and the inspiring energy that this particular book gives. In a world rife with hatred, stress, varied social ills – a kiss filled with pure innocence and love blown away through a child’s window – should serve as a magical antidote to any Pandora’s box of chaos.

This book reminded me that with the unyielding belief of a child in good things, the world still is a beautiful place. Thank you, David, for sharing your thoughts and lovely works with GatheringBooks. If you wish to know more about David Seow, click on this to be taken to his website.

*Book Photos were taken by me (Myra Garces-Bacsal) – Books were lent to GatheringBooks by David Seow.

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