We are excited to announce that Sonny Liew's acclaimed graphic novel The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye has received six nominations in the 2017 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, topping the list for the most nominations this year.
The US edition of his book has been nominated in the following categories:
- Best Graphic Album
- Best U.S. Edition of International Material–Asia
- Best Writer/Artist
- Best Coloring
- Best Lettering, and
- Best Publication Design
The Singapore edition published by Epigram Books has previously won a number of local awards, including Book of the Year at the 2016 Singapore Book Awards, and Best Fiction Title at the Singapore Literature Prize in the same year. The US edition made The New York Times Bestseller list for graphic novels, as well as numerous year-end must-read lists by overseas publications such as The Economist and The Washington Post.
The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards is widely considered as the comic book industry's equivalent of the Oscars, and this year's nominees involve 120 titles from 50 publishers worldwide.
We'd like to congratulate Sonny for this historic achievement, and wish him the very best come July.
For more information on the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards 2017, please visit the San Diego Comic-Con International website at https://www.comic-con.org/awards/eisner-awards-current-info.
When we first mooted the idea of an early reader series on Singapore’s cultural diversity, one thought garnered the most animated reaction among the Epigram Books editorial team: how do we respond to the most awkward questions children ask?
Many adults, particularly parents of young children, would have gone through this: you’re in a lift with your child, who is unabashedly staring at a stranger riding with you, and the kid suddenly blurts out, “Mummy, why does the Indian lady have a dot on her forehead?”
Cue surprised shushing, embarrassed apology and a hasty exit as soon as the doors open.
Since we started promoting the Understanding Singaporeans book series, we’ve received queries about why we picked such titles as “Why Do Malays Avoid Pork”.
To be honest, we had very much the same concerns while debating the merits of these titles. To alleviate those concerns, we made sure to run through the books’ content through various focus groups sourced from representative ethnic communities and associations to ensure that any sensitivities are adequately addressed.
As for the titles, we ultimately chose questions that might best represent what our children can best relate to and would most likely ask, not to mention that they would also grab the attention of adults enough to spark a much-needed conversation on race and religion.
We’d like to ask that you see the Understanding Singaporeans series with the eyes, mind and innocence of a child, so that you can understand how children might come up with these questions in the first place. While we acknowledge that a four-book series written for 5- to 8-year-olds can only scratch the surface of an otherwise complex topic, we hope this series can help adults address at least some of our children’s awkward questions with more confidence.
Most of all, we hope this series can be the starting point for our children to understand the diversity of our country better, so that they can grow up to be more understanding Singaporeans themselves.
Understanding Singaporeans is a series of four books, each containing 20 questions commonly asked by children on one of four representative ethnicities—Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian.
The books are available at all major Singapore bookstores, and online at shop.epigrambooks.sg
Epigram Books is happy to announce that two of its picture book titles—Grandma and the Things That Stay the Same and Don’t Be Sorry, Dad!—have been shortlisted for the inaugural AFCC Asian Children’s Book Awards 2017 by Genting Singapore.
Grandma and the Things That Stay the Same, written by Eve Aw and illustrated by Yunroo was released during the Chinese New Year period in 2016. The book is about a family whose grandmother asks the same questions as she would at their reunion dinner every year, highlighting the comfort that our elders shower on us through their consistent care and concern.
South Korean illustrator and printmaker Nari Hong’s Don’t Be Sorry, Dad!, translated from the Korean, tells the story of a empathic daughter who continuously reassures her paraplegic father that he is very much a loving dad to her, despite them not being able to do things other children might get to do with their parents.
The Asian Children’s Book Awards gives equal recognition to writers, illustrators and translators, offering a total of S$30,000 for the winning work: S$10,000 for the writer(s), S$10,000 for the illustrator(s), and S$10,000 for the translator(s) or the publisher as an English translation grant for the winning book.
A total of six titles have been shortlisted for the Awards, including picture books from Taiwan and Japan.
The winners of the AFCC Asian Children’s Book Awards will be officially announced at Indonesia Night during the 2017 Asian Festival of Children’s Content on Friday, 19 May 2017.
For more information about the AFCC Asian Children's Book Awards, please visit http://bookcouncil.sg/awards/afcc-asian-childrens-book-award.
We are happy to announce that ten of our titles have been shortlisted over five award categories in the 2017 Singapore Book Awards. They are:
Best Book Cover Design
Best Illustrated Non-Fiction Title
Best Fiction Title
Best Middle Grade/Young Adult Title
Best Children’s Picture Book
The Singapore Book Awards is an industry award for books published in Singapore. Into its third edition, the awards shine the spotlight on the quality of published works and celebrate the achievements of the local publishing industry.
Epigram Books also had ten nominations for the 2016 edition of the Awards, and took home four awards, including Best Fiction Title for Amanda Lee Koe's Ministry of Moral Panic, Best Young Adults' Title for Chew Chia Shao Wei's The Rock And The Bird, and Sonny Liew's The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye for Book Of The Year. A special cover edition of Sonny's graphic novel also won Best Book Cover Design.
This year’s award winners will be announced at an Awards Ceremony to be held on the evening of Thursday, 20 April 2017 at the Pan Pacific Singapore.
SINGAPORE, 2 MARCH 2017 — Epigram Books has been shortlisted once again for the Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year, which will be presented at the 54th Bologna Children’s Book Fair from 3 to 6 April this year.
“We’re doubly honoured to be nominated once again for the prize,” said Edmund Wee, Publisher and CEO of Epigram Books. “We are introducing Singapore fiction to the world through our recently set up London office. We hope this nomination will expose our children’s book authors and illustrators to the world as well.”
Nominated for the second year by publisher associations worldwide and 2017 fair exhibitors, Epigram Books, founded in 2011 to champion Singaporean literature, have published over 100 Singapore children’s and young adult titles, with more than 40 new titles scheduled for this year. Notable titles include the popular Amos Lee series, which has sold a total of 240,000 copies, and the Sherlock Sam series, which has sold over 63,000 copies and is currently being adapted into an animated TV series.
Three picture books published in 2016, Karung Guni Boy by Lorraine Tan and Eric Wong, Grandma and The Things That Stay the Same by Eve Aw and Yunroo, and Emma & Ginger Book 3: Dad’s at Home by Lily Kong and Jeanette Yap, have been sent to Bologna for the judging process.
