Author, educator, literary traveller, and the list goes on when we think of words to describe Ms Catherine Khoo. A prolific writer, she aims to inspire people of all ages to just pick up a pen and share their own stories with the world.
On Wednesday (19 Aug), TISG had a sit down with Ms Khoo where she delved deeper into what made her the veteran author she is today.
In a few words, how would you describe yourself?
CK: Independent, Witty and Wicked, which coincidentally happens to be the imprint for my latest book.
What inspired you to become an author?
CK: It started when I was very young, maybe when I was a teenager. I really wanted to write and so I had a short story published in the Straits Times but I didn’t fully get into it until I gave birth to both my kids. That was when I decided, at 30, that I wanted to do something editorial- to get involved in books.
Who is your favourite author?
CK: Frederick Forsythe, Tom Clancy. I’m a big fan of spy thrillers.
Who is your role model? Be it as an author or for your own personal life?
CK: Oh, that’s a tough one. Actually, there is a person I admire greatly, and that would be Gandhi. “Be the change you want to see”. That short sentence itself is so inspiring to me.
Another person I admire greatly would be the Dalai Lama. He inspires me a lot especially when he says one should live a life that transcends your own.
Young Author Scheme
Can you share more on the Young Author Scheme that you started in 2003?
CK: In 2002, I was retrenched from my job because of the economic crisis. There was a company called Janus Education that was started by three Australians, that focused mainly on enrichment for schools. It was hard for me at first, the teachers barely wanted to see or speak to me. I had to think of something that would get them interested in what I had to offer.
So, being an author and editor, I asked them ‘how about I teach your kids to write a book?’ Thankfully, a male teacher was interested and I promised him that I would teach his kids to write a 3,000-word book.
And thus, the Young Author Scheme was born. I began with a class of 50 students and even though it was tough, initially, with all the hand-holding and motivating, I managed to get them all to finish their books.
I love working with kids. Kids love to write but they’re told what to write. “Don’t do this, don’t do that, write that”, you know? I started this for young authors to assist the creative process and encourage that creativity.
Do you have any plans for the future of the Young Author Scheme?
CK: The Young Author Scheme started in 2003 because I felt kids were creative and could write. In 2004, I had the Young Author Awards. Since that, I have franchised the Young Author Scheme to Malaysia and the Philippines. We just ran the Malaysian and Philippines Young Author Authors in July, surprisingly thanks to COVID-19. Everything was held online, so it was easier for everyone to attend.
My big overarching vision for the Young Author Scheme is basically to inspire every child to read and write. Specifically, I would like to build the Catherine Khoo Writing Foundation.
“100 fabulous people you must meet in your lifetime”
What made you want to start on your book “100 fabulous people you must meet in your lifetime”?
CK: Before this book, I wrote a book in 2017 where I worked with the National Cancer Centre. I had a journalling workshop there called “Writing from the heart”. Then, I went to Sydney to pursue my Masters in Research where I saw something posted on Facebook on the Sydney Breast Cancer Foundation featuring 50 Fabulous Women. Basically, one had to donate USD$100 to be featured.
So in 2019 when I returned, I thought about beginning a similar venture but broadening the scope to both men and women.
How did you choose these people?
I started with a few people I know- people who had given a lot. In each interview, I’d ask them to nominate other people, which is how the list grew. There were around 20 cancer survivors and a few people I knew personally.
Basically, to get featured, you’d have to either donate S$150 to the Singapore Cancer Society directly or sponsor someone on your behalf.
Was there anything that shocked you or left a deep impression on you after you completed it?
There were many actually. There was one where this guy lost his leg to cancer when he was 30. Understandably, he went through hell but now he raises funds for cancer, like the Rainbow Center. He even ran the vertical marathon- the one where you run up 70 stories. I found him very inspiring.
We also featured Dr Tan Cheng Bock. I sat down with him for four hours where he shared his story with me. This book is not just about him as a politician but about him as a grandfather, father and a man who loves Singapore.
These stories didn’t really shock me but made me want to do more for the people around me.
What advice do you have for budding writers?
I have women in their 40s and 50s experiencing the empty nest syndrome who come to me saying they want to write. What I say to them is: Just start writing. Everyone has a story inside them and if you keep it inside you and simply say that you want to start writing, you’re not going to start. So just begin.