My first novel Worlds Apart was self-published in 1991 after being rejected by two of the biggest publishers during that time. Like many writers, my first novel will always be the one that is closest to my heart. You can imagine how painful the rejection was. I thought I would never become a published author. But I believed in myself. Then, I found a guide to self publishing.
It didn’t cost me a lot of money to print Worlds Apart, but I was totally clueless about marketing. Thankfully, the Straits Times gave it a good review and Teens magazine gave it a very good review. My novel became a portfolio of sorts. I got in touch with editors and wrote many magazine articles. Book fairs were very happening events back then. There were no screaming girls, but I’ve signed quite a few copies of that book for eager readers. I even gave talks at the libraries. It only took a single book to open the door to professional writing for me. All that happened more than 20 years ago. I’ve written other books and numerous magazine articles, only to give up on writing after getting married. Worlds Apart became a distant memory of a glorious, glamorous past.
Can you imagine that 20 years from the date of publication of Worlds Apart in 2011, a young musician by the name of Sherman Ko read my first novel and was so inspired by my book that he wrote a song, also entitled Worlds Apart? I can only say that this is more encouraging than any of the good reviews I got for the book 20 years ago. A song inspired by and named after my book! You’ve got to listen to this. The introduction is a bit long, so please bear with it.
I think Sherman did a good job. I find the line “For after all, they’re worlds apart and it’s simply not good enough” especially touching.
So what is Worlds Apart about? The main character in the story is a medical student by the name of Patrick Lee. While Patrick was still full of fond memories of his carefree childhood in an orchid plantation in Sembawang, his parents were determined to ride on the wave of Singapore’s meritocratic system to get him into the ranks of the elite. Patrick excelled in his studies but socially, he was rather inept. His weakness in this area didn’t seem to matter until he falls in love with a girl from a poor, working class family. Deep down, he is still very much a kampung boy, but his parents’ ambition forces him to shed his original identity of the typical kampung boy, drawing him worlds apart from someone he loves.
Worlds Apart is a love story, but there is a socio-political message in it. Sherman Ko has managed to read between the lines. Well done. And I’m so inspired to write again.
© Chan Joon Yee