The Bologna Prize for the Best Children’s Publishers of the Year, now in its fifth year, rewards creative, innovative publishers based on “the editorial projects, professional skills and intellectual qualities of work produced by publishing houses all over the world”.
Nominees are shortlisted into six categories organised by region: Asia, Africa, Central-South America, Europe, North America, and Oceania. Prize winners are determined by publishing houses, international publishers’ associations as well as cultural institutions taking part in the Bologna Children’s Book Fair.
Epigram Books is the only publisher from Singapore in the Asian category. Others in the shortlist are Borim Press from South Korea, Kaisei-Sha Publishing and One Stroke from Japan, and Karadi Tales from India.
For media enquiries, please contact:
SINGAPORE, 24 NOVEMBER 2016— Epigram Books is pleased to announce the winner of this year’s Epigram Books Fiction Prize—research associate Nuraliah Norasid.
The first-time author was unveiled by the publisher and CEO of Epigram Books, Edmund Wee this evening at an Award Ceremony and Gala Dinner held at Pan Pacific Hotel. The $25,000 first prize is Singapore’s richest literary award and comes with a publishing contract.
Her manuscript, The Gatekeeper, tells the story of a ten-year-old gorgon girl named Ria, who petrifies an entire village of innocents with her gaze. Together with her sister, she flees the jungle of Manticura to the underground city of Nelroote, where society’s marginalised members live. Years later, the subterranean habitat is threatened when Ria, now the gatekeeper, befriends a man from the outside.
The three other finalists, author O Thiam Chin (Fox Fire Girl), architect Tham Cheng-E (Surrogate Protocol) and author/translator Jeremy Tiang (State of Emergency) will each receive $5,000 for their submissions.
All four manuscripts will be published by Epigram Books next year. Wee said, “These stories will power the imagination for generations to come, and we hope the authors never stop telling them.”
This year’s competition drew 52 entries. The judges were Prof Philip Holden, Department of English Language and Literature in the National University of Singapore, Constance Singam, civil society activist and former president of the women’s rights group AWARE, Haresh Sharma, resident playwright, The Necessary Stage and Wee.
At the gala dinner, Wee also announced that Epigram Books had started publishing in London “so that we can bring the wealth of Singaporean literature to the world.” The first UK title is expected in May 2017.
For media enquiries, please contact:
SINGAPORE, 10 NOVEMBER 2016— Epigram Books is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Epigram Books Fiction Prize. The finalists are, in alphabetical order:
Nuraliah Norasid’s submission The Gatekeeper is a fantasy novel about Ria who petrified an entire village when she was ten. She flees with her gorgon sister to an underground city where she becomes its guardian. Years later, the refuge is threatened when she befriends a man from the outside.
Nuraliah is a research associate in an organisation that examines socio-religious issues in Singapore. She has a doctorate in English Literature and Creative Writing from Nanyang Technological University. Her writing has appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.
O Thiam Chin’s entry Fox Fire Girl is the spell-binding tale of a spirited girl from Ipoh who resorts to spinning yarns to both her lovers to hide the truth about herself—before disappearing.
Thiam Chin won last year’s prize with his first novel Now That It’s Over. He has also published five short story collections, including Love, Or Something Like Love which was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction. He was an honorary fellow of the Iowa International Writing Program in 2010 and an NAC Young Artist winner in 2012.
Tham Cheng-E’s manuscript is a piece of speculative fiction set in an alternate Singapore where hidden among the citizens are “immortals” pursued by a mysterious organisation bent on killing them after having given them such long lives in the first place; Surrogate Protocol is the story of the hunt for one of these Chronomorphs.
Tham is an architect with a statutory board. He writes about the special needs community for the online magazine Special Seeds, and maintains a family blog on parenting and Down syndrome.
Jeremy Tiang’s entry, State of Emergency, spans the guerilla war years of the Malayan Emergency in the late 1940s through the 1965 MacDonald House bombing and the 1987 Marxist Conspiracy to the present day as an extended family comes to terms with its leftist leaning members.
Jeremy is the author of the short story collection It Never Rains on National Day, a finalist in the English Fiction category of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize. He has also translated many books from Chinese, including novels by You Jin and Yeng Pway Ngon.
“All the shortlisted manuscripts are impressive in their ambition and scope. The stories will be familiar to the Singaporean reader in terms of time and place, history and language. Yet, each work has stunning surprises and poignant revelations, demonstrating the writers’ mastery over their narrative and storytelling,” says Haresh Sharma, resident playwright at The Necessary Stage, and one of the judges for this year’s prize.
The other judges are Professor Philip Holden from the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore, Constance Singam, author, activist and former president of the women’s rights group AWARE, and Edmund Wee, publisher and CEO of Epigram Books.
The winner will be announced at an award ceremony and gala dinner on 24 November 2016 at the Pan Pacific Singapore.
For media enquiries, please contact:
SINGAPORE, 13 OCTOBER 2016—Epigram Books is pleased to announce the longlist for its 2016 Fiction Prize.
Ten out of the 50 participants have been longlisted. The authors are (in alphabetical order):
Ning Cai was an award-winning illusionist and escape artist. She has co-authored a book Adventures of 2 Girls based on her nine-month travels around the world with her best friend. Her memoir Who is Magic Babe Ning? was a finalist in the English Non-Fiction category of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize.
Grace Chia is an editor and author of several books, including Every Moving Thing That Lives Shall Be Food, womango, The Cuckoo Conundrum, and Cordelia which was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize for Poetry in 2014. She was the first NAC-NTU Writer-in-Residence from 2011 to 2012.
Warran Kalasegaran graduated from the University of Tokyo with a Master’s degree in Public Policy. He also studied Politics with International Studies at the University of Warwick.
Lau Siew Mei is the author of two novels, Playing Madame Mao and The Dispeller of Worries, and a children’s illustrated chapter book, Yin’s Magic Dragon. Her stories have been broadcast on the BBC World Service and ABC Radio National, and published in literary journals around the world. She was born in Singapore but migrated to Australia in 1994.
