Near & Dear is the title of the new anthology in which my short story ‘The Cross-eyed Mirror’ appears, along with short stories, in equal numbers, from Asian and Australian authors. I am thrilled to be included in this collection, linking authors and young readers from Singapore and Australia. And I take my hat off to Ken Spillman, editor and instigator, for his absolute faith in the project. In spite of the many twists and turns, ups and downs, periods of excitement and despair, Ken never gave up believing that, one day, this book would become real.
If you trace the history of this collection from its beginnings you will find almost as much suspense, elation, despair and triumph, as in the stories themselves. When Ken first approached me, in about mid 2010, he already had agreements from Fremantle Press in Western Australia and a publisher he had worked with in Singapore. Stories were to be short, no more than 2000 words, and the joint publication would be launched at the biennial Asian Festival of Children’s Content. ‘Great,’ I said and sent off my short story, ‘Uncle Wilbur’s Whiskers’, which Ken accepted. From time to time I heard from Ken. Things were not going smoothly, but he was confident that the problems could be worked out.
By October 2010, when the anthology seemed to have stalled and I needed the Uncle Wilbur story for another project with Fremantle Press, I contacted Ken and asked if he would mind me withdrawing Uncle Wilbur and substituting another story of similar length. Ken very obligingly agreed and I sent him ‘The Cross-eyed Mirror’. More time elapsed. After going to the Fremantle Press Publication Committee twice, they eventually rejected Uncle Wilbur. I contacted Ken again. ‘Did he want it back?’ He said he liked both stories and could he keep them on file? By then I didn’t see much future for either of them and said ‘Yes.’
On 14th December 2010 Ken made contact with ‘exciting news’! The fortunes of the anthology had revived and, not only that, here was a payment for work already done – just in time for Christmas! Unfortunately it was not to be. Once again the publishers and supporters had gone cold on the idea. Ken wrote ‘After a long series of setbacks involving possible partners, all looking solid at some moment in time … it looked best to give up.’ But he didn’t – even though the rest of us probably had.
Then, on the 29th October 2013 came news of the breakthrough! Sharon Flindell, at WritingWA had intervened! A deal had been signed. Part funding for the publication would be provided by the National Arts Council of Singapore, and the National Book Development Council of Singapore would provide in-kind support. So here it is! After four years and a lot more than four grey hairs for Ken, he can be justly proud of his determination, his persistence and his unshakeable faith in the idea of bringing together the best of Australian and Singaporean stories for children, of creating a bridge between the two cultures and strengthening our ties with Asia.
Well done, Ken! In spite of what seemed like insurmountable problems you have pulled it off. And thank you WritingWA for coming to the rescue when all seemed lost.