The Story of An Accidental Author

We were fretting if anyone would come to Joan Hon’s talk.
After all, we know how Malaysians love to read (yes, that is said with a sarcastic grin).
And the true test is that, the talk was going to be held on a Tuesday afternoon in downtown Penang. It was a double-whammy all right – first, no one attends a week day event and of course, no one reads so who would be interested in Joan’s talk right? That’s what everyone tells us.
Wrong. Oh. So. So wrong! (Damn, I love proving naysayers wrong.)
You see, if you want it bad enough, and in our case, if you do your prep early enough and get enough media publicity and promote it like crazy (Josephine and I emailed almost everyone we knew and literally told them this was a once-in-a-lifetime event and “you’d be crazy to miss it”), things do happen.
Lyndy, a friend who works with The Little Penang Street Market, wanted to help us promote it at the market too but unfortunately the timing was not right (the market is held on the last Sunday of each month). But I am grateful so many friends helped us forward the email out and came forward with suggestions to help!
Yesterday we had a blast of a turnout for Joan’s talk. I bet even she was surprised!

Josephine introduces her fave author, Joan (seated)
Josephine introduces her fave author, Joan (seated)

We had anticipated only 25 people since the venue wasn’t very spacious. But so many people turned up – so much so that some had standing room only. It was a special event supported by WomenBizSENSE, my businesswomen’s network.
WomenBizSENSE members with Joan Hon (in dark blue)
WomenBizSENSE members with Joan Hon (in dark blue)

The room was packed like sardines!
The room was packed like sardines!

Joan’s talk was made possible because Josephine believed in a dream – a dream of helping her fave author come to Penang and promote her book “Star Sapphire” and “Relatively Speaking”. Josephine had read “Star Sapphire” as a 14-year-old school girl and never forgotten how it made her feel.
Josephine and Chris, her son with Star Sapphire author, Joan
Josephine and Chris, her son with Star Sapphire author, Joan

Now interestingly the talk attracted a number of attendees in their 50s and beyond. It even attracted 3 visually-impaired attendees who came from St Nicholas Home for the Blind. One Mr Liew flew in from KL that morning just to meet with his longtime teacher too. It was so heartwarming! And even a famous Hong Kong celebrity attended. Two astute attendees recognised her (later I saw them taking photos with her).
Kim with the Hong Kong celebrity...can you guess who the lady in pink is?
Kim with the Hong Kong celebrity...can you guess who the lady in pink is?

The visually impaired also wanted to hear Joan speak
The visually impaired also wanted to hear Joan speak

Many who attended were there to learn about the ins and outs of writing. Some were writers who had published their own books! It is heartening to know of so many aspiring writers in Penang.
In a way we were all learning about Joan’s learning curve as she referred to herself many times as the ‘accidental author’.
With self-depreciating humour, Joan recounted how she became Han May (the pseudonym she used for “Star Sapphire”). From Joan’s words, I felt that she enjoyed being Han May the most. Joan uses her real name Joan Fong when she writes Singaporean curriculum books (she was a physics teacher) and Joan Hon when she writes non-fiction books such as “Relatively Speaking”, a book about her father’s growing up years and his Finance Minister years in Singapore.
View of the other side of the room
View of the other side of the room

Her first draft was 100 pages long, typed out on her typewriter. She then gave the draft to her daughter to read and she also did research by reading other famous authors like Joseph Conrad (though she admitted she didn’t really like his style). Later, her entire draft turned out to be 700 pages long!
Luck and being with the right people at the right time possibly helped Joan’s work – she knew the right people who not only helped her get the draft done well but also when the book was published, helped with publicity and promotion. Having a good editor was a bonus too.
Joan looked pleased when she told how her daughter’s NUS English professor liked her book “Star Sapphire”. After all this English professor was known to be terribly critical of written work. To have this English professor enjoy her book was an incredible compliment indeed!
Of course she recounted these like mini stories and one elderly gentleman decided to leave because it wasn’t what he had turned up to hear. It was not like she didn’t give her tips on publishing and writing. It was not listed out -one had to listen to her stories to hear the pearls of wisdom in them!
If you are keen to buy Joan’s books in Penang, you can get them at Precious Ones Collections. “Star Sapphire” sells for RM30 while “Relatively Speaking” sells for RM60.
Joan signing books for her fans
Joan signing books for her fans

As for me, I met some friendly bloggers too namely Alice Teh and the jovial husband and wife duo,Gill and Jason. All this because Josephine took the time to attend Blogfest (which happened the weekend I was in Kerala, India) and got to know these nice people!
Alice has written a lovely post with even lovelier snapshots of the talk yesterday. Go on over to view them!
Josephine, Chris, Jo, Joan and me
Josephine, Chris, Jo, Joan and me

P/S: One final thank you to Mr Khoo Kay Soon who gave me his book “Madam White Snake” to read!

The Star Features Miss Hon

Happy news!
The Star published their interview with Miss Joan Hon today. Thanks to Christina and of course to Mr Choi, the editor. (Who’s Joan Hon? Read this for a quick background update and of course, please come attend her talk on 12 Oct, which is free!)
Hankering for Penang
By CHRISTINA CHIN
PENANG-BORN Joan Hon — an accomplished author and daughter of Singapore’s former finance minister — hopes to retire in her hometown which still evokes a myriad of fond memories.
The 67-year-old ex-teacher sees herself settling back in Penang where she used to live on Logan Road in her childhood days.
“It has always been my intention to retire in Penang where I’m happiest,” said the Singapore-based writer in an email interview on her coming talk in Penang.
Hon said her husband had just passed away and she was trying to redefine herself without him and still had attachments in Singapore.
“Penang is so different from what I remembered as a child. There are so many tall buildings and new condominiums now.
“My childhood haunts have disappeared but my favourite foods like heoh pneah are still available.
“Now I’m discovering a bunch of relatives I have never met which is pretty exciting,” said Hon, whose last visit to Penang was for the Feast of St Anne in Bukit Mertajam recently.
Better known by her pseudonym Han May, Hon will deliver a public talk about writing at the WomenBizSENSE premises, 56, Lorong Selamat, Penang, at 2.30pm on Tuesday.
Hon, whose writing is inspired by “simply having things to tell and talk about” said she would speak about the subject closest to her heart — writing.
“It will be motivational. I will be speaking about how I came to be an accidental author — and liked it; what I have been writing; my books; and how to write.
“Hopefully, some of the participants will find the impulse to start writing if they haven’t tried before,” she said.
Hon graduated with a BSc Honours in Physics and Diploma in Education from Singapore University and is a member of Singapore’s Institute of Physics.
She has published six non-fiction books — two of which received the Highly Commended Book Award and another the Com-mended Award from the National Book Development Council of Singapore while her only fiction work, Star Sapphire, also won the Highly Commended Award.
She also described her father, Hon Sui Sen, as a very well respected person.
“I learned from him integrity and honesty — and not to have too great a regard for money.
“I have never seen him lose his temper and wish that I had that quality in me,” she said, adding that they both shared a love for music, science and books.
For details about her talk, e-mail info@womenbizsense.com. Admission is free.