Pauline Loh has been writing professionally for more than two decades. She is the author of numerous books, largely non-fiction titles and children’s picture books, including the Little Red Helicopter. She is also a director of a non-profit organisation called Women Empowered for Work and Mothering.
Andrew Ngin lectures on Screenwriting for Film and Television in Temasek Polytechnic for the Diploma in Moving Images. He wrote the script for the first season of Fighting Spiders, and was one of the key writers for two well-known local television series Under One Roof and Growing Up.
Nuraliah Norasid is currently a research associate with an organisation that looks largely into socio-religious issues in Singapore. She has a Ph.D in English Literature and Creative Writing from Nanyang Technological University. Her writing has been anthologised and has appeared in Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.
O Thiam Chin won last year’s prize with his first novel Now That It’s Over. He is the author of five short story collections, including Love, Or Something Like Love which was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction. He was an honorary fellow of the Iowa International Writing Program in 2010 and an NAC Young Artist winner in 2012.
Tham Cheng-E is an architect who also writes about the special needs community for the online magazine Special Seeds during his spare time, and maintains a family blog on parenting and Down syndrome.
Jeremy Tiang is the author of the short story collection It Never Rains on National Day, which was shortlisted in the English Fiction category of this year’s Singapore Literature Prize. He has also translated more than ten books from Chinese, including novels by You Jin and Yeng Pway Ngon.
“We are very encouraged by this year’s entries,” said Edmund Wee, Publisher and CEO of Epigram Books. “The longlist is just as diverse in genre as it is commendable in quality. We will no doubt have a tough time picking out the shortlist.”
The shortlist will be released early next month and the winner will be announced at an award ceremony and gala dinner to be held at the Pan Pacific Singapore on November 24, 2016.
The judges for this year’s prize are Philip Holden, professor at the Department of English Language and Literature in the National University of Singapore; Haresh Sharma, a 2015 Cultural Medallion winner and resident playwright for The Necessary Stage; Constance Singam, author, activist and former president of the women’s rights group AWARE, and Wee himself.
For media enquiries, please contact:
Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2016 manuscript submission closed with 52 submissions on 8 September 2016, attracting 50 participants this year, with 52% men and 48% women participants. The average participating age is 38 years old, with youngest at 15 years old, and oldest at 74 years old.
Stats at a glance:
The shortlist for Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2016 will be announced at the end of October, with the winner named in the award ceremony on the 24th November 2016 at Pan Pacific Singapore.
For more information about the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, please visit http://ebfp.epigrambooks.sg.
Conducted by Jason Erik Lundberg
On 13 July 2016, Epigram Books hosted a forum called “The Great Singaporean Novel: Fantasy or Reality?” at The Projector in Golden Mile Tower. The discussion was moderated by Adrian Tan (The Teenage Textbook), and featured our 2015 Epigram Books Fiction Prize winning and shortlisted authors: O Thiam Chin (Now That It’s Over), Wong Souk Yee (Death of a Perm Sec) and Sebastian Sim (Let’s Give It Up for Gimme Lao!); I was on the panel as well, representing Balli Kaur Jaswal (Sugarbread) at her request, since I am the book’s editor and she is currently out of the country.
In addition to being a compelling and empathetic portrayal of a young Punjabi Sikh girl growing up in Singapore in the 1990s, Sugarbread is also a celebration of women, and it doesn’t shy away from the complicated relationships between them. Each of the main female characters—Pin, her mother Jini, and her grandmother Kulwant (Nani-ji)—are evoked with such affection that it’s hard to believe after finishing the book that they are fictional. Jaswal shows us how flawed and human they are, and the small (and not-so-small) tragedies that they suffer through, as well as the triumphs that make the reader let out woots of joy.
All of this, plus an examination of Singapore’s endemic racism, especially toward its South Asian community. Pin has to brook taunts by Bus Uncle, an old man who collects money from the students on the school bus (and attempts, and fails, to keep order), as well as vile comments from classmate Abigail Goh and others. Pin’s outrage and how she deals with these encounters illustrate the consequences of this casual racism and how the Chinese majority tends to treat South Asians and Malays, and her endurance of it is a social justice punch right to the gut.
Sugarbread is an important book, especially right now, and I believe that it could easily become Singapore’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
In preparation for the event, I passed along the first four questions below to Balli, which had been sent to us by moderator Adrian, as well as five more of my own.
When did you first start writing, at a professional or serious level?
I started taking writing seriously as an undergraduate student at Hollins University [in Virginia]. Most of the workshops I took were about defining my voice as a writer and figuring out the mechanics of narrative, dialogue and character. Sugarbread was my honours thesis, so it was a bit of a test to see if I had learned how to convey a story successfully. I started making more of a career out of being a writer when I received the David TK Wong Fellowship in 2007. That was my first writer-in-residence position. The daily discipline of showing up to my desk and re-reading old drafts was work, work, work—that was when I started treating writing as more of a profession.
What writers have influenced you?
Judy Blume was a big influence because she told the truth and she spoke to young girls about topics we couldn’t ask adults about. Arundhati Roy is another major influence—the first time I read The God of Small Things, it was a revelation that words could create such movement in the mind. In my adult years, Yiyun Li, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ann Patchett, Anne Fadiman, Marjane Satrapi, Kent Haruf, Nikita Lalwani, Zadie Smith, Andrea Levy and Meera Syal have been major influences.
What is the worst thing about being a writer in Singapore?
It can be challenging to find a quiet space to write in this busy city.
What is the best thing about being a writer in Singapore?
The burgeoning literary scene here holds a lot of promise for writers, with opportunities for us to support and mentor each other. The busy city problem above also works as an advantage—it’s a walkable city, which I find very refreshing when I’m stuck in a story.
How important was it to you to illustrate in Sugarbread the relationships between women in Singapore’s Sikh community?
It was very important because I wanted to explore that tension between traditional and modern mindsets. It was important to have different women representing each mindset so I could demonstrate the clashes between them.
How much of your own life influenced Pin’s in the novel?
I definitely had a racist bus uncle and other people of that older generation say blatantly racist things. I went to a convent primary school, so when I set out to write a coming-of-age novel, these were the details that I really wanted to communicate. My mum’s an excellent cook but I don’t think she ever left hidden messages in her cooking (if she did, I was not astute enough to decipher them). My dad’s a very sweet, kind and gentle man like Pa in the novel.
