Tuesday September 11, 2012
Out of the dreams of babes
By ELAINE DONG
New author Roshni Menon talks about writing her first book and realising a dream of her own.
THE-REE, Ge-reen, De-reams,” says Roshni Menon, enunciating carefully. “For the longest time as a child, I couldn’t say those three words properly. I would say those words as two syllables instead of one.”
She laughingly recalls how a friend would tease her endlessly about it. So when she wanted to write a children’s book, the three words popped into her head and became the title: Three Green Dreams.
Roshni, 35, is an ENT surgeon by day, and now she adds author to her credentials. She has three children, aged two and a half, five, and seven, and Ria, the heroine of the story, is based on her daughter, also called Ria.
“I know most people write the story first and think of the title. For me, everything starts with the title,” Roshni says. She set about fleshing out a story around these three words and came up with a lyrical tale about the adventures of Ria, who travels into the dreams of children from around the world.
Indeed, the number three represents first, the dream of Ria, second, the collective dreams of the children she meets as she goes round the world and third, the dreams of the reader.
Roshni explains that the use of the colour green is not about the environment, although there are elements of that in some of the pages. For example, when Ria visits Soren in Sweden, they talk about saving the earth, but only because Sweden is a country that is all about green energy and recycling.
“I wanted to evoke the different memories conjured up by the colour green for different people. For Malaysians, green is synonymous with Milo, Kickapoo, durian and our trees. In India, green represents young mangoes, pistachios, mint chutney and chillies, and cricket pitches. In Japan, it represents green tea, nori (seaweed) and tennis balls. And so forth.
“When I finished writing the book, I had very definite ideas of how I wanted it to look like. I have always admired Yusof Majid’s work, and thought he’d be the perfect person to illustrate my work. I actually asked him via sms whether he’d do it or not!” says Roshni.
She won him over with the story she wrote, and he agreed to produce all the landscapes in the book.
Roshni now needed a character. She looked around for an artist or illustrator who could bring Ria to life. When artist Seeling Tan sent in her proposal for the character, Roshni knew she was the one she wanted to work with.
“Seeling brought to life the character of Ria, and she was everything I pictured in my head,” says Roshni. So both artists set to work, individually, based on Roshni’s brief and many subsequent discussions.
The end result of that collaboration is 11 landscapes by Yusof, and 18 character drawings by Tan, which were merged digitally for the book. For editing, Roshni approached Daphne Lee, Star2 On Sunday’s Tots To Teens columnist who is known for her work in children’s literature.
“Working with all these good people was great. I learnt a great deal,” she says.
Instead of going the route of seeking a publisher for her book, Roshni decided to self-publish, albeit through a publishing company she formed with two other like-minded friends. She named it Smallprint.
“We noticed there is a gap in the market for quality local children’s books. We could do a lot with a publishing company, instead of this being a one-off project. We set up Smallprint with the intention of publishing more books. We want to put out really great books written by Malaysians, but with a global appeal. Right now, there are two projects in progress, and we hope to increase that figure to five next year,” she says.
While planning for the future, Roshni also had to be practical about the funding of her current project, Three Green Dreams. She had the brilliant idea of selling off the paintings that Yusof and Tan did for the book during the book launch. And what a success the launch plus exhibition was. She sold off all but two of the paintings, which she kept for herself.
Would she ever ditch her day job and do writing and publishing full time? “I love my job too much!” she laughs. “Writing allows me to escape from the rigidity of the medical profession. I have always loved words, and you could say this is the realisation of my dream. Writing allows the creative side of me to emerge. I hope I am lucky enough to be able to do both.”
She says her scientific side makes an appearance in the book as well, when she talks about green colour-blindness when Ria visits Sebastian and Sean in Hong Kong. Also, she explains the words and phrases used throughout the book in a glossary at the end of the book, much like medical glossaries.
“That’s the scientist in me, I suppose,” she laughs.
As the book is about the colour green, Roshni admits she has been asked whether she planned for it to be a series of books, each about a different colour. “I never thought of that. I just wanted to write a book with the title Three Green Dreams. It is something to think about. But no, there are no red, orange or yellow books in the works yet. My next book, which I have started, is about something else. You will have to wait and see,” she smiles.
Three Green Dreams is available at Kinokuniya Bookstores at Suria KLCC; Silverfish Books (03-2284 4837 / silverfishbooks.com) and Cziplee Bangsar (03-2287 7699 / cziplee.com) in Kuala Lumpur; and Borders outlets nationwide.