Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Weird World Of Make-Believe Playmates

When I proofed the manuscript for this book, I thought the stories were kind of clever, albeit niche.

It reminded me of another similar collection by a more famous author, where I felt some of the stories were more ... cryptic. No such confusion in this collection, however.

Okay, makes a nice collectible, I thought, or a Christmas or birthday gift. A colleague, however, was more enthusiastic about it.

Turns out he's not alone - and the niche was larger than I'd thought.

First published as an e-book, Imaginary Friends: 26 Fables for the Kid in Us reached e-book platform Kobo’s list of top fifteen titles under several categories, including Short Stories and Humour.

And, apparently, it has also been picked up by various online vendors from around the world, including those in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hungary and Singapore.

Now, this best-selling e-book of witty, original fables targeted at teens and adults, is getting a print edition, with illustrations by Arif Rafhan.

Written by Singapore-based freelance writer Melanie Lee and published by MPH Digital (a subsidiary of MPH Group Publishing) in October 2013, Imaginary Friends may look like a typical children’s book at first glance.

But its sophisticated wit and references to modern society and pop culture make it an enjoyable read for those in the new market segment known as New Adult fiction. With Arif's artistic touches (that reminds one of the murals in Publika, Solaris Dutamas), it looks even more collectable.

In this collection of fables for grown-ups and grown-up minds, lessons about life, love, and the universe are imparted through vignettes in the lives of twenty-six zany characters (a few of which are tragically short), including an overachieving octopus, a yodelling yak, a vicious Vespa, a sleepy salmon and an upbeat umbrella.

Witness the downside of democracy in a tale of a jar of jelly beans; learn why being a sour grape doesn't pay; and see the power of memories held by an old quilt blanket, among other things.

Imaginary Friends is a departure for Lee, whose previous book was a non-fiction, spiritual title. "Many of the life lessons at the end of each story in Imaginary Friends are things I’d wished older folks had told me about when I was in my late teens and early twenties," says Lee.

Melanie Lee is a Singaporean freelance writer who specialises in travel and heritage, but dabbles in fiction in the wee hours. Her favourite imaginary friend was Janet, a pink water bottle she had when she was eight.

Arif Rafhan is a Malaysian creative director of a web design agency who loves to draw on anything – from dead-tree media to his computer monitor and his son’s bedroom wall. After all, goes his motto: “Why buy when you can create it yourself?” He is also the illustrator for the upcoming graphic novel, Adventures of a KL-ite in Afghanistan, written by Zan Azlee.

Imaginary Friends
26 Fables for the Kid in Us

Melanie Lee
MPH Group Publishing
83 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-189-8

Buy from MPHOnline.com

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Masterclass In Session: Hosting With Azura

The past few titles in the MPH Masterclass series pretty much lays it out: behind the glitz and glamour in things like fashion, photography and modelling is a lot of hard work, discipline and behind-the-scenes preparation. Many big names really climbed their way to the top. This next author is no exception.

(... wow ... what's with the hair?)

Radio deejay and TV host Azura Zainal is perhaps best known for her work with Walt Disney TV Asia and, later, Red FM and local TV travel and adventure shows such as Xplorasi. Now, she's written this book to help aspiring hosts understand what goes on behind the scenes and what it takes to get into and succeed in the hosting business.

Azura is blunt about certain things. For one, a host needs to have a unique, attractive personality. "Not everyone is cut out to be a great presenter," she writes. "A good host is judged based on two things: attributes and skills. Attributes are traits that you're born with—either you have it or you don't. Skills, on the other hand, can be learnt and picked up with time, effort and experience." She's not being mean.

Azura also lays out what's required to break into radio, TV and live-event hosting and what to do (and what not to do) to keep the gig and get better at it. Even if it does seem like the host is the centre of the galaxy, the show is what matters the most and the host is but another member of the crew that drives it. Emphasis on teamwork is often stressed throughout the book, as well as professionalism.

She also tells us what a host can expect to earn in TV, radio and live-events, and also what a host can go into when he or she wants to expand his or her horizons. There's quite a bit of planning involved for the latter, as well as a lot of face-time, work and perseverance. Azura has been in the business for fifteen years and counting and she's seen and done practically everything.

"I realise many people also wish to get into this line but don't even know where to start," Azura writes. "There are so many things to do and not to do that I had to learn about—the hard way. I wrote this book so that you can pick up best practices without having to stumble and fall too much along the way."