How much of the blatant racism in the book have you experienced in Singapore?
Oh. See above. That and much more. I should point out that I wasn’t solely the victim of racism—I certainly learned (and consequently unlearned) my own prejudices and stereotypes about other groups of people. We’re hyper-conscious of race in Singapore because we’re not supposed to talk about it for fear that we’ll open a can of worms and there will be riots. But because we don’t talk about it, it’s hard to educate ourselves and others about misconceptions. The majority of us simply know that “saying racist things is illegal” but we practice micro-aggressions towards each other every day and don’t necessarily consider them inappropriate because we’re used to thinking of racism in terms of its most blatant manifestation: rioting against another group, for example, or calling names.
What do you think literary fiction can do that no other genre or medium can do?
Literary fiction is multi-layered. It can use language to engage and ignite a reader’s imagination. Other genres can do this to an extent, but literary fiction’s value is in its precise choices of words to convey a narrative with a powerful message, rather than simply tell a story.
Which book(s) are you reading right now?
I’m reading A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel. It’s one of her earlier works and it really packs a punch (so far).
Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal is available at all major Singapore book stores and at shop.epigrambooks.sg.
Singaporean publisher increases prize money, offers prizes to all shortlisted manuscripts this year
Singapore’s richest literary prize is set to get richer, as local publisher Epigram Books raises the stakes for its annual Epigram Books Fiction Prize to $40,000 this year.
Now running in its second year, the 2016 prize will see three of its finalists receive $5,000 each, while the prize money for the winning manuscript will be increased to $25,000. Last year, only the winning manuscript received a $20,000 cash prize.
“While we’ve never doubted the abundance of Singapore’s fiction writing talent, we felt deeply encouraged by the quality of manuscripts from last year’s submissions,” said Edmund Wee, Publisher and CEO of Epigram Books. “And seeing how well our finalists’ novels are doing, we feel the shortlisted manuscripts should also get something more than the publishing contracts we offer them.”
Speaking at a writers’ forum titled The Great Singaporean Novel: Fantasy or Reality? at The Projector on Wednesday, Mr Wee also noted that two novels from last year’s shortlist, Let’s Give It Up for Gimme Lao! by Sebastian Sim and Death of a Perm Sec by Wong Souk Yee have already gone into their second print run a couple of months after their release in March and April respectively. The two other books from the 2015 prize, Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal and the winner Now That It’s Over by O Thiam Chin, were released in June.
Epigram Books will release three more titles from last year’s longlist—Annabelle Thong, a chicklit novel by Imran Hashim due in August; Kappa Quartet, a fantasy novel by Daryl Qilin Yam in September; and Altered Straits, a sci-fi tale by Kevin Martens Wong to be published in January 2017.
This year’s judging panel includes Mr Haresh Sharma, resident playwright for The Necessary Stage; Ms Constance Singam, former president of AWARE; Professor Philip Holden from the Department of English Language & Literature in National University of Singapore (NUS); and Mr Wee himself.
The closing date for manuscript submission is Thursday, 1st September 2016. The shortlist will be announced 2 months later, and the winner named in a gala dinner on 24th November 2016.
For manuscript submissions and more information, please visit ebfp.epigrambooks.sg.
TWO NEW JUDGES JOIN EPIGRAM BOOKS FICTION PRIZE 2016 PANEL
First of last year’s shortlisted novels also released
SINGAPORE, 24 March 2016 — The Epigram Books Fiction Prize is pleased to announce the judging panel for this year’s competition, in conjunction with the release of Sebastian Sim’s Let’s Give It Up for Gimme Lao!, one of last year’s finalists.
Returning to judge this year’s prize are Professor Philip Holden from the Department of English Language & Literature in National University of Singapore (NUS), and Publisher & CEO of Epigram Books Edmund Wee. The two new judges are: Haresh Sharma, resident playwright for The Necessary Stage, and Constance Singam, former president of AWARE.
Haresh Sharma was conferred the Southeast Asian Writers (or S.E.A. Write) Award (Singapore) in 2014, and Singapore’s Cultural Medallion in 2015. Constance Singam recently published her memoir, Where I Was: A Memoir From the Margins.
"I am thrilled to be part of the panel of judges along with Philip Holden and Haresh Sharma," says Constance. "It's an exciting time for fiction writing in Singapore, and I'm eager to see who we will be offering the Prize to."
First launched in 2015, the Epigram Books Fiction Prize is Singapore’s richest literary prize, boasting an award of $20,000 and a book publishing contract for the winning entry.
Last year’s winner was short story writer O Thiam Chin, whose book, Now That It’s Over will be published in May. Finalist Sebastian Sim’s Let’s Give It Up for Gimme Lao! is now available at all major bookstores, while Death of a Perm Sec by Wong Souk Yee and Sugarbread by Balli Kaur Jaswal will be released in the coming months.
The Epigram Books Fiction Prize is now open to all Singaporeans citizens, Singapore Permanent Residents, and ex-Singaporeans. Manuscripts must be original, unpublished and uncontracted work, and should have a word count of about 40,000 words or more to be eligible.
The closing date for manuscript submissions is Wednesday, 31st August 2016. The shortlist will be announced 2 months later, and the winner named in a gala dinner in early December.
For more information about the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, please visit http://ebfp.epigrambooks.sg.
For media enquiries, please contact us at email@example.com or call +65-6292-4456.
The Epigram Books Pop up store is here again. Drop by for fun-filled activities and massive discounts.
We are pleased to announce that the winner of this year's Epigram Books Fiction Prize is O Thiam Chin, with his manuscript “The Infinite Sea”. He was up against fellow competitors Balli Kaur Jaswal (“Sugarbread”), Sebastian Sim (“Let’s Give It Up For Gimme Lao!”) and Wong Souk Yee (“Expelled”).
This decision was made by a judging panel that consisted of NUS professor Philip Holden, bestselling author Adrian Tan, leading actress Janice Koh and Epigram Books’ CEO Edmund Wee. Described as giving insight into “how little we know the people whom we are in relationships with”, The Infinite Sea drew praise for its compelling plot, the quality of its writing and the strength of its character development.
