The birth of my book

Last year, as I adjusted to the loss of my dad, I embraced the God-given emotions of sadness and grief as part of my journey through this temporal life. A book was the furthest thing on my mind.

Cover design of My Johor Stories, the book
Last year I also met the people at Think City who enjoyed reading my blog and felt that My Johor Stories should be published in a book to document a slice of Johor heritage.

Familiar with My Johor Stories, Think City’s Chief Operating Officer, Neil Khor, was both encouraging and adamant. He wanted my book to come out by the first quarter of this year. I politely shrugged it off as I was in no frame of mind to work on a book.

The idea of publishing a book is not foreign to me because a long time ago, my cousin Bernice, an ardent fan of my stories, was already urging me to publish my book!

Flyers with information on
Think City's Grants Programme
My first book however, was not about me but an autobiography of Colleen M. Redit, a Christian missionary in India who established Christian Missions Charitable Trust in Chennai. Published in 2013, it is being distributed worldwide through the churches.

As Think City continued to urge me to apply for a grant and start working on a book, I finally went online for a look at their grant application form. The form was not difficult to navigate but because I was not ready to embark on such a venture, I put it aside.

In January, on the first year anniversary of dad’s passing, our family honoured his memory by eating some of his favourite food. Knowing dad, he would have been both amused and pleased with how we celebrated his life.

My past year was marked by special dates and events where dad was dearly missed. He was my pillar of strength and inspiration through the many ups and downs of my colourful career. I know he would like me to take up a new challenge. Pondering on this, I took another look at Think City’s grant application form.

Embarking on a book project is a deeply personal journey because I must read and review the manuscript and look at photographs from dad’s old albums. It would be both heart-rending and emotional but I decided to steel myself to do it as a tribute to dad.

As the wheels in my mind started to turn, a picture of how my book would look like began to form in my mind’s eye. With hardcover, in a size which is comfortable to hold and carry around, and beautifully bound so that it would be an ideal gift. But I could only see it in my mind.

MPH bookstore at Johor Baru City Square
I had to get something tangible to show and touch and feel. So I visited bookstores to check out some books and tried to visualise how – one day – my book may be among those books. I went from Popular and Harris book stores here to Kinokuniya Books across the causeway, and came away with a more realistic idea of how my book would look and feel.

I’m also required to provide estimated printing costs in the grant application form, so I looked to my friend, Gwen Chia, who has a wealth of printing experience with Autoprint. She knows about paper, printing and prices, and was in a position to advise me on the costs involved for the book I have in mind.

Over cups of tea, I told Gwen what I planned to do with the support of Think City and her spontaneous response was, “I know who I will get your book for!”

I was amused and much encouraged by her keen interest and this made me focus on the project to get my book out so that Gwen could present it to her friends.

Johor Baru's iconic landmark, the Sultan Ibrahim building
I may know little about publishing a book but I have friends who have self-published their books. When I told them about my plans, my heart was warmed by the way they volunteered help from software to sourcing for printers, saying that they were more than willing to render some help!

This generous offer set me thinking about how I may find professional skills from among my circle of friends. After all, they are talents with specific sets of skills whom I can engage to work with me in this project.

While all these thoughts were brewing in my mind, I completed the application form and submitted it to Think City by end January 2017 so that it may be tabled at their Board Meeting in February.

After the Chinese New Year break, I received an email from Think City’s Faezah Ayub congratulating me on the approval of my application, with an invitation to join them for a Grants Workshop on February 22.

Suddenly my book project became a reality. With my grant approved, I was told that the proverbial clock is ticking and I must get down to serious work so that I can deliver what was required from a grantee.

At the Workshop, I learnt that the grants only made up part of the total cost of the project and grantees were expected to seek co-funders. Each grantee would also enter into an agreement with Think City to deliver what was agreed according to Milestones.

The next few weeks were a frenzy of activities. While I put much thought into selecting the material to go into the manuscript, I also engaged an editor and a designer to create the cover design for My Johor Stories, the book.

Editor, Cheong Yun Wan better known as Yun, kept me on my toes – quizzing me about questionable words or phrases in its context, and made sure every comma and full-stop were at its right place. She and I kept up a consistent pace of work and we completed reviewing the manuscript to our satisfaction within a short space of time.

A long time ago, Phil A. Dominic of Remarco Direction and I were colleagues; he was Art Director while I was copywriter in JB’s then foremost ad agency. By following My Johor Stories online, he kept in touch with me and clearly identified dad’s role in my life.

With this in mind, he used essential elements including my avatar, a brand identity created by Chris Parry, co-founder of my blog, to come up with a cover concept that distinctly reflected the essence of My Johor Stories.

Breakfast meeting with Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad
Meanwhile I was also thinking of someone to write the Foreword for my book. He should be one who is not only closely associated with Johor but also aware of my work.

