“One of the sanest, surest, and most generous joys of life comes from being happy over the good fortune of others”—Archibald Rutledge. And…I’M HAPPY for Emily Lim-Leh! Her as-yet unpublished picture book manuscript My Grandfather’s Rojak placed in the Top 3 for the Scholastic Picture Book Award 2019.
Emily and I met as participants in Julie Hedlund’s 12 x 12 Challenge: https://12x12challenge.com/ . We’ve both learned so much from each other about Kidlit storytelling that we’re online Critique Partners as well.
Goodreads writes: “…Lim is an award-winning children’s book author. She was the first outside North America to win three Independent Publisher Book Awards (“IPPY” awards) for her books, Prince Bear and Pauper Bear (Bronze Medal 2008), Just Teddy (Bronze Medal 2009), and Bunny Finds the Right Stuff (Silver Medal 2010). [She] is also the first South-east Asian recipient of the Moonbeam Award, for her book, The Tale of Rusty Horse (Moonbeam Gold Medal 2009)….”
ME: I’m thrilled for you, Emily! You must still tingle from the Scholastic Book Award announcement. I understand The Scholastic Picture Book Award (SPBA) is a shared initiative between Singapore Book Council (SBC) and Scholastic Asia. Will you tell us more about this award?
EMILY: This Initiative is one of the significant highlights of the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, which is organised by our Singapore Book Council. The SPBA has been established with the purpose of birthing quality children’s picture books of Asian content from content creators in Asia.The top 3 winners get publishing contracts with Scholastic Asia, so this is a very precious win.
ME: When I researched rojak, I discovered that it’s a mixture of Asian fruits and vegetables. I’m curious to know more. Why did you write about rojak? What inspired your story?
EMILY:I wanted my story to represent something distinctly Singaporean. At breakfast, we discuss lunch. At lunch, we are planning dinner. Food is a very important part of our Singaporean culture. We have a diverse range of food from all nationalities and cultures represented here.
Secondly, the Rojak dish is a popular and well-loved local street food here. Our neighbouring countries also have their own kind of rojak dish so it is also relatable to other Asian countries.Thirdly, ‘Rojak’ means ‘mixture’ or ‘eclectic mix’ and the ingredients are precisely that. For me, that’s symbolic of the Singaporean. We are a mix of different races and cultures but we see ourselves first and foremost, as Singaporeans.
ME: How long did it take you to write My Grandfather’s Rojak?
EMILY: I took about two months to write and revise a couple of times. I had two friends and critique partners look at it and give me feedback for story gaps. The SBPA competition criteria is unique because submissions need to include both manuscript and draft storyboard. So, I had to get my story out quickly for my friend to illustrate draft storyboards for our joint submission.
ME: How many revisions did your story go through before submitting to the SBPA competition?
EMILY: Interestingly, this has been one of my quickest-written-and-revised manuscripts. I had about four drafts before I submitted.
ME: You have several award-winning picture books. Did you always want to write for children or did something lead you into the Kidlit universe?
EMILY: I enjoyed writing as a child, but when I “grew up” and entered the working world, writing was the last thing I wanted to do. It wasn’t a career choice because it doesn’t pay much financially. Things changed when I developed a rare voice disorder shortly after marriage. I went through a journey of searching for a cure. In the process, I found God and a new voice in writing. Now, I cannot imagine doing something else.
ME: What have you learned about writing picture books from the experiences of winning international awards? Have these honors changed the way you create your stories?
EMILY: Winning the awards in themselves has not changed the way I write my stories. But awards have certainly encouraged me in my writing journey and given me that affirmation to keep at it on days when I feel discouraged.
ME: What qualities do you look for in a critique partner or group? How has participating in critique groups helped you as a writer?
EMILY: I wrote my first 4 children’s picture books as a winner and grant recipient of my Book Council awards. The market was very young then and I went at it alone – without critique partners – and that was really tough. So, I’m amazed that these are my bestselling books.
I found 12×12 through a blogger friend and found the critique support there very helpful to improving my writing. I look for critique partners who give their comments to me straight up—both the good and no-good feedback. And I reciprocate with the same. Iron sharpens iron, so I like to critique with people who challenge me to push myself in my writing.
ME: What’s something you’ve learned that you wish you would’ve known starting out as a writer for children?
EMILY: Nothing! It’s been a providential journey right from the start, so I just go with the write/ride.
ME: What does your writing “routine” look like?
EMILY: I went through several personal and family crises in the past few years so I actually could not recall what my writing routine was or if ever I had a proper one…haha.
A heart doctor friend asked me this exact same question over dinner recently and it sparked me finding and keeping a writer’s routine over the past two months. I have a lovely writer’s calender journal gifted from someone. Now, every day, I bullet-point each day with at least two writing related activities, be it reading a Kidlit book, working on a manuscript or watching an online writing class. It helps me to track my time better and make time for writing if I find I have slipped over the week.
ME: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your writing journey?
EMILY: My writing journey has been something totally unexpected and providential. I lost my voice to Spasmodic Dysphonia, a rare voice disorder, and recovered it along with a writing voice 10 years later. God has been the Author of my writing journey and it’s been one filled with favour and flavor! You can read more about my backstory at a recent interview here:
ME: Thank you, Emily! We’re so grateful to you for sharing your thoughts. Your journey and thoughts inspire us to keep believing in ourselves, practicing the art of storytelling, and submitting our work. We send you energy and inspiration for your continued success.
Find out more about Emily
Thank you for spending part of your day with me! If you have thoughts or questions for Emily, please comment below. Emily and I will enjoy reading your words. And if Emily has the time, I’m sure that she’ll respond.