Thiam Chin beat out a total of 68 other manuscripts submitted over a period of six months. “The Infinite Sea” will be published by Epigram Books and is set to be published early next year.
About the Prize
Making headlines upon its announcement, the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize is the richest literary award in Singapore. With a prize of $20,000 and a publishing contract with Epigram Books, this award is to be given to a Singaporean, Singaporean permanent resident or Singapore-born author for the best manuscript of a full-length, original and unpublished novel written in the English language.
For more information about the the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, or for any queries, please visit epigrambooks.sg or contact Clara How at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015 - Announcement of Shortlist
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
We are pleased to announce the names of the four shortlisted authors of the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize. In no particular order, these are the finalists:
Balli Kaur Jaswal (b. 1983) is the author of Inheritance for which she was named “Best Young Australian Novelist” in 2014 by the Sydney Morning Herald. She grew up in Singapore, Japan, Russia and the Philippines. Last year, she was the National Writer-in-Residence at Nanyang Technological University. She recently moved to Istanbul, Turkey to join the faculty at an international school.
O Thiam Chin (b. 1977) is the author of four collections of short stories and one collection of flash fiction. He was shortlisted for the 2014 Singapore Literature Prize for Fiction. He is currently working as a freelance writer and editor while working on his latest story collection “Signs of Life”. The shortlisted manuscript is his first novel and was started in 2010.
Sebastian Spore (pseudonym, b. 1966) has published three Chinese novels under the pen name of Yueguan Ming. He is currently working in a community club as an executive, and has also tried his hand as a backpacker, bartender, insurance salesman and prison officer. The shortlisted manuscript is his first English novel.
Wong Souk Yee (b. 1958) holds a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of New South Wales in Sydney and is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Centre for English Language Communication, National University of Singapore. She was a founding member of the now- defunct theatre group, Third Stage, and is also a playwright. She stood unsuccessfully in the recent 2015 General Election under the Singapore Democratic Party.
For the sake of an unbiased assessment, the scripts will be judged blind and the titles will not be released to the public until our award ceremony.
These four authors were shortlisted by the Epigram Books’ staff with the help of two external assessors. The submissions were judged based on the use of language, storyline, plot structure, character development and effective dialogue. The shortlisted manuscripts demonstrate excellent and varied ways of fulfilling these criteria.
“We were impressed by the quality of the submitted manuscripts, especially by unknown writers,” comments a representative of Epigram Books. “This, plus the wide range of genres covered, proves that there is still much to be discovered about the Singapore literary scene.”
The judging panel will be reviewing the shortlisted manuscripts and will come to a decision on the final winner.
The winner of the prize will be announced at an award dinner on 5 November 2015 (Thursday), at the Pan Pacific Singapore. It will be attended by the shortlisted candidates, our judging panel, our sponsors, key representatives of the publishing industry and members of the media.
About the Prize
The Epigram Books Fiction Prize is the richest literary award in Singapore. With a prize of $20,000 and a publishing contract with Epigram Books, this award is to be given to a Singaporean, Singaporean permanent resident or Singapore-born author for the best manuscript of a full-length, original and unpublished novel written in the English language.
The judging panel will be chaired by Epigram Books’ CEO Edmund Wee. He is joined by NUS professor Philip Holden, leading actress Janice Koh and bestselling author Adrian Tan.
For more information about the the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, or for any queries, please visit epigrambooks.sg or contact Clara How at email@example.com.
For anyone out there who is as crazy about numbers as we are,
here's a handy infographic on the EBFP 2015 manuscript submissions.
EPIGRAM BOOKS FICTION PRIZE 2015 JUDGING PANEL NAMED
For Immediate Release
SINGAPORE, 15 April 2015—We are pleased to announce the names of the three persons who will join the judging panel for the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2015.
They are Philip Holden, Adrian Tan and Janice Koh who will join the panel chaired by Edmund Wee, the publisher and CEO of Epigram Books.
Philip Holden is a professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore. His research specialisation is in Southeast Asian and transnational literatures, as well as postcolonial and gender studies. He has published many academic articles on Singapore literature and co-edited Writing Singapore: An Historical Anthology of Singapore Literature. On his appointment to the panel, Prof Holden says: “Singapore has produced a number of superb poetry and short story collections over the last two decades. We haven’t yet seen a new generation of novelists make such a strong impact. I very much hope that this pathbreaking prize will mark the beginning of a revival in the novel’s fortunes, and I’m honoured and excited to have the chance to read the submitted manuscripts.”
Adrian Tan is the author of the best-selling novels The Teenage Textbook and The Teenage Workbook. He wrote them over 20 years ago when he was an undergraduate. They sold over 50,000 copies and the first was made into a movie and later stage play. This year, it was selected by The Business Times as one of the top 10 English Singapore books published in the last 50 years. He has also been described as “a tenacious litigator with two decades of experience.” Of his appointment as a judge, he says “I am honoured to accept your invitation to be a judge. This should be fun.”
Janice Koh is a leading stage and television actress. She won the Life! Theatre Best Actress Award in 2003 and was nominated again in 2008. In 2010, her performance as an ambitious lawyer on the MediaCorp legal drama, The Pupil earned her an Asian Television Awards nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. More recently, she played the quirky mom of Amos Lee in the television series based on Adeline Foo’s The Diary of Amos Lee series of books. She was the last Nominated Member of Parliament for the arts. She says of her appointment as a judge, “I would be honoured to be part of the judging panel.”
Edmund Wee is the founder of Epigram Books. In 2008, he was recognised for his contribution to design in Singapore when he was named Designer of the Year in the President’s Design Award. He started Epigram Books in 2011 to champion Singapore literature.
For interview opportunities or further media enquiries, please contact Ilangoh Thanabalan at firstname.lastname@example.org or +65 6292 4456.
After hosting the internationally acclaimed writers Miguel Syjuco and Meira Chand for the first two editions of The Finer Art of Editing, we’re so proud to announce the next three authors who’ll share their international editing experiences with the extended Singapore Literature family. Joining us next for our monthly mixer series are: Tash Aw (8 May), Githa Hariharan (29 May) and Robin Hemley (26 June)!
