Image credit: Neil Humphreys
In our ‘Local Authors’ series, we speak to local writers to shed some insight on their works, thoughts and process.
From life as an expat to the criminal underworld to the shady world of match-fixing, it’s clear best-selling author Neil Humphreys doesn’t believe in limiting himself to a particular topic, preferring to write what he knows and observes. While he made Singaporeans laugh at themselves with his Notes from an Island series, he’s busy eliciting guffaws from his daughter these days. Ahead of a meet-and-greet on 30 July to promote his latest book Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase: I Saved Two Tigers with A Really Magical Idea, we speak to Neil about why he decided to write children’s books, his lifelong desire to be a father and goofing off with his daughter.
Congratulations on the release of your latest book Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase: I Saved Two Tigers With A Really Magical Idea! Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
Well, the Magic Suitcase starts and ends with my daughter really. When she was four years old, she had this little suitcase that she dragged everywhere, using it as a portal to go to ‘magical’ places of her own imagination. She had the original idea and like a good daddy, I just stole it. She doesn’t get any royalties, but I’m already saving for her university fees. She’s nine. I’m kiasu.
You’ve written about your experiences living in Singapore to match-fixing to crime. Why the leap to children’s books?
I write what’s relevant to my life at any given time. And I also believe in writing what I know. When I was a sports reporter, I learned about match-fixing and our society’s jaw-dropping hypocrisy towards gambling. So I wrote about that. I had a daughter and we read hundreds of children’s stories together, gaining inspiration from the good ones, and the bad ones! So I wrote my own children’s books. I have a passion for the outdoors, for wildlife, for protecting native flora and fauna, so I write books about that for NParks. I don’t believe in following a specific path, i.e. you train for something, you do it, you do nothing else, you die. Why limit yourself? I write about my experiences and our experiences are all varied, unique and constantly changing – just like my writing.
You’re currently writing a script for a Magic Suitcase television series. How is that going?
It’s a long process. You write a book. It gets published. You write a TV series… and lots of people you don’t know have to get the funding together to pay for the series. In my extreme naivety, I thought I’d write the scripts and the Magic Suitcase would pop up on the screen a few months later. But it’s not like that in the precarious business of international television. Investors need to be sure that they’re going to get their money back if they sink their cash into an animated kids programme, especially one that’ll be shown in a saturated, fragmented media environment. I get that. It’s been a learning process for me, too. I just want to see the Magic Suitcase open on the small screen and it will eventually. Just need to be patient!
What’s your writing process like? Do you have any quirky habits?
Not especially. There’s a slightly romanticised view of being an author, conjuring images of Colin Firth sitting in a cottage in the South of France and looking at his pellucid lake for inspiration. Sadly, it isn’t like that in reality, or at least it isn’t for anyone foolish enough to make a living out of scribbling. I wake up, have a cup of tea, wander into my office, write for a few hours and then struggle to silence the working-class voice of my conscience that screams: “This is not a proper job!”
Be My Baby – On the Road to Fatherhood is based on a diary you kept in the nine months leading up to your daughter’s birth. How has fatherhood changed your life?
Fatherhood hasn’t changed my life. Fatherhood IS my life. I build my working hours – and my career generally – around my daughter. My wife does the same. I’m always wary of folks who don’t. Nothing I’ve ever achieved, or anything I might achieve in the future, will come close to the elation of my daughter’s first laugh, first steps, first words, first bike ride and so on. Making my daughter laugh, I mean really laugh, with my puerile nonsense is a high like no other.
How did you feel when you saw your daughter for the first time?
This is what I’m here for. Being a father was the only thing I wanted to be when I was a kid, a teenager and an adult. Other ideas and aspirations came and went, but that was always a constant in my life. I've always wanted to be a father.
What is a typical day with your daughter like?
Daft, sporty and outdoorsy. I mess around, make her laugh, do ridiculously childish things, like stick whoopee cushions on my Mummy’s chair, really idiotic stuff, and then we’ll go for a 10km cycle ride to look for wildlife around Lorong Halus. Or we'll play badminton, go swimming or go jogging round the local park. It really is the simplest, most inexpensive life.
What is the most fulfilling thing about being a father?
Watching her grow and improve; failing yesterday and succeeding tomorrow. I love all that.
What advice do you have for fellow dads?
Just be there as often as possible. Kids don’t care about KPIs. They won’t remember a pay rise or a promotion in your life. But if you don’t turn up for a special event in their life, they’ll never forget it.
What can audiences expect at the storytelling session?
A funny, entertaining afternoon, lots of laughs, lots of energy and lots of excellent books.
Neil Humphreys will be conducting a book signing and storytelling session on 30 July 2017, 4pm at 9 Tampines Grande, Level 2, Library. For more details and to register, click here.
Want to purchase Neil’s books? Browse them here.