Exclusive Interview with Maureen Yeo, Author and Gracie Chai, Illustrator of “The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business”

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With the first edition sold out in months, the second edition of this Epigram children’s book by author Maureen Yeo titled “The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business” has been launched recently.

About the author, Maureen Yeo, she teaches English, Literature and life skills by introducing her young students to Roald Dahl’s great principle: “A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men”. When not working, she seeks out adventures at home and abroad, especially wildlife encounters. Some of these adventures have been documented as travel articles for TODAY newspaper. This book is illustrated by Gracie Chai, she is a self-taught illustrator and artist who has dabbled in textile fabrication and clothes making. She has sold her handmade dresses and accessories worldwide and has had her works featured in international and local publications. Her attention has now returned to illustrating—her first artistic passion. 

Our Parenting World – OPW Media team is pleased to be able to interview Maureen Yeo, Author and Gracie Chai, Illustrator of “The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business” to find out more. 

Exclusive Interview with Maureen Yeo (MY)

1. Please share with us more about your background and what made you decide to come up with the book “The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business”?

MY: My mum and teachers nurtured my interest in creative writing, and from secondary school onwards, I wrote plays, some of which were staged and won awards, which was very encouraging. I eventually studied Film Production and Comparative Literature at university, and afterwards worked for a while in the media industry doing screenwriting, among other things. I then switched careers and became an English and Literature teacher. I had to mentor students in my first ever form class for project work, and one group said they love animals, so they wanted to do a project to “Save the Tigers”. I told them that there are no more tigers left in Singapore, so why don’t they do something about local animals? They responded that there are no animals in Singapore! At that moment, I was inspired to write a story to teach Singaporean children about local biodiversity in a fun way. I’ve always been very interested in wildlife and when I was a kid, I remember trying very hard to decide whether I wanted to grow up to be a movie director or a zoologist. Neither has happened… yet!

2. Can you tell us more about your new book, what is the story about and what can readers expect from the book?

MY: “The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business” is about the animals of Singapore going on adventures to save their homes which are being threatened by humans. Readers can expect funny moments, poignant moments, a dose of nostalgia to remind adults of simpler times and a sense of wonder to help children appreciate nature around them.

3. How long did you take to work on the book and what are the challenges that you have faced to complete the book?

MY: I finished it over one June holiday! I was still working full time in my first year as a teacher then. I knew if I didn’t get the story out, I would be too busy later. That particular June vacation, I went on an epic USA road trip with my best friend and I remember hammering out some of the first draft on the plane. Later on when Epigram decided to publish the book, they requested that the story be lengthened and that was done over a few days with valuable input from my editor, Eldes Tran.

4. What’s your advice to someone who aspires to be an author like yourself?

MY: Be disciplined and make time to write. Read lots and be open to feedback.

5. Lastly, do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers about your new book and what’s your next plan/project if any?

MY: There is a sequel to “The Great Singapore Poo Sale” in the works! I also have a ton of other stories up my sleeve… but my next big project will be being a first-time mum. God willing, we will be welcoming a baby girl in a matter of weeks!

Thank you Maureen Yeo for taking our interview!

Exclusive Interview with Gracie Chai (GC)

1. Please share with us more about your background and how did you become an illustrator?

GC: As far as I can remember, I always had a passion for illustration. I recall telling myself as a four year old, perusing Richard Scarry’s books, that I’d love to illustrate for a children’s book when I’m older one day. I did not however pursue an education in the arts and got myself a degree in Journalism and Public Relations instead. In retrospect, I guess my main reason for not pursuing arts academically was because I’d let my fear of failing in something I badly wanted hinder me. Once I graduated, I knew a career in the field of my studies was something I did not want to seek.