If you don’t know already, Tash Aw has been longlisted for The Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novels, The Harmony Silk Factor and Five Star Billionaire. Writer-editor Githa Hariharan’s first novel, The Thousand Faces of Night, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and her work now also encompasses short stories, essays, newspaper articles and columns. Former director of the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Programme Robin Hemley has won a Guggenheim Fellowship and many other awards for his 11 books (our personal favourite is Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness).
All three star-studded sessions are open to every Singapore publisher—especially those with a literary fiction arm—and will start at 7.30pm on those three Friday evenings here at Epigram Books
. Please note that there will be no session in April as there are two in May. Do RSVP with our Sales Manager Ilangoh Thanabalan at ‘email@example.com
’ if your publishing house is keen to join us for a complimentary evening of editing enrichment, snacks, drinks and conversations with some of the best writers in world literature.
- The Finer Art of Editing III with Tash Aw
- 8 May, Friday, 7.30pm, Epigram Books (1008 Toa Payoh North, #03-08, S318996)
- The Finer Art of Editing IV with Githa Hariharan
- 29 May, Friday, 7.30pm, Epigram Books
- The Finer Art of Editing V with Robin Hemley
- 26 June, Friday, 7.30pm, Epigram Books
Our long-running series, A Day in the Life, makes a long-awaited return with Dustin Wong’s entry! Until recently, Dustin was our intern and we miss him dearly. Few know that Dustin’s not only a published poet but an actively performing one too. Why, he even gave an an impromptu poetry recital at Queensway Secondary School’s English and Literature Appreciation Day while selling our books! So savour his words...
I suppose that I should explain my role in Epigram Books before I take you through a typical day in the office.
I am officially recorded as an ‘intern’ in the company archives. What that means in the context of Epigram Books is that I do everything from lugging cartons of books about the stock room to filling in vast and complicated data sheets with rather sensitive information.
It may seem like a fair bit too much to heft upon a mere intern but I’m not complaining. The work is challenging, but not impossible, and my colleagues are a friendly lot; we all get along just fine.
All in all, this internship has been turning out to be a rather enjoyable shindig. But I shan’t break into the details without flexing my withering literary muscles.
I present to you folks, a day in the life of Epigram Book’s sai kang warrior:
I trudge into the office, feeling the hairs on my arms rise in response to the sudden blast of frigid air hurtling out from the depths of the office interior. The office floor is gloomy, with cold, actinic light silhouetting those few colleagues of mine who have deigned it fit to come in this early in the morning.
There is a list of tasks two pages long inside my daily planner.
It’s going to be a long, long day.
The office is unusually chilly this morning. I pull my arms closer to my body, folding them across my chest in an attempt to preserve whatever little bodily heat I can.
Some have taken to blaming this oddly out of place cold on the monsoon season, pegging the drop in temperature to the storm clouds and raindrops rolling and falling across the land. Others whisper of catastrophic changes in the workings of the world, uttering phrases like ‘ozone depletion’ and ‘global warming’ in trepid voices.
I blame it on the two air conditioning units that my desk is sandwiched in between.
I am slouched over in my seat. My fingers are numb from the wintry drafts that blow me by as well as from jabbing away at an unresponsive keyboard. My temper frays with every spinning ball of doom that pops up on the screen of my Mac; there is a vein throbbing away beneath my right temple.
I glance at the time, so proudly displayed at the top right hand corner of the Mac’s screen, and find myself muttering some curse of ill taste beneath my breath my breath.
The words nearly drift past my lips in an effervescent cloud.
I find myself sitting in a secluded corner of the stock room at the back of the office. The air here is still and unmoving, and possessed little trace of the frigidity that so often pervades the main office space, with only the occasional chilly draft blowing by my cheeks every now and then.
I recline on the dusty concrete floor, and shut my eyes, in an attempt to make the most out of my lunch hour and catch up on my enormous sleep debt.
I hope a spider doesn’t find its way into my mouth.
I wake up coughing and sputtering.
There is a spider ihas found its way into my mouth.
“Dustin,” someone calls my name from the left.
Ilangoh is sitting in his chair, completely unaffected by the cold that plagues so usually me, given how none of the air conditioners were built to blow his way. One of his arms hangs casually off the back of his chair, while the other nurses a warm cup of coffee. A smirk peeks through his salt and pepper circle beard.
He is the sales manager of Epigram Books, armed with years of experience of working in the publishing industry. Due to reasons hitherto unknown to myself, Ilangoh and I are the only two people in the sales and marketing department.
“I need you to help me out,” he says as he passes me list, transferring paper from warm hands to frigid fingers, “I’ve got a list over here...”
I can almost hear the stock room and its spiders beckoning for me again in the background.
Half an hour later and I am walking out of the stock room, a cramped and narrow space tucked away at the back of the office, built for the express purpose for storing our many titles as well as copious amounts of dust.
A trolley, laden with books and cursed with squeaky axles trundles along in front of me. Dozens of books sway precariously on the bed of the trolley, having been stacked rather haphazardly in the interest of saving time.
I push the trolley to the other end of the office, this time without feeling the bitter sting of refrigerated air biting into my bones.
Manual labour has its own way of warming up the body after all.
I sink into my chair in front of my ailing iMac, beholding a neat little stack of sales reports and invoices to sift through and upload onto the corresponding Excel sheets.
A little quip from the mighty office manager, Boon, floats through the back of my mind at this point in time, a snarky little voice, muttering something along the lines of ‘thanks for being an EXCEL-lent intern’, right before a little rainbow ball of death pops up on the screen of my computer.
Yet another curse drifts past my lips in an effervescent cloud.
I am standing in the carpark right in front of the office block. A soft, warm tropical breeze caresses my face, taking with it the last of the chill that had settled within my bones during my time inside the office.
The door to the boot of Edmund’s car is open, swung wide, and I am loading box after box into it, each full of books pre-destined for some bazaar somewhere no doubt.
A little vein is throbbing away in my temple once again, but this time, it doesn’t beat to the pulse of frustration. Somewhere, depe in my veins, blood is surging forwards once again, called into action after being put into dormancy by the horrible cold put forward by the air-conditioning.
The vein throbs away, and as I shut the door to Edmund’s car and lock it with a note of finality, I find myself humming the chorus to some pop song whose title I can barely remember.
