My book sequel - Milestones met

I met Tony of Johor Kaki fame at a food review event recently and his first comment on seeing me was, “Eh? Haven’t seen you for some time…”

Presenting Milestone One to Think City JB with
Faezah Ayub [Right] and Gan Yi Reng [Left]
Tony and other media friends did not see me for a while not because I had become antisocial but (I explained) that it was due to my self-imposed absence from events and activities so that I could focus on my book project.

I’m happy that Think City and MPH Publishing have presented me with yet another opportunity to work on my next book project – the sequel to my book which was launched last July, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage.

This next book will also be a collection of stories in My Johor Stories 2 with a section of my ‘grandfather stories’ under Memories plus inspiring and exclusive stories about ordinary people with extraordinary lives, not just in Johor Baru but also in other Johor towns.

My work started since October last year and carried on in spurts over the next few months as I travelled to meet inspirational people in their interesting hometowns and got down to writing their stories.

This exercise was both challenging and fun and I’m ever so blessed to have the privilege to share their stories and document them as a written legacy for their families.

So how did I pick who to write about?

In a discussion with Think City’s Dr Neil Khor about sharing more Johor stories, we agreed that Johor includes other districts and not just Johor Baru, so we should also feature stories out of various Johor towns.

Think City JB at its new location at Jalan Dhoby
This set me thinking about my experiences with people in different parts of Johor and when I looked at my collection of stories, particularly the people with whom I had connected with, it became obvious – who I should write about.

For a start, I already know them and their families. I also know that their stories are worth sharing. So what I needed to do was to meet them again to discover more details and further develop my stories about them.

As I pondered over the subjects that should go into my next book, a pattern gradually emerged: people who are unique in their life’s achievements and those who are involved with heritage trades.

I also looked at the Johor map for a perspective of where I would be able to cover within a reasonable time scale and whittled down my list to come up with a final Contents page.

Dr Neil, who is a published author with many years of experience, encouraged me to follow my instincts and to work on this project at my own pace.

While it was good for me, to not have any pressure to meet deadlines, I still created a work schedule as a guide so that I would meet my own targets to complete the many stages of this project.

That's me holding my book in the opening scenes of
Think City JB's corporate video!
I remember making my appointment with Think City JB to submit my Milestone One of the project and they reminded me that their premises had moved to Jalan Dhoby.

The downstairs hall which they dubbed, Ruang @ Think City was our meeting place and I was pleased to present Faezah Ayub and Gan Yi Reng with my work completed for Milestone One.

I wanted to capture the moment with a photograph so Faezah reminded Yi Reng to put on Think City JB’s corporate video in the background so that we could get a view of me (holding my book!) on the screen, in our photos together.

[It was my privilege to be featured in Think City’s corporate video – no matter how brief – and I cannot forget the entire experience of the interview and being filmed with my book!]

And so the proverbial clock was ticking and from then on, I got down to serious work.

The work process was pretty straightforward: I should obtain the substance to write, sit down to write it and then edit it to my satisfaction.

To do this, I had to meet with my subjects or their family members and took notes while they shared their stories. Their old photographs helped to trigger thoughts and it was good that their stories flowed quite comfortably, often shared in chronological order.

Gan Yi Reng and Faezah Ayub with my mock-up book
presented at my Milestone Two
I did not use a tape-recorder but listened and typed/wrote it down, and then reviewed my notes with them to verify facts about dates, names and places.

Because these were exclusive, non-fiction stories about individuals – Real People – it was rather personal.

And to ensure that I had described the facts accurately – True Tales – I felt that the final manuscript must be reviewed by the individuals.

This entailed meeting the subjects again to go through the manuscript – sometimes line by line and translated into Chinese (because they are not English or computer literate) – just to be sure that I had interpreted the facts accurately.

It was quite easy to reach subjects who are located in JB but it was still a challenge to squeeze in for a few minutes to talk to the heritage traders who were ever so busy with their work and we were often interrupted because they had to attend to customers.

Then it was Daniel Lim's [Centre] turn to look at
my mock-up of Book 2
On the other hand, for those who are English and computer literate, it was quite comfortable to discuss their manuscript with them through electronic means and arrive at a mutually agreeable conclusion and confirmation about their stories.

For some of the families, I had to verify the given statements with various family members – with due respect to each other – and then decide on the most comfortable interpretation of the facts, so that everyone is happy.

For instance, my story from Batu Pahat is an exclusive Portrait piece about a former midwife who is fondly called, Han Cher Soh (Hokkien for Mrs Sweet Potato) and I met her daughter, Sau Pheng, for the story on this legendary lady who is now 100 years old.

