Arts & CultureLIFESTYLE

Writing Children’s Books


Editor cum consultant of Scholastic Asia, Daphne Lee and Tutu Dutta Yean, author of children and young adult’s books were guests at the September’s edition of Sharpened Word. The discussion topic was “Writing Children’s Books for Malaysia”. It took place on Saturday, September 24 at the Old Andersonian Club.

Daphne has more than 20 years’ experience in the publishing industry. She was a journalist with The Star and wrote weekly on children’s books. Her current topic is on the Malaysian book industry, which she writes monthly. “I tend not to write for children because it’s not easy,” she said.

In 2009, Scholastic Asia decided to publish Asian books with an Asian flavour, since there is a dearth of it in the country.

As an editor, Daphne reads manuscripts, selects books and work with writers and publishers to get their books ready.

“Malaysians have problems reading local books. We still don’t have that sense of appreciation. We’re raised to believe that everything good comes from the West,” she posited.

We do not realise that Malaysians have so many stories to tell and who could tell them better but ourselves.

The difference between novellas, novels and novelettes is the length of the words. However, what most people are confused with are pictured and illustrated books.

In a pictured book, every page needs to have a picture in order to tell a story. This is something we do not notice and every picture needs to encourage the readers to turn the page.

“I feel every writer needs an editor because we don’t see our weaknesses. Even when I write, I’ll always show it to someone for suggestions, opinions and editing,” said Daphne.

“Disney stories are notoriously sugar-coated. They don’t reflect the true nature of a woman or a girl. Happily ever after goes well with certain stories. It’s not a one-fit-all thing,” she reasoned.

“Reading and valuing isn’t something we can force on people. Most of it needs to be personal. Even I don’t know how to get a person to read. In the local publishing scene, flooding the market is the way to go,” she added.

Tutu is the author of eight books, “Timeless Tales of Malaysia”, “Eight Treasures of the Dragon”, and the middle grade series of “The Jugra Chronicles”, to name a few. When she was an undergraduate, she won a scholarship to attend summer school in Japan.

“It all started when my husband moved to New York for work. I visited the good bookstores there and managed to discuss with some of the New York writers. I then concluded that it was time to write about Malaysia,” said Tutu.

She started researching and compiling Asian folktales and identifying the plots. She learned how to construct a story. She tried pitching her idea but publishers were not keen.

So, she got together with a group of people and they self-published their stories in the form of a storybook in 2005. Tutu does her own illustrations in her books.

“When I did a book that was set in Sarawak, people from all the world loved it. Sadly, it wasn’t so well received in Malaysia but Malaysian children, who were based overseas, treasured them,” she recounted.

“It’s very difficult to self-publish because you have to pay for everything. Marketing is the hardest part. I think having an editor is essential because we can never see our own mistakes,” Tutu insisted.

Tutu’s advice for budding writers when pitching a story is to always prepare a full manuscript. Before preparing one, be sure to research the publishers’ backgrounds because each publisher has its own taboos.

Khaleeja Suhaimi

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