One more minute to go. The edge of my vision is turning blurry, and a small part of me wonders why everything seems to have taken on a chilly shade of blue. I rub my palms together, the action sending bits of hoarfrost to the floor, where they dissipate into tiny little spools of ice water.
I feel my teeth rattling in their roots, my jaw shaking involuntarily of its own accord. The howl of the air-conditioning system is all I hear now, and it is jeering at me, mocking my human frailty and a lifetime spent growing up in one the warmest climes in the world.
The world slowed to a crawl around me, even as the air-conditioner’s unrelentlng assault barrages my skin, cracking underneath what has to be a layer of ice. A slurry of regrets start to bubble forth from underneath the partially frozen grey matter beneath my skull. The world gradually edges its way into darkness, but I know I cannot die here.
It has been said that it is nigh impossible to die of hypothermia in Singapore. But still, even as I trudge from my seat to the door with shards of ice cracking and re-forming in my joints, I could not help but feel a nagging sense of unease pervade my weak but tenacious heart, that I have damnably close.
A little part of me wonders how all my other colleagues manage to even put up with the temperature in this frigid place.
I am off work now, far from the office and its evil air-conditioners inhospitable atmosphere, and quite thankfully, the air around here is warmer.
There is a cigarette in my battered fingers, and I take a drag from it, letting its heat fill my lungs before exhaling it through my nose, sighing incontentment as I do so.
“Note to self,” I find myself muttering under my breath.
“Bring a bloody jacket to work tomorrow.’
Thank you for coming to last night’s edition of The Finer Art of Editing—the second instalment after the inaugural session with Miguel Syjuco. Over the course of two hours, Meira Chand, the internationally acclaimed author of eight novels generously shared with us about how the UK editing landscape was like in the 1970s and 1980s, when she was published by the same imprint as Jane Austen herself.
Meira also related how her first editor sat down with her for five days, going over every word, sentence, paragraph and chapter—her greatest lesson in writing yet. Now, she edits her own manuscript before submitting it to publishers, like her latest, the Oprah’s Book Club selection A Different Sky (Random House, 2011), which Meira herself edited down from over 1,000 pages to its final 500 plus.
Our thanks also go out to NUS Press, Super Cool Books and NTU Centre for Contemporary Art for joining us. Do join us for April’s instalment of this complimentary evening of editing enrichment, snacks, drinks and conversations with some of the best writers in world literature. RSVP with our Sales Manager, Ilangoh Thanabalan, at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ today. Until then, keep reading!
SINGAPORE’S RICHEST LITERARY PRIZE LAUNCHED
For Immediate Release
SINGAPORE, 10 March 2015—Epigram Books is pleased to announce the launch of a new literary prize, the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.
The annual prize of S$20,000 is the richest literary award in Singapore. It is to be awarded to a Singaporean, Singaporean permanent resident or Singapore-born author for the best manuscript of a full-length, original and unpublished novel written in the English language. The first winner will be announced at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival in November 2015 and have his/her novel published by Epigram Books.
“We want to reward excellence in contemporary Singapore creative writing and to encourage the readership of high-quality Singapore literature by publishing the winning and shortlisted entries,” explains Edmund Wee, Publisher and CEO of Epigram Books.
The competition is now open for entries. The manuscript must be unpublished and uncontracted to a publisher. Four hard copies of the manuscript and a completed official entry form should be submitted by post or delivered by hand to Epigram Books at Block 1008 Toa Payoh North #03-08 Singapore 318996. The closing date for submissions is August 31, 2015, 6pm.
The judging panel will be chaired by Edmund Wee. The names of the other judges will be announced at a later date. For more information about the inaugural edition of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, or for any queries, please visit www.epigrambooks.sg.
For interview opportunities or further media enquiries, please contact email@example.com
or +65 6292 4456.
About Epigram Books
An independent publisher based in Singapore, Epigram Books is known for putting together well-designed and thought-provoking titles. It began as a division of the multiple award-winning communications design firm Epigram but registered as a separate entity in July 2011 to champion Singaporean literature.
It is best known for the middle grade series, The Diary of Amos Lee, which has sold over 240,000 copies worldwide. Other landmark publications include translations of Cultural Medallion winners and new editions of out-of-print classic Singaporean novels.
In 2014, a debut short story collection Epigram Books published, Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe, unanimously won the Singapore Literature Prize for English Fiction.
Epigram Books Fiction Prize
The Epigram Books Fiction Prize promotes contemporary Singapore creative writing and rewards excellence in Singapore literature. The annual prize is Singapore’s richest literary award. S$20,000 is awarded to the Singaporean, permanent resident or Singapore-born author for the best manuscript of a full-length, original and unpublished novel written in the English language. The competition is now open for entries. The first winner will be announced at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2015 and have his/her novel published by Epigram Books. Please download the official entry form and rules and regulations here.
We’re kicking off a monthly mixer called The Finer Art of Editing and all you publishing folks are invited. Renowned fiction writers, like the multiple award-winning Miguel Syjuco, will be dropping by to share their experiences in an engaging, informal and frank manner. Join us so we can all become even better editors of Singapore Stories.
At our inaugural session, Miguel kindly spent nearly two hours chatting about his publishing journey—how his debut novel Ilustrado won the Man Asian Literary Prize in its manuscript form—global book marketing practices and even the nitty-gritty details of the editing process at Farrar, Strouss and Giroux. Plus, he fielded Edmund’s embarrassing, Prosecco-fuelled questions.
In March, we’ll be hosting another exciting, internationally heralded novelist. Do contact our Sales Manager Ilangoh Thanabalan at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ if your publishing house is keen to join us for a complimentary evening of editing enrichment, snacks, drinks and conversations with some of the best writers in world literature.
We'll see you here soon!
It’s not easy to beat the food guide that has been dubbed “the best guide for serious street food aficionados” by Cuisine & Wine Asia’s Peter Knipp, but Dr Leslie Tay has done it again with the revised and updated edition of Only The Best! The ieatishootipost Guide to Singapore’s Shiokest Hawker Food.
In Only The Best!, Dr Leslie Tay takes his readers with him to taste the best of Singapore’s hawker food. The guide categorises these mouth-watering hawker dishes into 30 categories, ranging from the ever-popular Hainanese chicken rice to the slowly vanishing, traditional handmade muah chee. In this second edition, Dr Tay continues his quest to introduce the best hawker food, including new additions to the already comprehensive selection. This book is all one needs to discover the very best hawker food that Singapore has to offer.
