Despite all the bad press that Amazon gets, I don’t believe I would have been able to publish my book if not for their KDP program. When I tried to get published the traditional way in 2013, I collected over 200 rejections letters that I imprinted into my broken heart.
No one had anything bad to say about my writing. I even had positive feedback from some literary agents. But I wasn’t the prototype of the kind of author they wanted to publish. Talking the talk when it comes to ‘diversity’ is very different to walking it. The odds were stacked against me.
So I said goodbye to my childhood dream and decided that I was better off doing something else. Something practical that wouldn’t leave me both broke and heartbroken. I got a stable job and planted roots in a stable country. That country was Japan.
And yet, that little voice inside of me that wanted to write books never went away. After suffering from terrible writer’s block for over two years, I begun writing again. Mostly as a hobby. I started this blog. I wrote a few posts a month and left it at that. I decided I didn’t want to write fiction anymore, so I blogged about my travels and adventures.
I never thought that four years down the line, my dream could come back to find me.
But it did.
I was back in Singapore, having lunch with my cousin (and mentor) who happens to be a good 20 years older than me. As we sat there having Turkish food, he asked a rather innocuous question.
“What happened to your writing?” he said.
“It didn’t really work out,” I said, remembering all those rejection letters.
“Oh,” he said smiling as though I’d said the most trivial thing. “Didn’t make it at 30!”
My eyes widened. The bubble of sorrow I had built up in my heart burst.
I was not over. My life was not over. It was time to revive a dead dream.
I went back home that day and stared out the window of my bedroom at my parents’ house. I remembered the little girl who had that big dream. The girl who charted continents trying to bring that dream to life. A girl who went from writing articles as an intern at a newspaper to writing novels. A girl who was determined to make it.
I can’t say that very many people were particularly supportive of my decision to become a writer. Only a handful of people come to mind. Many people thought I was crazy to throw away a career in accounting for writing. And these were people who were close to me, mind you.
But the heart wants what it wants.
And these ‘well-meaning people’ should know better than to come between a soul and its heart’s desire.
So I went home and opened my laptop. I wrote The Little Light. A story that had been ruminating in my head for four years. A story of a soul – a Little Light – that meets the crazy cosmic family before it’s born. A story of love and lore. A story that tapped into cultures, creeds and beliefs from all over the world.
I finished that story, found an editor on Fiverr and polished it. Once that was done, it was time to go.
I went to China where there was a job waiting for me. I’d been a teacher for over four years at this point and I wasn’t terrible at it. It paid the bills, allowed me to travel, and I was generally appreciated at work. But I knew there was something more that I was meant to do.
Three months later, whilst I was marking some kid’s poorly written essay, I stared out the window bored out of my wits.
This is not my life. I have a dream. I have a desire. I have something that life wants me to give the world.
The little voice inside of me that wanted to be a novelist was now a banshee that was threatening to scream the town down.
I WILL NOT SPEND THE REST OF MY LIFE MARKING SOME KID’S POORLY WRITTEN ESSAY.
The fact that I didn’t warm to China didn’t help. Whilst it was a great travel destination, living and working there was an absolute nightmare. So I gave notice, packed my bags and went on my journey. I found myself back in the US, then back to China, then to London for the Book Fair… before finally returning to Singapore.
When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.
Through the process of that journey, I reestablished ties with my British side of the family that I’d been out of touch with for years. In London, I buckled down and learnt all that I could about the commercial side of trade publishing. Three days at the London Book Fair was worth far more in educational value than my expensive university education.
Not that I regret going to university. I just don’t think I learnt much of practical use. Having said that, I met lots of amazing people from all over the world that I’m still in contact with. Even now.
I saw old friends in the US that I hadn’t seen in over five years. I even managed to wing a ten-year reunion with the whole crew that I studied abroad with in Israel. As we told the stories of the good old days, I realised that in some ways we grow and develop; and in other ways, we stay the same.
I was not the same wide-eyed girl that left home 12 years ago. I had life experience. I’d encountered setbacks, frustrations, tests and trials as I tried to create and build my dream in the world.
It wasn’t easy.
“How can you write when you haven’t lived?” my cousin quipped when I saw him eight months later.
A lot had changed in my life since I last saw him. I was a month shy of publication. But what he said is true. What stories could I have possibly written if I’d played it safe and been an accountant in a bank and never left home? I saw the answer to that question all around me.
People who hadn’t changed at all in the 12 years I’d left. In fact, some of them had gotten worse. People who wake up each morning and go to work to do something they don’t want to do. People without purpose. People doing what is expected of them and blaming other people for it. People who are not willing to fight or take responsibility for their decisions. People who knock down the dreams of others. People with an endless stream of complaints who stubbornly refuse to take any action to make their lives better.
I had no time for such people. I cut so many people out of my life it wasn’t even funny. Text messages came through. I ignored them all. I had a dream. I had a book to publish. I had a business to build. And this time, I was going to do it.
So, I sat down and did it. Step by step. One day at a time.
I stayed up late every night figuring out the business of selling books. I worked with freelancers from all over the world to take care of the bits I couldn’t. I was working hard, as I always had – but this time it was for me. Not for an employer. Not for my students. Not even to please the people I loved.
The people who truly know me and my heart – they understood. They supported me and cheered me on. They knew that girl, the one who’d spend hours in libraries and bookstores reading every book she could get her hands on. After all these years, I can still remember the disappointment I felt whenever I didn’t have the money to buy a new release that I desperately wanted to read.
I love libraries. They are a writer’s version of heaven. Rooms and rooms full of books that I didn’t have to pay for. But it often took several months before my favourite author’s new titles found their way to the library. I remember my heart sinking every time I walked past a book store and saw the shiny hardcover of a book I couldn’t afford.
I write this back in my old bedroom in Singapore, where it all started for me. I stare out the window again. I was a little girl with a big dream.
And now, that dream has come true.