It’s been a day and a half since I returned from Malaysia, the other side of the world, yup twelve hour time zone difference and I’m powering through the jet lag.

Alhamdu lillah, it was a fabulous trip. My hosts were were so hospitable!!!

Almost too hospitable, need to shed some of the pounds I gained! And yet I was really careful!!!

I think Malaysian people are some of the nicest people in the world!

I remember last time I went to Kuala Lumpur I felt it, and this time the feeling was even stronger.

The lady in charge of COMEL, who put it all together is a lawyer who works for one of the largest firms in KL. Such a nice lady, she runs her own small publishing house as well.

She was in my session at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore back in 2012.

How she managed to pull it all together I have no idea! She spoke to people who ended up donating almost everything including the hotel rooms and the airfare.

It took two days to get there. I left on Monday September 19th, at around 10 pm and got into KL on Wednesday morning around 9 am exhausted!

She had arranged for a massage for me at the spa in the hotel #Impiana. My first massage! And it left the middle of my back a bit sore because the tiny Asian lady who was pummeling me did a thorough job. My friend told me that sometimes happens if you’re not used to massages.

The hotel was beautiful! We had a view of the Petronas twin towers, Malaysia’s most famous landmark, from my hotel window.

She had a bunch of volunteers helping run the festival and there was even a rehearsal the night before that I didn’t go to because I didn’t have any technical requirements.

I only had about half an hour and I’ve found it’s better to ditch the powerpoint and just speak from the heart. Most of the time powerpoints are not better than just good old fashioned storytelling!

There were about a hundred people gathered to hear us. Many of them apparently had committed themselves to either come for the morning or the afternoon, but many in the morning enjoyed themselves so much they stayed!

It’s always so nice to actually learn something when I go to such events! I’ve gotten to the point where I seldom learn anything new.

But this time I was listening to Javier Zabala, an amazing artist from Spain, and he did a powerpoint presentation on how artists ‘extract’ inspiration from the masters. He showed slides of modern artists and older masterpieces and showed how the modern artists had ‘metabolized’ the older pieces. How they’d been inspired by them but not plagiarized them.

It was really fascinating.

Have you ever met someone who is so competent and so sure of his competence?

To be perfectly honest I’d never heard of Mr. Zabala. I think coming from North America we tend to think that we know everything about art and culture!

Ha! Not at all! This trip reminded me of how much there is out there in the world!

That’s his website! Check out his art!

Here’s his Don Quixote!!! My goodness! Look at the composition! He captures the ridiculousness and yet the vulnerability perfectly!

This is his Hamlet! It’s for an illustrated volume for adults! The movement! The violence! The power of it! Look at the way he’s actually built characters with just the suggestion of lines.

He’s really quite amazing!

One of the most interesting things he said during his talk was how he’d visited an art gallery where on display was work from an old master from the 15th century, and he was looking at the piece and thinking, My goodness, this guy’s been dead for five hundred years and yet look at how he’s controlling where I look, forcing me to look at a certain part of the picture! His composition led the eye to focus on what the artist wanted to focus on!


And then he told us a bit about composition!

Well talking to Mr. Zabala, I just listened for the first bit. I didn’t say much, I just listened. (I know! I know! For me to keep quiet wasn’t exactly the easiest! LOL)

But I was trying to figure him out. I thought he must be very good if my host had invited him! And there was something about the way he carried himself!

It was so funny. He had quite an accent and often times it was hard to understand him when he spoke, but I couldn’t help being impressed with his English! No way could I have given a presentation in a second language as well as he did!!!

Well he was up there talking and by this time we’d spent a couple of days together, and I’d figured out when he was joking (and he joked often!). I’d even figured out how to tease him back and between him and James Foley (the other author/illustrator who’d been invited) we had a grand old time!

James Foley was quite the opposite of Javier. I told him he was one of the *nicest* guys I’d ever met. Affable is the right word to describe him!

So obliging, whereas Javier was so droll.

So there was Javier talking about inspiration and the metabolism of it in order to make art, and he mentioned how he’d been talking to some Dutch people about one of their classic artists. He said the name of the artist ‘Vermer’ and the Dutch people kept staring at him blankly, with no idea who he was talking about.

And here’s me in the first row thinking ‘Vermer’? ‘Vermer’? And I blurted out “Vermeer!!!” so loud that everyone heard.

Javier glared at me in mock disgust because I’d just ruined his punchline! And he mumbled loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’m going to kill you later!”

Oh how we all laughed!

In the course of our conversation I learned that he’d actually been shortlisted for the Astrid Lindgren award! That’s a 500,000 Euro award given by Sweden to the best author or illustrator or arts organization!!!

He is that well recognized!

I don’t know how I got the nerve to talk to him about a story idea I’ve been working on. I ended up basically telling him the idea, thinking that maybe he’d be good for the story, and he actually liked the idea! Which gave me a big boost of confidence! And then he made an observation that seemed wrong at first. But then the more I thought about it, the more I realized he was absolutely and brilliantly right. And I thought, “Wow!” He really does know what he’s talking about.

We were at lunch later on and he showed me his sketch book. All artists seem to carry them around. And then he asked me to draw in it, and you know what I did? I drew him.

I sketched him. I didn’t think it was very good but he said it was promising and that if I worked at it, I could be an artist. Wow.

I don’t think he was being charitable. I think he was being honest.

But he scolded me for the way I signed it. He said, “Why do you authors always write so big, and slanted up?”

And I replied, “I heard it was optimistic!”

He just gave me that look.

I could go on but suffice it to say I learned a lot!!!

James Foley is a multi-talented author and illustrator whose style is about as different from Javier’s as you could imagine.

Here’s his website:

I fell in love with this book about a kid who’s pet rabbit comes back from the dead that he’d illustrated:


Love the shadow!!! Love the worm sticking out of the bunny’s head! Almost like he’s driving!

The sense of humor!

It really reflects him well!

Click for high-res version

Doesn’t he just look like the sweetest guy???

That’s because he is.

I have to confess that I was dreading this trip. It’s just so hard to travel to the other side of the world. But then I’ve always found when things like this happen, there is a reason for it. God has a plan, and there’s something special that I must learn over there, while out of my comfort zone, that I wouldn’t have learned sitting home.

Not to mention all the wonderful other people I met.

But I do know, that spending that week with Javier, and those few days with James (he had to hurry back home because he was getting ready for his upcoming nuptials) was a huge boost to my own creativity and I will not be the same when I tackle my own stories. I shall metabolize the inspiration I gleaned from everyone I met and thank God for the opportunity!