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Q&A: Sherlock Sam authors A.J. Low on inspiring reluctant readers and turning jokes into stories

Image credits: A.J. Low

In our ‘Local Authors’ series, we speak to local writers to shed some insight on their works, thoughts and process.

Since bursting onto the literary scene four years ago, A.J. Low’s Sherlock Sam series has won the hearts and minds of readers in Singapore and beyond. Their first book, Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong, snagged the inaugural ‘Younger Readers’ award at the Red Dot Awards in 2013, and was selected as one of the titles for the National Library Board’s READ! Singapore 2014 campaign.

We speak to Adan and Felicia, the husband-and-wife writing team behind the series, about their proudest moments as authors, making up stories on the fly, and their advice for aspiring writers.

For the benefit of readers who may not be familiar with your work, could you tell us what the Sherlock Sam series is about?
The Sherlock Sam series is about a Singaporean boy, his robot sidekick Watson, his sister, Wendy, and their friends Jimmy, Nazhar, and Eliza running around Singapore, and sometimes overseas, to solve mysteries that befuddle even grown-ups! The team of kid detectives collectively call themselves The Supper Club.

Your books reference local places like Katong, Balestier and Fort Canning. How much do the locations influence the storylines?
Very much. We do a lot of research – and by research we mean we visit the places in question and eat as much food as possible from the shops and restaurants located there – before writing the stories so the culture, histories, and architecture of the locations influence our stories immensely. We selected Katong for our first book because that’s where Felicia grew up and Fort Canning for the second book because Adan is really interested in WWII.

Where do you get inspiration for your stories?
All around. Sometimes our entire story revolves around a joke that we came up with and we’ll create an entire story just so we can tell that joke. We suspect it drives our editor crazy.

Sherlock Sam books

What is your research process like?
Haha. I think we answered this in your second question. But to add on, we think research is really important because it makes the story more believable (even if there’s a robot involved) and our illustrator, Andrew Tan a.k.a. drewscape is very detailed and usually requests photographs from us before he starts sketching. He usually complains our photos aren’t good enough and heads out to do his own research though. He’s super dedicated to making sure that the illustrations are as true to reality as possible.

Your 11th and latest book, Sherlock Sam and the Quantum Pair in Queenstown, was released last November. Did you expect the series to be so well-received?
Not at all! We’re still surprised when anyone invites us to give a workshop or a talk because most of the time we’re making all this up as we go along. We really enjoy writing the stories and we love the characters that we’ve created so we’re extremely happy that others enjoy our books as well.

What has been your proudest moment as authors?
Probably when parents or teachers tell us that our books have inspired reluctant readers to read. Or maybe when we were told by a parent that our books helped his son feel more at home in Singapore (he was feeling homesick because they had just moved here). It’s small moments like that that make us feel proud to be kids’ book writers.

What advice do you have for aspiring young writers?
Read. Read. And then read some more. Read not because you want to become a writer, but read because it helps you become a better person. It’ll teach you about how other people live, and it’ll help you understand that different isn’t strange. Different is amazing. Different is awesome. Read because understanding the world and other people makes you a better writer. Also, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. We all make them. But keep on writing and reading.

 

Browse A.J. Low’s books here.

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