A Book Launch Or Book Lunch?

Nothing can knock me off the perch right now. I feel on top of the world. The only person who can possibly bring me crashing down would be The Mrs – she is that important to me. She holds sway over my domain. A twitch from her or extra loud footsteps from upstairs will be enough to make me sit straight. Did I mess up “her” kitchen? Did I produce excessive flatulence under the doona? Again?! That is her power over me. But, this week has been glorious for me. The Mrs knows I am floating amongst the clouds. Every cloud seems to have a silver lining. There can be no dark clouds over the horizon – this feels like the pinnacle of my life as a blogger, albeit in truth it is just a little peak. You see, it never crossed my mind that I could write and so prolifically since I started blogging in April this year. When I was a practising accountant, I knew I could write management reports well. Short, concise and illuminating to management, they would quickly understand the issues I highlighted in my reports. I did not beat around the bush. As the watchdog of the business, I viewed my job as watching over the integrity of the organisation. Every word had to carry weight, none was superfluous or unnecessary. But to write stories about people and places? And not be boring? That cannot be my cup of tea. That is in the realms of creativity. No, after all, they drummed into me enough times, accountants are supposed to be boring – only looking at the past – cannot be relevant and definitely cannot be interesting.

My book, titled Urghhlings, was launched three days ago, in fact.  A book! Written by me! All 304 pages. Now that I think back to my school days, I recall I enjoyed writing poems for a short while and I got good marks for English. But, write a book? Never! It was not even a secret wish, the idea that I could write a book had not entered my mind. I never harboured a dream to write a book – it was in the realms of the impossible. Yet, there it is. In mint condition. Sitting in the office of my friend’s printing company. Wilson said he would print my book and he has. All for free. All for charity. When he first broached the subject, I thought little of it. But, I played along with the idea, just for fun. We talked about it in the group chat, all proceeds to go to the Class of 1975 alumni which we call LaSaints58, those born in 1958 from La Salle and St. Xavier’s Institution, Penang. Nice, money raised will go to those who otherwise would not be able to attend the next reunion. Unrealistic, but nevertheless, it was a seed planted in my mind. Blogging has been a joy for me; the opportunity to put down in words the events, ideas and thoughts that had sparked interests amongst my friends during the course of the last few months. I have always loved history, and suddenly I am a historian in my small group, recording snippets of conversations and observations. On average, a blog takes me about two and a half hours to write. Early blogs were short, I had the notion that people’s attention span is short. I limited a blog to about six hundred words. But, latter ones have lengthened to over 1500 words. Suddenly, I hear criticisms of my blogs as “operatic” with too many “sub-plots”, meaning they are becoming too long for those older folks who question the coherence of my stories. My book contains 116 blogs, mostly in date sequence, apart from “Mum about Mum 3” which I wanted to include with the first two chapters about my mum. I also added “Stan The Man” which is a blog I withdrew from my WordPress account following advice from certain quarters. I was asked if I would rather be kind or be right. A real gem, that advice.

Writing to me, is a lot easier than the behind the scenes work. I found proofreading to be tedious and yucky. I cannot read my own work too often, I realised. I am very lucky I have Sehchee, a very kind sister who lives in London. She has been a tower of strength for me, ever so reliable to fix the grammatical errors and improve on the structure of my writing. Once I had started to entertain the idea that my blogs can be compiled into a book, I needed an illustrator to replace the photographs I had used, as they may be subject to copyright. Anne Koh is a successful artist from Malaysia/Singapore. I am indebted to her for her willingness to help; her capacity to produce drawings for me at short notice is simply remarkable. The Mrs also helped a lot with her inspiration and honest opinions about my stories. The book would not be possible of course, without my good friend, Wilson Gan. It is his wild assertion that my stories are good enough to be made into a book that gave me the support and encouragement to “go for it”. Without his immense generosity and support, I would not have the courage to even dream of producing our book. In fact, I am right to call it our book, for without Wilson, there would have been no book at all.

I have learned a lot about how to produce a book. The time and effort spent in preparing the draft has been exhausting. After the drafts, came more proofreading. Some chapters were missed, some illustrations were inexplicably left out whilst other less important photos had to be culled. Wilson’s staff headed by Nicole were extremely patient with me. It was quite late after many alterations had been done, taglines added and layouts of photos and illustrations improved when I decided that the font style and size used was not ideal. When the deadline was almost around the corner, I asked Wilson to change the font to 11 pt Baskerville. Easier said than done. It turned out to be a nightmare, as it resulted in missing spaces after every comma and other issues. It meant that Nicole would have had to go through the whole draft looking for missing spaces and fixing them. Being guilt-ridden, I could not allow her to spend hours doing that. So, I did what we all do these days when we need to find out how to fix a problem. Google! I type in: How to search and replace in Adobe Indesign, a desktop publishing software.

1. Control F to find

2. Then enter comma in Find What

3. Enter comma space in Change To

4. Click Change All
Amazing, in just five keystrokes, all the errors were fixed. Soon after that, Wilson decided that the title of the front cover of the book would be stamped in gold. He selected a high quality paper, Mohawk Inxwell – “It’s your first book, must give excellent results to give the best impact”. Three hours later, the first dummy run was completed. Wilson took them home that night to check on the pagination, 304 pages excluding the front and back covers. The following day, the actual printing of the book finally took place. Once collated and folded, sewing of the covers and the pages was the final process. Five days later, Wilson proudly sent me a photo of our final product. The Urghhling book is born. Since then, the Penang Hospice Society is the body that has been selected to receive all proceeds from the sale of this book.
“Aren’t you going to have a book launch?” I was asked. We did not hire a venue. There were no balloons, no ribbons, no decorations, no champagne. No one was invited, neither was it opened to the public. I did not serve Hors D’oeuvres nor were there any Chinese spring rolls. There was no impressive extemporaneous speech by me and no one did any reading of the book. I should have done a book signing straight after the speeches, but I did not turn up either. And since no one turned up, we saved on door prizes and other freebies which would have delighted many friends. There was no celebratory music, no Pomp and Circumstance by Elgar. No need for any of that, actually. I am so happy to have been gifted this bonus and the support from everyone has been amazing. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for encouraging me to carry on writing.
It was a book launch, nevertheless. The digital banner circulating on Whatsapp simply said:
Urghhlings – Limited Edition
Reserve your copy now
Before it’s too blardy late!
True to the spirit of our brotherhood, many orders started flowing in. Many relatives and friends have also rushed to support me by buying the book. A friend, LV, ordered eleven books, mostly intended for public libraries and school libraries. But, we required an ISBN, which was easily purchased from Thorpe Bowker. The online ISBN agency provided a convenient service to buy the international standard book number which is a numeric commercial book identifier, without which public libraries will not think of accepting books. It costs $44 each or $88 for ten. Will I be able to use all ten ISBN’s?!
A book launch? I mis-heard. It was Keith, who had asked “will you book lunch?” when I next return to Penang. He wants a free lunch to celebrate the birth of Urghhlings. Many were born in 1958, I could have added.

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