Zed Yeo on Writing A Young Adult Novel

Posted on February 27 2017

What motivated you to create a Young Adult novel?
When I wrote my previous book, Unapologetically Insane Tales, I was already thinking of writing in the long run. In order to do that, it would be ideal to become a full time writer so I could reduce distractions and have more time to hone my craft and rewrite my works. I always tell myself that in order to ensure sustainability as a writer, I better have something that can sell.

 Half Ghost was written for an age group that reads widely. It was also more viable for me to consider the various publicity methods in Singapore as compared to places like Britain. I don’t even know anyone in the UK, you know? But I do have some footing in Singapore. I could arrange for school talks and stuff like that. This ability to connect offers me a chance to become a full time writer in five to ten years.

It’s interesting that you’re coming from a business point of view.
I can’t say for all writers but I agree that the creative aspect is important to most writers. I want my writing to be meaningful and contribute to my readers’ lives as a form of entertainment. I wouldn’t want to waste an hour of anyone’s time. It’s a sin to me.

My writing should also shape a subtle appreciation for what’s around us.
Half Ghost was meant to entertain and allow children and teenagers to be more comfortable reading stories about their culture, as opposed to the feeling you get when you read Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl.

Most of us grow up consuming fiction and that shapes our identities. We all want to be the superheroes from The Avengers or Iron Man. I think young readers have very little opportunities to choose to be a local character because of how little we write. We don’t get very much local narratives or Singaporean heroes. Take television programmes for example. Growing up, we had shows with characters that stuck with us, and were part of conversations with friends at school.

These days, our narratives are thinner and weaker, if I may say so. Here’s a tiny morsel of why I’m writing—currently, the only mode of creating an epic for me is with words. The only other resource I need is time. I can’t create a movie—I would need actors, venues, production assistants and more money.

What are your thoughts about slow readership in children?
I think part of the onus should be on the creators if the younger generation doesn’t read. If the books we write aren’t entertaining, how can you expect people to read? In an ideal world, writers should only put out the best books. In that world, everyone would be reading.

Do you think there should be a certain level of perseverance in readers to find the books they like reading? It’s similar to how you wouldn’t stop watching movies just because you don’t fancy the one you just watched. Do you think the same mindset should be adopted for reading?
I will never place the responsibility on the readers. To me, writers and publishers are the ones held responsible for putting out the books. That includes making them widely available. People have no time to search the city for that one book.

What exactly is Half Ghost?
I’ll leave that to the readers to define for themselves. I love it when readers come up with their own interpretations of the book.
I’ve had someone define it as a chinese pun, 扮鬼 (ban gui, meaning ‘pretending to be a ghost’. ‘ban’ is said in the same way as ‘half’ in Mandarin, while ‘gui’ means ‘ghost’).
Sometimes elements begin flowing out from the book, as opposed to the other way around.
Yes. I think the title has to be carefully designed. It’s the first line that tells the reader about the book. It has to be memorable. It’s like a name card for the book. I like the idea of what ‘Half Ghost’ suggests. You can almost tell what the story will be about upon reading the title. To ensure readership, it’s important to attract the reader first and foremost.

On that note, slow beginnings just don’t work anymore. In the past, writers could take their time to describe the day, weather, place and people. These days, people just don’t have the space to consume such slow fiction anymore.

Who and what do you seek input from when writing?
I have a group of friends who read similar books and appreciate them in the same way as I do. In short, they should be able to tell me if my book has satisfied their reading palette. It’s just like cooking. I wouldn’t ask someone who doesn’t like char kway teow to try the dish I just made.

Similarly, I would also get children to review the book just because it’s a book for them. I did something like that for the cover too. I actually put together 12 different cover styles and got children from various age groups to pick what they liked best.

How do you strike a balance between accepting the perceptions of children and adults?
I think the kids always win.

Is there an inner child you speak to when writing?
I always let myself play. Also, you should always give your muse free reign to dance even if there’s a set of guidelines or rules to your writing.

Did your novel demand to be written?
I had to make a fairly important decision. Before Half Ghost, I had a fantastic idea for a book and had written two or three chapters. It was an idea I really loved. Everyone who read it were in love with the concept. My 15-year-old niece is one of my favourite proofreaders. A very matured reader for her age. She really liked that story too. But I couldn’t write that one. It was a very complex story that couldn’t be explained in less than five minutes.

Can you imagine what would happen at school talks? I don’t have five minutes to attract the students to the story. The pitch has to be quick. The world has to be immediately apparent to potential readers. As compared to that, I would say Half Ghost demanded to be written for them.

Ultimately, who are you writing for? 
I don’t want to write for a vacuum. I want to reach an audience. Half Ghost is superior to that other idea I had in terms of the impact on local children. When it becomes widely read, it’s a book that would allow young readers to feel more comfortable in their Singaporean skin.

What's next for Half Ghost?
I want to create a Singaporean epic. Perhaps Half Ghost can achieve that goal. If we succeed, we will have a whole generation talking about the same story and likening it to their lives.

I’m looking forward to seeing the first Singaporean epic unfold, regardless of whether Half Ghost would be one.


Get Half Ghost by Zed Yeo here
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