Azura Zainal's Guide to Radio & TV Hosting
Azura Zainal
MPH Group Publishing
131 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-188-1

Buy from MPHOnline.com

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Masterclass In Session: Starting Businesses With Maresa

The company's been pushing quite a few books out in time for the authors' appearances at the 2014 Putrajaya International Book Fair (PIBF). So yes, we're up to our necks in editing and proofreading for the past month or so.

The actual book, copies of which arrived on 17 March, a few days
after this entry was posted

Among these is Maresa Ng's Guide to Starting a Business, the latest in the MPH Masterclass Series.

Formerly an investment banker, Ng ditched her job for a career helping aspiring entrepreneurs improve themselves and take their enterprises to the next level—a vocation that began as a favour for several friends who came to her for financial advice.

Today, she runs leading business coach firm ActionCOACH Spark Activators and SMETalent, a technology platform that helps SMEs in human capital management.

Ng does not believe that one should just take a leap of faith when it comes to starting businesses. She firmly believes in careful and detailed planning, knowing oneself and being clear on one's intentions to start a business—all born from years of running her own enterprise and teaching others how to do the same.

Her guidebook covers the early planning stages; how to craft that all-important business model, mission statement and sales engine that will drive the enterprise; and how to leverage on good people and good systems to expand and grow the business.

She clears up some misconceptions (sales and marketing are not the same, for instance) and introduces creative ways to get by or get ahead (like renting space in exchange for ads rather than cash). Ultimately, the business should run on autopilot and flourish, even when the owner's not constantly keeping an eye on things.

"My experience has shown me that Malaysians are keen entrepreneurs," Ng writes. "But many simply don't have the know-how when it comes to actually running a successful business. They don't understand the fundamentals of how to grow a sustainable business model. While there are numerous books out there covering best practices in business, not even a handful are catered towards the local business scene.

"My aim with this book is to fill that gap. Having worked with a variety of different businesses, big and small, through business coaching, I've gained insight on dealing with a wide range of different situations. I share these, and more, in this book.

Maresa Ng's Guide to Starting a Business
Maresa Ng
MPH Group Publishing
131 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-194-2

Buy from MPHOnline.com

Friday, 7 March 2014


Before I went to bed yesterday, news came that the Malaysian government banned Ultraman.

I'm too tired for this right now.

It was also 11:45pm and I wasn't exactly lucid.

Things became clearer today. The ban, slapped on one comic book, came about thanks to some shoddy editing by the publisher of the Malay-language version of an Ultraman comic, which included a word that was recently prohibited to non-Muslims in the country.

But first: Ultraman was a familiar figure in my childhood. So the news is kind of shocking, but not surprising. Kids these days have other icons to look up to.

Since its debut, the franchise has introduced other Ultramen. Lore says there's a whole planet full of these silver-skinned giants, mutated thus by an artificial source of light they created to replace their dead sun. The Ultraman described as a "god" in the offending passage is Ultraman King, said to be the oldest and strongest member of that civilisation.

Later, I consulted the Google on the history of Ultraman King. From the looks of it, somebody pulled a Houellebecq.

Curious, I ran the web page through Google Translate. Though not exactly a word-for-word match, the results are, well...


Seems the publisher - a dodgy one, from the looks of it - is guilty of lazy translation and plagiarism.

And it seems the local media didn't pick that up soon enough or chose not to highlight it, to the chagrin of at least one Netizen.

The religious angle here is beside the point. If only the piece had been properly translated and reworded...

However, releasing eye-catching soundbites like "Ultraman banned due to public safety concerns" before following up with the real reason and more details later was probably not a good idea. To much of the civilised world, that statement - taken at face value - makes no freaking sense.

So, once again, we've given the world something else to talk about.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Masterclass In Session: Light Malaysian Bites With Chui Hoong

Malaysians. We love our food. We trawl the newspapers and the Internet, searching for food reviews and accounts by fellow gourmands of their (mis)adventures at latest artisanal coffee joint, high-end Shangri-La of cuisine, or a hitherto unknown hole-in-the-wall that existed for decades. And when someone claims a certain local dish as their own, we will fight tooth-and-nail to keep it Malaysian, however absurd it might sound at times.

But with a growing number of people turning away from such calorie- and sugar-laden, artery-clogging, and liver-taxing delights as char koay teow, nasi lemak, teh tarik, mee mamak and kopi C peng, can we still trump for much-vaunted Malaysian fare?

