Doing the Write Thing: Darren Lim
Darren Lim is an animator, illustrator and writer who has a passion for telling stories. He has done everything from writing scripts for animated television series to making YouTube videos. His new series, Ace Agent Spycat, was inspired by his award-winning animated short film, Spycat and the Paper Chase (watch it below!) which has been enjoyed by children in 33 countries over five continents. His newest book, Ace Agent Spycat and the Flying Sidekick, is his debut novel. We had a chat with Darren to uncover everything you need to know about his newest book–from its makings to his personal hopes for it.
What is this book/series about? The Ace Agent Spycat series revolves around the escapades of Spycat, who is a Singaporean agent with a crime-fighting organisation named FELINE (which stands for the First Enforcement League for Inter-National Emergencies). Its agents come from all corners of the globe. Ace Agent Spycat and the Flying Sidekick is the first book in the series. In it, Spycat meets his new partner Rockcat, and they go off on a mission together to stop the penguin king Blackwing, who has frozen the island of Boracay in the Philippines. By the way, the Ace Agent Spycat universe is an all-animal one—that is to say, Spycat is really a cat!
What was the inspiration behind this series? The Ace Agent Spycat series had its beginnings in an animated short film, Spycat and the Paper Chase, which was my final year project as an animation student at Nanyang Technological University's School of Art, Design & Media. My inspiration for the film was the cats that my relatives owned, which, like all cats, love to disappear and hide for hours on end.
When I was much, much younger, I would sometimes imagine them going off on adventures without anyone knowing, and the memory of that served as the foundation for my film's story, which is about a pet cat who goes off on secret missions when his owner is asleep. I worked hard with a bunch of my animation schoolmates to finish the film, and after that, I actively sent the film out to film festivals worldwide.
Soon enough, Spycat was showing at animation and children's film festivals everywhere—and picking up awards too, I might add. It was great to see children all over the world enjoy the Spycat film, so after the film festival circuit was done, I knew I wanted to tell more Spycat stories. But instead of making more cartoons, which is labour-intensive and expensive, I decided to write instead.
How similar or different is this new book series from your initial project? So, there are two main differences. Firstly, Spycat is no longer someone's pet cat; but is now an anthropomorphic cat. And secondly, the story in Ace Agent Spycat and the Flying Sidekick is not the same story in Spycat and the Paper Chase.
Otherwise, the spirit and concept of the film remain in the books, and the Ace Agent Spycat series will surely tickle and thrill young readers as the film did.
Why did you choose to set your first book in Boracay? Many Singaporeans, including myself, fantasise about how nice it would be if Singapore had four seasons—especially winter, because winter brings cold weather and snow, things we don't have in a country like ours. So that was the "spark" for Ace Agent Spycat and the Flying Sidekick—the idea of snow suddenly and mysteriously appearing in a tropical location.
However, the story needed to feature an island paradise famous for its beaches, so Singapore wasn't the right choice. But I had heard about Boracay's beautiful ones for years and years, and had been wanting to go there for just as long, so it wasn't a difficult decision to set the book there. After I finally visited the island in 2016, I was certain Boracay was the right place to set my story in.
Who’s your favourite FELINE agent? Oh no! This is like picking a favourite child! Perhaps I can talk about my favourite traits of the FELINE agents featured in this book instead?
We meet three FELINE agents in this book. There's Spycat, who is the lead character and the series' namesake. He's witty, cool and a little grumpy (that's a trait both him and I share). And then there's Honeycat, the Deputy Chief of FELINE. She's poised, no-nonsense and stylish. As for FELINE's newest agent, Rockcat—he's just so eager and curious about everything, and I think young readers will enjoy discovering everything there is to know about FELINE together with him.
What can readers take away from this series? My wish is that readers will have had fun reading the series! That's the most important thing. Also, I hope that readers of the series will have a greater understanding of the world around them and apply some of the lessons learnt to their lives.
Could you give us a little sneak peek into the next book? I won't give away too much at this point! The next book, titled Ace Agent Spycat and the Mayonnaise Mayhem, sees Spycat go up against twin master thieves, the Finders Keepers. Things will get a little sticky when the Finders Keepers discover that Spycat has a dark secret!
Get Ace Agent Spycat and the Flying Sidekick here.