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How I wrote and illustrated a book in 2 weeks as K11 ARTUS's artist-in-residence

I wrote a book inspired by and set at K11 ARTUS as their inaugural artist-in-residence. I’ve never written a book so quickly, so thought I’d try to account for how that happened.

I am so excited to share this book with you in the coming months. As a kid, it always bugged me that there weren’t many children’s chapter books set in Hong Kong. I read books set in America or England, and wanted to travel to landmarks there to see literary settings come to life. Therefore, I wanted to use this book to put literary landmarks on the map for young, bookish Hong Kongers. I want kids to come to artus and see the sculptures from the book, the life-sized chess set that the characters play with, the magic doorknob to the K11 Craft and Guild Foundation, and more. Hong Kong readers deserve literary representation.

Here are some things I can share about my new book at this point in the process:

  • It’s a chapter book for kids aged 8-13

  • It has 25 chapters and 40+ illustrations

  • It’s a mystery with Famous Five vibes that incorporates the artwork at K11 ARTUS

Thursday - The art tour

I arrived at K11 ARTUS in the late afternoon and kicked off my residency with an art tour. Unfortunately, due to Hong Kong’s fifth Covid-19 wave, tours aren't open to the general public right this minute, but usually they are.

I wanted to start with the tour so that I could begin getting ideas for my residency project as early as possible. My guide, Marco, was great and showed me all around the exhibits in the sky lobby, the living salon, the library, and even in my room.

I had not originally signed on to write a book as my residency project. It was an idea the ARTUS team and I floated around in the beginning, but it seemed like such a huge job so we moved away from the idea. However, after the tour, I could already see how I could build a story around the different exhibits and features of the residence.

Friday - The inspiration dump

I started my first full day at artus getting all my ideas out of my brain and onto paper. I wanted to give myself unfiltered permission to get everything out, even if it the ideas were tired or silly or weak. I thought about doing some sort of poster series reminiscent of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s work. I really liked his work as a kid and when I found out he was also a disabled artist like me, it made me like my homeboy Henri even more. I drew some mock-ups but decided against using them in the end.

Saturday - The Annie Leibovitz talk

I got invited to an Annie Leibovitz talk on Saturday by Hauser & Wirth. I remember she was one of the key photographers my art teacher focused on when I was 14 or so at school, so it was interesting reflecting back on what I learned about her then versus now. The more I explored ARTUS and K11 MUSEA, the mall beneath it, the more I felt like I could piece together a book if I wanted. I started thinking about what the plot would look like if I did.

Sunday - The chapter outline

My mum came to visit on Sunday and I floated a nebulous plot idea to her. She said go for it. (honestly, I'm not sure if she was actually listening. She may have thought I was asking if I could eat more snacks or something.) I didn’t need much validation though and spent Sunday plotting out 24 chapters of a mystery book aimed at 8-13 year olds.

As a kid, I loved reading Enid Blyton, Philip Ardagh, and lemony Snicket, and I loved illustrations by Quentin Blake, Chris Riddell, and Brett Helquist. The dorky, dark academia tone and style of these writers and illustrators, therefore, seeped into this book. By the end of the weekend, I had a full plan of what would happen in each chapter and was ready to write a book.

Monday - The first 12 chapters

I wrote the first 12 chapters on Monday. Since I had a chapter summary already, it really was just a case of me sitting down and turning one or two paragraphs of disjointed ideas and themes into a 3-4 page narrative per chapter. At the same time, I also started making notes of illustrations that could complement the story. I originally figured that I would need one illustration to introduce each chapter.

Tuesday - The last 12 (13?) chapters

I finished the book and did a first read-through, proofread, and edit on Tuesday. In the end, my 24 chapters extended to 25, the final chapter serving as more of an epilogue than anything else. I also realised that the illustrations I planned to kick off each chapter actually gave away the plot too early sometimes, so resolved to ingratiate the artwork more seamlessly into the plot, having the text shape itself around it at times. By the end of the day, I had a list of 50 illustrations and a 15,000ish-word book.

Wednesday - The finishing touches

When it came to check-out on Wednesday, I had all the illustrations and text ready and crudely laid out. I arrived back home in the early evening so finished off the day honing the layout and ensuring that the illustrations were embedded into the text in an engaging, consistent, and no-spoilers way. By this point, I had nixed some of the illustrations I had planned because they cluttered too many pages or were a little bit too scary. (I created a character who looks stereotypically villainous and some of his drawings verge on nightmarish).

My mum (being my mum) insisted on proofreading the text even though I guaranteed her it was good to go. She found like 12 typos. I was glad she proofread the manuscript. After that, I sent off the illustrations, the text, and videos of the art taking shape on my drawing app procreate to ARTUS. Now we wait…

Over all…

My experience at K11 ARTUS was surreal. I felt so grateful for the opportunity that a whole darn book seemed like the only way to justify the experience.

ARTUS jolted something in me that made me way more productive and inspired than I would have been at home. From a disability perspective, I’ve spent the past three years cooped up in bed. An excursion for me was leaving my bedroom to be a potato in the living room. I was originally nervous about living away from home and trusting my celiac disease dietary requirements and mobility restrictions with people I did not know, but everything at ARTUS was meticulously checked to be gluten-free, and I never felt pressured or worried about my health problems during the stay. It was amazing to feel well… normal, and active, and like a person that exists outside of my disability again, and i’m trying to keep up the same inspired routine that I started at ARTUS now that i’m back home.*

Stay tuned and I’ll keep you posted on when the book is out. Thanks for reading. stay safe in the fifth wave!

* I want to emphasise that obviously lifestyle is not all you need to suddenly get over disability symptoms. I’ve tried a bajillion things from exercise routines to elimination diets to improve my health, and none truly worked. a major contributor to my productivity was the fact that I was able to identify and treat adrenal insufficiency. I coincidentally started treating my adrenal failure the day I moved into ARTUS and I believe that the new drugs I started facilitated my work at ARTUS. It’s not my intention at all to imply that living in a luxury residence is all one needs to get over a disability. While I felt inspired by the art and the residence, and found ARTUS's working spaces far superior to my at-home set-up, I must stress that the adrenal failure treatment was a defining factor in my productivity, and that lifestyle changes aren’t what exclusively drives improvement in disability symptoms.


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