I was both pleased and rather apprehensive to share my manuscript with Sau Pheng because she is a retired (Ahem!) English teacher, lest she discovered something that I would be embarrassed about…

All my fears were put to rest when she replied saying: “Just one or two minor errors.”

In fact they were not even errors after all. I was unsure about the name of a place where a child* was born and wrote it as “Bukit …” seeking Sau Pheng’s help to fill in the blank.

She said: “The place is Bukit Pasir.”

As for the second one, she said: “After some consideration, I think we’ll leave it as you have written – sounds better.”

Then she ended with: “It’s a well written account of my mom’s life. Thank you.” And I breathed a deep sigh of relieve!

Think City JB team with my books; Book 1 is in the
hands of Faezah [Right] while the mock-up of Book 2
is in Daniel's hands
With such a pile of work to plough through, I remember trying to stretch my days by waking up early and resting as soon as I felt tired.

“Where did the time go?” I often asked myself when I saw that there was still much more to cover before I was satisfied with the story I was working on.

I remember saying in jest that I did not want any interruption while I was working at my desk and I didn’t even want to be disturbed for meals. But I did eat.

In fact, I even proposed the ridiculous idea of being tube-fed a liquid diet if it meant that I could continue writing uninterrupted!

Throughout this time, I politely declined invitations, avoided any distraction and kept out of circulation. And just like Tony, others also noticed my absence.

When we finally met again, I was asked curious questions so I replied in jest, “I went underground!” By then, most of them had figured out that I was preoccupied with my book project for the sequel.

As soon as my entire manuscript was ready, it was sent to Dr Neil at Think City for his review and approval before it could go to MPH Publishing for editing and proofreading.

At first I thought I would miss the deadline with Think City for Milestone Two but I still managed to make it in spite of the long weekend for National Day.

So once again, I was at Ruang @ Think City to present Daniel Lim, Faezah Ayub and Gan Yi Reng with the mock-up copy of my book, My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People.

When the mock-up copy of my book was presented to Think City, my manuscript was still with Dr Neil for his review.

And when I received his glowing approval in an email – written in three paragraphs – I was simply overwhelmed and deeply humbled.

He started his email with: “Firstly, I would like to personally congratulate you on the manuscript. I read it with an eye for social history and I must admit that it has exceeded my expectations.”

Dr Neil’s words mean a lot to me because he is also a published author.

When I thanked him for his encouraging comments, Dr Neil replied: “Peggy, it was a pleasure reading the manuscript…” and other kind words… (Blush!)

He continued: “I’m glad that you have followed your heart in writing this second volume. That is the most important thing and we are all the better for it.”

With Gan Yi Reng [Left] and Dr Neil Khor [Right]
who was visiting Think City JB recently 
Later I shared Dr Neil’s comments with MPH Publishing and they were delighted with his encouraging words.

In her reply, MPH Publishing general manager, Kuah Sze Mei, said: “It’s good that Dr Neil Khor has given the green light to proceed. We can use one of his quotes as praise for the book.”

Wow! I was simply thrilled that MPH wanted to use an excerpt of his comments and print it on the back cover design as advance praise for my book! Yay!

Meanwhile the book cover design was being created by MPH’s creative team with my input.

Readers of my previous book were introduced to my family, both from my mum and dad’s side with a special mention of grandmother in The Real Champion and grandfather or Ah Kong, in Where champions were born, alluding to his former house at No. 154 Jalan Ngee Heng.

In the sequel, among other interesting and inspirational stories, I’m also sharing further details on our family’s link to Johor pioneer, Wong Ah Fook.

This aims to help members of the extended family, many now relocated to distant lands, to figure out where they fit in, within this large family established in Johor Baru.

A sneak peek at cover design for My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People
Here’s a sneak peek at the cover design for My Johor Stories 2: Interesting Places and Inspirational People with Dr Neil’s advance praise on the back cover, which reads like this:

“Peggy Loh has managed to bridge her first book with this second one, proving that heritage and community history can be resilient and dynamic … and this is really what we hope to achieve by supporting this publishing project. The book will hopefully encourage more Johoreans to share their stories and, I am sure, be a catalyst for this wider community sharing objective.”

Dr Neil Khor, Programme Director, Think City Sdn Bhd

As you can see, this cover design features some vintage photographs with some rare shots of our family members and two more photos of familiar local heritage traders. Can you figure out who there are? [But no prizes for the right guess!]

By the way, my manuscript is with MPH Publishing and it has already gone to print.
. . .

*This child who was born at Bukit Pasir is founder and chairman of property developer Country Heights, Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew.

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