As I turned back the pages in my mind to past community events, I remembered Member of Parliament of Johor Baru, Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad, the way his speeches were usually spoken off his cuff and how he often made reference to my work. I thought it would be ideal if Tan Sri wrote the Foreword!

When I met with Tan Sri to talk about it, he not only graciously accepted my invitation to write the Foreword but he also generously placed an advance order for 500 copies of my books to distribute to the libraries of all the secondary schools in his constituency!

His overwhelming support simply stunned me. Later as a mulled over how 500 copies of my books were sold even before they were printed or published, I was deeply humbled.

With an advance order at the back of my mind, I set to work with renewed vigor. I juggled my work with the editor, designer and layout artist to get the manuscript ready to meet my next Milestone with Think City – to deliver a mock-up of the book. Believe me, it was no mean feat to juggle the jobs and keep all those ‘balls’ safely in the air!


Around this time, Mr & Mrs Cheong, Whye Choon and Swee Gim, were visiting from Kuala Lumpur. Over dinner, our family friends asked about the latest happenings in my life. [Swee Gim even remembered my last episode about a reader, Richard Dunn, who visited JB from the UK and how we discovered that our grandfathers knew each other!]

So I shared with the Cheong’s about my book project and how it was coming together beautifully. With the final manuscript almost ready, I then needed a publisher to help with the book distribution. It turned out that they have a friend in publishing and proposed to share with him about my project to see how he may be able to help.

A few days later, I received an email message from the General Manager of MPH Publishing in Kuala Lumpur who told me that MPH is keen to explore a publishing opportunity with me.

It was uncanny how GM, Sze Mei, in our first conversation, said she remembers me from the book launch of Professor Datin Dr. Jamilah Ariffin in Hilton Petaling Jaya!

It was like a lifetime ago but in 2002, I worked with Prof Jamilah, wife of then Johor Menteri Besar Dato’ Abdul Ghani Othman, to prepare her manuscript for publishing and I was part of her team at the book launch.

Prof Jamilah, a sociologist, published several books and some of my features on her community work published in the New Straits Times, Streets Johor, were also quoted in her book, The Professor and the Juita NGO – Smart partnership in social welfare work

Then Sze Mei briefly explained how MPH Publishing would handle the printing, publishing, distribution, marketing and promotions for my book, and all I had to do was to hand over the final files.

Cover page of My Johor Stories,
the book
We took some time to negotiate the terms of the agreement and determine the first-run quantity, taking into account the advance order for 500 books. Finally, we reached an agreement to publish My Johor Stories - True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage in hardcover and softcover versions.

Meanwhile to meet my next Milestone with Think City, the layout artist was laying-out my manuscript, closely supervised by Gwen, to get the mock-up copy of the book ready.

Throughout the project, Gwen had gone the extra mile to help. However on that day when the mock-up book was done, I could not meet her to collect it so she offered to send it over on her way home.

I told her to slip it into my letterbox but to ensure that it was properly wrapped and waterproof, just in case it rained. Gwen did better than that. She took photos of the mock-up books and sent them to me because she knew how anxious I was to have the first glimpse of my book!

Once she had dropped it off, Gwen sent a message that made me both laugh and tear up. She said: “I feel like the stork, delivering your book!”

Gwen Chia with the mock-up version of my book
I was thrilled to see, hold and feel [even] the mock-up copy of my book and I cannot imagine how it would be like to finally have the printed editions. This mock-up book was then submitted to Think City to meet the agreed Milestone.

Later when I met Neil again at Think City, he was waving my mock-up book enthusiastically and congratulating me repeatedly. He told me how he was enjoying reading my book and discovering more about me and my family.

Thanks to Neil, who believed in my book from the outset, we were now holding the mock-up book. While it was still at the mock-up stage, he was so kind as to assure me that to him, the project was as good as done!

Neil Khor [Left] and me with the the mock-up books
Meanwhile the final files are with MPH Publishing and their team is working with me to modify the cover design and make the necessary adjustments to the manuscript before it goes to print.

It’s mind-boggling but very soon, my book will be available nationwide at good book stores in the MPH distribution network like MPH, Popular, Times and Borders.

My cousin Bernice in the UK, who (somehow!) got wind of this heavily embargoed news, sent her congratulations with an amusing message. She wrote: “Where can I buy my copy?” Followed audaciously by: “Signed specially for your favourite cousin?”

Looking back, the arduous journey to the birth of my book can be summarized in these words: exciting, eventful and very emotional. But it is all worthwhile because now readers can enjoy My Johor Stories - True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, a collection of short stories with photographs of my ‘grandfather stories’ as well as stories about Johor personalities and heritage.

Now Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad has graciously consented to launch my book at a simple event being planned at a place which is situated across the road from where I grew up in Johor Baru. But more about that later.