There might have been some attempts to make some of our local dishes more palatable to the increasingly health-conscious, which purists might consider heresy - what's char koay teow without the egg, cockles and all that garlicky grease?

Goo Chui Hoong's Lite Malaysian Favourites - yes, I believe she
eats what she cooks

Enter dietitian and cookbook author Goo Chui Hoong and her compendium of Lite Malaysian Favourites. After co-authoring and co-publishing Food for Your Eyes, a cookbook of dishes for eye health, with her ophthalmologist husband, Goo goes solo for this cookbook which features healthier options to some Malaysian dishes and snacks. This will be the first of a series of Masterclass Kitchen cookbooks published by MPH.

Goo claims to be a foodie, one who loves to experiment with different ingredients and try new things. Her tendencies to tweak recipes took off when she began studying dietetics and continues, perhaps to this day. Some of the results of those experiments ended up here.

Snacks are improved by baking rather than frying. Coconut milk is eschewed in favour of the lighter low-fat milk and slightly heavy evaporated milk. And can you imagine baking muffins with fruit purées or leftover bits of fruits or veggies from the juicer? Or a dish of oat-and-wolfberry noodles?

Other surprises include banana 'fritters' that's basically bananas wrapped in rice paper or spring roll pastry, not unlike what's being served at several other cafés in the Klang Valley, and cucur udang (prawn fritters) that are baked (not fried) in muffin tins. There's even a low-fat ginger-milk pudding, in case you're hankering for a taste of Hong Kong/Macau at home, minus a few calories.

Like the dietitian she is, Goo tacks on nutrient comparison tables to lay down all the caloric reductions if one uses her recipes rather than the 'originals'. Heresy? So was believing that the earth rotated around the sun.

She also shares some tips on measuring portion sizes when one prepares food or eats out. And you will, at some point, dine out with others who aren't as OCD with calories. The author's advice: moderation, and portion control.

Sadly, not all Malaysian favourites are covered in his book. For one, there is no skinny version of char koay teow, which leads one to conclude that such a thing is impossible.

Perhaps we do need something comfortable to land on should one fall off the wagon. The road to wellness is fraught with temptation, and things can get out of control when one bottles it all up.

But one needs to start somewhere, somehow. Let Goo Chui Hoong's Lite Malaysian Favourites guide the way.

Goo Chui Hoong's Lite Malaysian Favourites
Goo Chui Hoong
MPH Group Publishing
188 pages
ISBN: 978-967-415-185-0

Buy from MPHOnline.com

Monday, 3 March 2014

Waiting For Rain

"I miss your old writing," someone commented a while back.

And thus, reality came a-knocking. Again.

I stopped counting how many times.

For weeks I haven't been writing as much as editing. Manuscripts. Lots of them.

I went through some of my old stuff. I couldn't recognise the author. He seems sharp, articulate, and, well ... happier. He also seems to have more time to dream, scheme and pontificate on things that excite him, even if his arguments aren't well thought out.

It has been a while.

And it might be like this for a while or two longer.

I'm looking for real estate. As it is with potential first-time property owners, I'm getting the jitters.

Landed property, especially within the narrow locus of my current neighbourhood, is out of the question. The condo unit I have my eye on looks okay, and rather well situated. Except that it's kind of aged, and is a leasehold unit.

The elders advised caution. As they should. I'm taking this recommendation on the advice of an agent under the supervision of Melody's former colleague, who she says cares a lot about his reputation and therefore does not hawk lemons.

With that comes other worries and fears. Lawyer fees, money transfers, property assessment rates, more taxes, what to do when the lease period draws near and I can't, for some reason, let the unit go...

This, on top of the need to ubah gaya hidup over rising costs of living, water-rationing, the coming introduction of the goods and services tax, as well as worries at work, it's no wonder the ink on the old pen isn't flowing like it used to.

And my health hasn't been fine. For the past several days my blood pressure (top end) hopped past the 135 mark. I haven't been sleeping well. The same lymph nodes are still swollen after about two years.

No more book reviews. No more food reviews. No more opinion pieces. The blog, a pseudo-chronicle of my journey through the world of books and publishing, is as parched as my inkwell.

Yes, I am, like parts of the country, going through a dry spell. The country's will get better, because in this part of the world, the rain has to fall sometime - which it did last weekend.

Me? I'm still waiting.

Hopefully, not for too long.