Writing up a storm of success
The journey of Lesley-Anne, the accomplished 19-year-old author.
Lesley-Anne Tan has always been a bookworm.
But while she loved to read, she hated writing compositions in primary school. Who would have thought she would one day become a published author?
At 19, Lesley-Anne is the proud co-author of nine books. Eight of them form two exciting, action-packed children’s series, Danger Dan and Danger Dan and Gadget Girl, while the Secrets of Singapore is a standalone book.
“When I first started primary school, I actually didn’t like to write. I hated writing compositions in class. It was a very dreary and tedious task for me,” said Lesley-Anne, who is majoring in liberal arts at Yale-NUS.
When she was in primary six, Lesley-Anne had an English teacher who allowed her to free herself from standard composition templates.
“She was the one who recognised that I wasn’t enjoying writing as much as I should,” said the bubbly undergraduate.
Her teacher encouraged her to have fun writing and to hone her personal writing style, which Lesley-Anne describes as conversational, truthful, and raw.
In 2013, the then secondary four student came across an open call by Epigram Books. The local publisher was looking for a writer to work on a series of children’s books about a young boy who ventures into Singapore’s past as a superhero.
Lesley-Anne responded, and that propelled her towards her unexpected success.
Lesley-Anne, who was 16 at the time, teamed up with her mother, Monica Lim. They came up with story proposals and coined the name Danger Dan for the young superhero.
As the young writer was still studying in secondary school, she found it difficult to take part in post-publishing activities, which usually took place during and after school hours.
“The publishers told me, ‘You might not be able to cope and go out to do all these talks. It’s going to be very difficult to work around your schedule, so why not have a co-author?’ My mother was like ‘Ok, why not!’,” shared Lesley-Anne.
Initially, working with her mother, the head of writing agency Hedgehog Communications, was tough for the teenager.
“While [working on] the very first book, we had a lot of teething problems and a lot of fights,” said Lesley-Anne, who would never shy away from a debate regarding ideas for her book.
However, the pair were quick to put their differences aside for a strong and supportive partnership.
“It took a while [for me] to learn to be professional, but the good thing is, I felt that she respected me. She didn’t just say, ‘I am the older one therefore you have to listen to me,'” explained the first year undergraduate.
Since the release of Danger Dan, Lesley-Anne has been featured in various literary events such the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival and the New Word Order series at the Arts House. She was also involved in this year’s Singapore Writer’s Festival as a speaker.
Being a full-time student while writing and promoting her books was challenging.
“My junior college days were really tough. For example, I would have to give an assembly talk at 7, then I’ll rush back to school for lessons, then after a meeting or a CCA, I’ll go back out for an editorial meeting,” she said.
Despite her packed schedule, Lesley-Anne was determined to keep her grades up.
“I had to make sure my academics did not slip, because I didn’t want the school to say, ‘Your academics are slipping because you have all these external commitments and we need you to stop’.
“Because it’s important to me, I could not have this opportunity taken away from me, so I held it together,” recalled Lesley-Anne.
The writer also faced another unexpected hurdle in her way: giving talks to rooms full of people to promote her books.
“The first talk I gave was at my old primary school. One of my teachers tried to comfort me, saying ‘You’ll be fine! It’s just 700 to 800 people! Ok! Off you go!’ Those first few assembly talks were really difficult,” recalled Lesley-Anne, with a laugh.
To overcome her fear of public speaking, the petite writer often stayed up to go over speeches with a clicker in her hand, fully rehearsing each line for every slide.
The difficulties pay off when Lesley-Anne sees the difference her books have made in children’s lives, like an incident last year, when she conducted a talk for the National Library’s Read Fest in Bishan. She met a mother who brought her kids all the way from Simei.
“She told me that her son was such a reluctant reader and Danger Dan made him want to read. That was the most heartening thing any writer could ever hear.
“It’s things like this that makes me want to put out the best work I can,” said the devoted writer, with hands clasped over her chest, showing how important the moment was for her.
After completing five books for Danger Dan and the standalone book, Secrets of Singapore, mother and daughter promptly started their second series in 2015.
Titled Danger Dan and Gadget Girl, the five-part series features stories of the heroic pair venturing into the future of Singapore, solving more social and ethical issues.
When asked what drives her to continue pursuing her dream, Lesley-Anne simply attributed her determination to passion.
“A lot of people like to throw this word ‘passion’ around when it’s no more than a fling. If you are passionate about something, you will commit [to it], even if it gets difficult.
“It means I will continuously work on my craft. I will put in the effort even though it gets really hard,” said Lesley-Anne.