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Q&A: Ruth Wan-Lau on why she started the ‘Timmy & Tammy’ series

Image credits: Armour Publishing

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

Spend enough time in the children’s section at a bookshop and chances are you’ll come across a series of books about Timmy and Tammy, a brother and sister duo who embark on adventures around Singapore. It’s the brainchild of local author Ruth Wan-Lau, who conjures up delightful stories about the siblings gallivanting around distinctly Singaporean landmarks like the National Library, Gardens by the Bay and the local food court. Her books are so well-received that they were chosen for inclusion in the SG50 Baby Jubilee Gift Pack in 2015.

Here, Ruth tells us about her motivation for writing the Timmy & Tammy series, the most rewarding part about being a writer, and roping in her kids for help.

What inspired you to write the Timmy & Tammy series?
When my three children were young, I resolved to teach them how to read. Both my boys started reading when they turned four. When it came to my youngest, who is a girl, I noticed that after so many years of reading to my kids and teaching them to read, I had never come across any local preschool books that were simple enough for preschoolers to read on their own. Instead, my daughter was bringing home books from school that were filled with illustrations of Western kids living in big houses with gardens. I decided to write a local preschool series featuring local landmarks, local kids and local places. Singapore is such a fun place for kids, it wasn’t difficult to find inspiration!

What is your conceptualisation process like?
I write each book based on the experiences I have with my kids. My husband and I bring our kids out every weekend – we love exploring the outdoors, which is why the Timmy & Tammy books are focused mostly on nature and other outdoor locations. The books are also very family oriented – you’ll notice Timmy and Tammy having conversations with Grandpa, Grandma, Mum and Dad. All of these are based on our own family experiences!

Aside from introducing children to places and life in Singapore, you also touch on war in one of your books, Talking To Grandpa About The War. Would you consider writing about heavier issues like bullying and dealing with grief?
I am open to writing about heavier issues.

Timmy & Tammy at Jurong Bird Park

We love the colourful and vibrant illustrations that seem to leap out of the pages. Did you have a specific idea of the look and style of the illustrations when you started the series?
When I started the series, I actually had another illustrator in mind. However, he quickly turned me down and it was a good thing he did! I heard about Eliz Ong through a recommendation from a friend. She turned out to be the perfect illustrator for the Timmy & Tammy series because she is also a mum with a family. All I had to say to her was, “Make it fun and happy!”, and she knew exactly what to do and exactly what would appeal to kids!

What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of being an author is getting feedback from parents and children. I have received many emails, and people even come up to me, saying their children love the series and read the books over and over again. Some kids have even memorised entire stories! People send me pictures and videos of their kids reading my books! Several friends have used my books to carry out experiential learning for their kids – they’ll read Timmy & Tammy At the Fire Station, and then visit the Central Fire Station, for example. One friend even asked her kid to do a video book review! All this feedback is very heartening because when I first launched Timmy & Tammy, I wasn’t sure how the response would be. So, such an encouraging response is definitely helpful!

Timmy & Tammy at the Esplanade

You’re a mother of three children. Do you ask them for suggestions on book ideas or run your drafts by them?
My kids definitely do propose book ideas to me. My daughter, who is now six, has even begun to write her own Timmy & Tammy stories! While I don’t run my drafts by them, they sometimes help me to proofread the final copies of the books, before they are printed.

Do you have plans to write for older children i.e. primary school and above?
Yes. I am publishing a new series titled Percy and Pam for six to nine-year-olds. The series is about a girl and her best friend, Percy, who happens to be a polar bear who loves to eat local food! In every book, Percy and Pam help someone by solving a mystery or a puzzle. And, there’s always delicious local food involved, like prata, chicken rice and my kids’ favourite – fried fish balls! The first book came out in May and is published by Epigram Books.

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