Stories About Stories ... with Ken Kwek
Ken Kwek may be better known as a film director, but the truth is that he has been writing stories for a long time — whether it's writing movie scripts or screenplays or plays.
With Timothy and The Phubbers, Ken Kwek makes his official debut as an author. Like the stories he's told on the big screen, the characters in his books are just as colourful.
There's 12-year-old Timothy Pong. He is in Secondary One, but adjusting to life in a new school isn’t smooth sailing. The most menacing bully in school, Bella, just happens to be the prettiest girl Timothy has ever seen. But she has plucked him out as her new favourite target.
Timothy can’t turn to his family for help because they are “phubbers” — they only interact with each other through mobile devices and social media platforms. Timothy is too young to own a phone (according to his mum), so he hasn’t actually spoken to his family in years!
Luckily, Timothy has a few ideas up his sleeve, and with the help of his friend Rudy (who has a few quirks of his own), he plans to get even with the bullies by using a rather unusual “weapon” — an old-school film camera.
Why write this book? For a lot of creatives, I think the question is not "why do something" but "why not"? I've spent more than 10 years churning out screenplays, so why not try my hand at something new? I have a son in primary school, he's a bit of a joker and quite precocious for his age. Phubbers was an opportunity to render the world through a child's eyes, to create something that both resonated with and tickled middle-schoolers.
What was the biggest challenge? The fact that this was new territory for me. Phubbers was my first crack at writing long-form fiction. I'm lucky I had collaborators who made the job immensely enjoyable. I have a great editor, Lydia Dugand, who pushed me at every stage to improve the story and the prose. I got the chance to work with a talented young illustrator, Lolita Chiong — it's not something you get to do when writing adult fiction.
What do you hope the readers to take away from this book? Stitches — from laughter, not paper cuts. And the knowledge that one small victory amid a dozen losses is a good batting average for any underdog.
Are you and Timothy similar? No, Timothy is actually adorable! But I do greatly empathise with the humiliating mishaps he endures. Schools are a microcosm of the adult world, filled with gormless peers, obnoxious superiors and ridiculous bullies. For most of the decent guys and gals out there, making it to the end of each day without too much mud on one's face is a triumph.
Why should people buy this book? Creative writing is a quixotic endeavour anywhere in the world, but especially so in Singapore. People should buy this book partly to enjoy a good laugh with their kids. But mostly they should buy this book so I get paid!