During the Chinese New Year holiday, in January 2015, my brother-in-law, Duncan Klein, issued me a challenge: “I’ll give you a year to write a children’s book.” My daughter had been born in 2013 and I’d been reading Dr. Seuss books to her every day (without fail), so the thought of writing a Seussian narrative had been on my mind. I’d already started one at some point, but got no further than a couple of lines, realising that I had no idea where to go with it.
A year? I thought. That’s far too long. If I’m going to write a children’s book I’ll need a tighter deadline that that, and so I upped the ante: “I’ll have my children’s book written by the next time I see you.” I immediately jotted down a couple of rough stanzas about a hedgehog waking up on his 9th birthday, and I promptly buried the file in my Documents folder. My next visit to Singapore in 2015 turned out to be June 1, and when I knew about the date of this trip, in April, I began working on the story with a little more gusto. Come the start of May, I dropped everything and worked on my anapestic rhyming narrative every day, morning till night, throughout May, until I had it nailed.
Okay, so now what? It was a complex narrative written in tightly rhyming sextets. Most of the children’s literary agents I sent it off to politely declined, but hey, at least they wrote back. This meant my query letter was working even if the story wasn’t piquing anyone’s interest. Around this time, I met Matthew Cooper, a self-publisher living in Hong Kong, author of Lost In Hong Kong and Black Rain Day. He kindly met with me on two occasions to detangle the cables of self-publishing, so I decided to go for it. But first – I needed an illustrator.
At City University of Hong Kong 2014 – last year of my MFA in Creative Writing.
I’ve known Chris Stapp since 1992, and he’s been drawing cartoons the whole time – hilarious cartoons with a brilliantly twisted sense of humour. So I wrote Chris and asked him if he’d like to illustrate my first book, Hogart The Hedgehog Turns Nink. He said yes, but I soon realised it was more than just illustration. I needed him to do the layout and prepare the files for printing too. There was a lot of reworking the files, and a lot of tedious fussing around trying to please printers with the right formatting, and just when I was on the brink of losing my hair, I came across Desmond Lee of Velo Printing in Hong Kong. Desmond was someone who I could communicate with. He was friendly and knowledgeable, he came to my house to discuss all the print options, and best of all, his rates were affordable.
On November 17, 2015, 2000 copies of Hogart arrived at my apartment and I began to clear space for them in the study. A friend of mine, Dennis Tsoi, helped me set up a basic WordPress website and I launched Hogart at Orange Peel bar in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong, on November 25th. I sold 99 copies. That same week, Shonee Mirchandani of Bookazine, agreed to take 88 copies for their shops around Hong Kong. 99 and 88! These seemed like two auspicious numbers, and Anapest Press was on its way to breaking even.