I’d still always been drawing, however. Sounds dramatic, but at that point, I faced an existential crisis. After much deliberation, I decided to pluck up my courage to see where allowing myself to pursue my passion in the arts would lead. I figured breaking into the illustrating world without paper credentials would be challenging, so I taught myself to sew and fabricate textiles and made and sold wearable art (clothes and accessories), and tried getting my leg into the art scene in that roundabout way. One thing led to another and a few years later, I started receiving commissions for illustrated work.

I’m very grateful to have gotten here by such unconventional means and still suffer from imposter syndrome with the label of an illustrator.

2. Can you share with us about your collaboration with Maureen Yeo and how did you come up with the illustrations?

GC: Maureen is my church mate, that’s how we got to know each other. She approached me one day, telling me she had a children’s story she wanted to make into a book and asked if it were a project I’d be keen on.

We initially had the idea of self-publishing and making it into a colouring book since my illustration style was one more geared towards line-drawing. It wasn’t until Epigram got on board that the artwork took on its dual colour characteristics. While reading Maureen’s story, I could already envision some of the scenes in my mind’s eye, whereas others were conjured up through discussions with our art director. I did go to the zoo and Googled lots of pictures in my study of the animals. I was inspired too by the nature I get to observe while peering out my window from the desk I worked at; many animals of which are characters in the story, such as otters, sea eagles and monitor lizards.

3. What kind of tools/techniques that you used to do your illustrations?

GC: The drawings were first sketched in pencil then inked in after. They are later fine-tuned digitally in Photoshop and layered on with textures and colours.

4. How long did you take to work on the book and what are the challenges that you have faced to complete the illustrations for the book?

GC: It was a 6 year work in progress from the time when Maureen first approached me till we finally got it published with Epigram; in between there were many starts and stops to the project due to major life changes.

Animals aren’t the drawing subjects of my choice, honestly. I rarely drew them if at all and her story had 36 animals! So working on this did force me out of my comfort zone. Aside from that, the bulk of the work came in when I was pregnant with my second child. I had to learn how to juggle the demands of being a stay-at-home mum to my rambunctious toddler while meeting deadlines, and working through the fatigue of a high-risk pregnancy. Looking back, I still don’t know how I managed to pull through apart from God’s sustaining grace.

5. What’s your advice to someone who aspires to be an illustrator like yourself?

GC: Keep practicing and honing your craft. Don’t be afraid to put your work out there.

6. Lastly, do you have anything else that you would like to share with our readers about your new book and what’s your next plan/project if any?

GC: Oh, I’m very excited about the new project I’m working on. I’m in the middle of collaborating with The Artground and designing their next interactive visual art play space titled “Happy Homebodies”, opening to the public from 23 May to 15 September 2019. I’m so thankful for the chance to share a little piece of my inner world visually with others and for the opportunity to create a play space for children; it’s something I’d hoped for a chance to do!

The cherry on top is being able to design the space with my own kids in mind — I’m very much looking forward to seeing them enjoying the exhibition.

Thank you Gracie Chai for taking our interview!

The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business 

About the Book: Full of whimsy, this funny and fun-loving caper celebrates the wildlife of Singapore.

The animals of Singapore are under threat! So Alpha Macaque and his troop embark on a daring adventure to rewrite the Constitution. When that plan fails, Dung Beetle establishes a smelly enterprise, and Pink Dolphin has ideas of his own. Species large and small take centre stage in this charming picture book that advocates conservation and childlike wonder.

“The Great Singapore Poo Sale and Other Beastly Business” is a fascinating book that is full of humor and comes with meaningful messages, this is a highly-entertaining and beautifully illustrated book that children and even adults will enjoy reading!

We shall not reveal too much of the book’s content, grab a copy of the book and find out for yourself. To find out more about the book and to purchase it, please visit Epigram’s online bookstore at: https://shop.epigrambooks.sg/products/the-great-singapore-poo-sale-and-other-beastly-business 

Get updates of Maureen Yeo at 

Instagram @maureenyeosuiyin 
Get updates of Gracie Chai at 
instagram  @graciechai







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