By TERENCE TOH
WRITING a novel is no easy task, as most authors can tell you. The process is certainly not for the weak of the heart or mind, requiring large amounts of time, energy, persistence, inspiration, dedication, and often, caffeine. Student Ng Zhan Ming, however, has managed the commendable achievement of completing his debut novel at the age of 17.
In Mars 12: Destination Mars, Ng weaves a thrilling tale of 12 teenagers in a race to build a rocket to Mars. “I always believed in the power of young people,” said Ng, 18. “I initially wanted to use trained professionals as the characters of my novel, but I changed my mind because I knew I had more to offer by writing about teenagers.”
The Raffles Institution (Junior College), Singapore student will be taking his GCE A-Levels at the end of this year and is an active member of his school’s astronomy club.
Mars 12: Destination Mars tells the tale of Hendrick Ng, a bright young student selected by eccentric billionaire James Billion to participate in a revolutionary programme aimed at achieving travel to Mars.
Hendrick is taken to Billion’s space mission base in Florida, US where he meets his 11 teammates, including the abrasive Connor Wilson and the sweet-natured Ren Xinlei.
Things, however, become complicated as personalities clash, romance develops, and tempers flare with the presence of a mysterious person out to sabotage the mission.
“Hendrick Ng is the ideal version of me after smoothing out all rough edges,” Ng says. “He is my proxy. Nevertheless, Hendrick is written as an empty shell, allowing every reader to easily fit into the story and perceive the world through his eyes.”
Ng credits scientist Albert Einstein and writer Jules Verne as his sources of inspiration. “Verne was a dreamer too, and he was better at dreaming than Einstein. It was his 1865 novel, From The Earth To The Moon, that inspired me to write my own novel. I learned a lot about writing science fiction through reading his books, and I would say that my novel is partly a tribute to him.”
Ng says it had been about one-and-a-half years since he wrote his book, but the creative process still remains fresh in his memory. “Because it was the school holidays, I would spend up to 10 hours writing every day,” Ng says. “I would write late into the night, sometimes ending work as late as 3am. The first draft was completed in early February last year.”
While the writing process was difficult, Ng says it paled in comparison to editing.
Destination Mars went through about five rounds of editing, with almost half of the first draft altered during the first round alone. And even after that was done, there was still no time to rest! “The shipment of 800 books came in November last year, and I had to start selling the books right away,” he explains.
“As I had no distributor, I became the distributor. I immediately advertised on Facebook and allowed people to contact me by phone and order by mail. I approached my school’s bookshop and managed to convince them to display and sell my books.” Ng says he’s happy with the feedback to his book so far, and sold 400 copies of them before the book had officially hit the shelves.
One of the most unique things about Destination Mars is the vast scientific information contained within its pages. In the chapters describing the construction of the Satan V spacecraft, which the protagonists use to travel to Mars, Ng supplies his readers with a wealth of technical detail, from the spacecraft’s propulsion to the special suits his young astronauts wear on the surface of Mars.
“I have read extensively about astronomy since I was young, so I had some basic knowledge about rocket design before writing. I spent about two hours researching for every five hours writing,” says Ng.
“The research was painstaking. But the hardest aspect was to present hard, raw chunks of information in an interesting and exciting way without compromising the facts. Also, it was difficult to infuse light-hearted elements such as romance and humour, and weightier elements such as science and action into a single plot.”
While the adventures of Hendrick and his friends will continue in Survival, the sequel to Destination Mars, Ng says he will be putting the series on hold, as he doesn’t want his work to be restricted by his studies.
His next project will be a novel called All The Way North, which will be set in the same universe and time frame as the Mars 12 series, and feature a new set of characters.
“I have completed the planning and research for All The Way North, and the draft is now 40 pages and growing,” Ng says. “Currently, all I can reveal is that the story will be about a group of teenagers surviving an alien invasion in the near future without any survival or combat training.”
He adds that the storyline will contain ethical, tactical, military and scientific elements, and would hopefully hit the shelves by 2013. Asked what advice he could give to all other dreamers out there, Ng simply says “dream big!”
“Every success starts with a dream. Nothing gets done without someone actually trying to do it in the first place,” says Ng. “Everything that is humanly possible is not impossible for the dreamer.”
Mars 12: Destination Mars is available at MPH bookstores nationwide. E-mail author Ng Zhan Ming at zming5@gmail for more information.