Our marketing team here at Epigram Books managed to catch up with Dr Leslie Tay despite his numerous commitments. (Did you know that Dr Tay is a doctor, blogger, photographer, public speaker AND an author?)
Hi Leslie, how have you been recently?
Oh, I’m not really doing anything special at the moment, just working the usual routine—seeing patients in the morning and exploring food places in the afternoons.
Wow, just ‘the usual’ huh? I believe all of us here at Epigram Books are really curious about how you juggle your commitments as a doctor, author, food blogger, photographer and speaker, as well as your various media appearances.
(Laughs) When you are doing things that you are passionate about, they don’t feel like commitments. Writing about food and taking pictures of them are just my idea of fun.
Being a doctor is to follow your passion of helping others while writing about local hawker food is to focus on your passion of our local food dishes. Do you think it is possible to combine them and get the best of both worlds?
Actually they do overlap! When I write about a stall, leading to the forming of longer queues, I usually get a nice phone-call from the hawker, thanking me for my help. So in both medicine and food blogging I find that I can help people! However, these two activities do differ in terms of which part of the brain is active. Medicine is more of a left brain activity which relies on the analytical aspect of the mind while food blogging is more of an artistic right brain activity. Being able to do both brings balance to my life.
Singapore hawker food is known for its easy availability, short waiting time and general low pricing. What do you think of the Ultimate Hawker Fest—organised by you last year—which attempts to bridge the gap between cheap, low-pricing hawker food, and more expensive, better quality restaurant food?
The Ultimate Hawker Fest was an event where we invited local hawkers to cook their dishes, but with a twist. On that day itself, we provided them with top quality ingredients to prove that hawker dishes are not inferior to the expensive dishes we pay for in restaurants. After all, ramen is a common hawker food in Japan but when sold at Ramen restaurants, they can easily cost 20 dollars or more. With the rising prices in Singapore, Singaporeans cannot expect hawker food to remain cheap and still be able to deliver quality.
Some of the hawker dishes are doing rather well and have prospects for growth, as they can afford to sell at higher prices. Dishes such as chicken rice, bak kut teh and zi char can sell at more than the average $3 and have higher profitability. However, dishes such as char kway teow, which require individual time, effort, using only very low cost ingredients, will not be able to remain profitable for long. Also, dishes that can be cooked in a centralised manner such as fish ball noodles with the same fish ball distributor will also have a profitable future in Singapore. There are in fact, a lot of young people breaking into the Singapore hawker scene, as the risk is lower. The main concern however, is how to get them to cook local hawker food instead of hopping on to the “Aston’s” bandwagon.
How do you think we can preserve this food culture of Singapore, which is one of the reasons for Singapore’s popularity among travellers?
We can preserve and reinvent the recipes of our forefathers, cooking these existing dishes even better than them and catering them to the changes of society.
Many consider hawker food to be a dying trade, due to the younger generation being unwilling to take up this career, plus, the disapproval of their parents. As a parent yourself to James and Megan, do you see yourself allowing them to pursue a career in hawker food?
I have always told them that in whatever they do, as long as they are number 1, they will be rewarded for their effort. The same is true of hawker food. In society, everybody has a different passion and people should find jobs according to their passions. If my kids have a passion in this area, they can certainly pursue it with all their heart.
Your latest book, Only The Best! (2nd Edition), contains revised locations of certain hawker stores, as well as new recommendations for hawker food. Do you have anything else to say to your readers about this new-and-improved food guide?
There are not many food guides out there that take eight years to write! I made it a point to visit all the stalls myself to make sure that I only recommend the best stalls in order that our readers don’t waste their calories on yucky food. I hope that it achieves its goal.
Since we are on the topic of the Only The Best! food guide, why don’t you tell us three of YOUR favourite local hawker dishes that you featured in your guide?
Fried Hokkien mee from Geylang Lor 29, bak kut teh from Founder at Rangoon Road and char kway teow from Hillstreet Char Kway Teow.
- – – – -
Only The Best! The ieatishootipost Guide to Singapore’s Shiokest Hawker Food (2nd edition) is available in most major bookstores. Or get your hands on it here. To see the many more things Dr Leslie Tay is up to—or to feast your eyes on whatever he’s eating—visit his food blog, ieatishootipost.
Apart from being an established author, doctor, speaker and photographer, Dr Leslie Tay is also involved in doing his best to contribute to the less fortunate. Profits from his events are usually donated to Goducate to help the poor, help themselves.
Let’s be honest—11-year-old Danny’s secret life isn’t really a secret anymore. With two books out, and a third one slated for release this May, more and more people are reading about Danger Dan’s battles to right Singapore’s historical hiccups.
Danger Dan is also making waves outside of home—authors Monica Lim and Lesley-Anne are back from the Hong Kong International Young Readers Festival, where they shared about Danger Dan’s adventures, and what it takes to write them. With Danger Dan destined to soar even greater heights, what’s the real Danny like?
Our editorial assistant here at Epigram Books, Dan (yes, Dan, but just plain Dan) finds out.
Dan: Hi Danny! I’m Dan. Tell me how you came up with the name Danger Dan and your awesome superhero persona?
Danny: Hey, your name is Dan too? That’s awesomely awesome! Isn’t Dan the best name ever? We can be the superhero duo! We can be the Danger Dan…s. Danger Dans! Oh hang on, I forgot Melody. We can be the superhero triplet! Wait, that’s not right. What comes after duo? Never mind! What’s the question again?
Dan: Okaaay…moving on. I have one elder sister and you have three. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Danny: Amy is a blabbermouth. Betty is a geek. Candy is a pig. They’re all mean to me.
Dan: That’s not very nice, Danny.
Danny: They’re not very nice! Hey, why are we talking about them? They’re not important! Talk about me! Me, me, me!
Dan: In Danger Dan Confronts the Merlion Mastermind: Issue #1 you travel back in time to 1964 Singapore, then to 1947 in Danger Dan Tackles the Majulah Mayhem: Issue #2. Which time period did you like best?
Danny: 1947 wasn’t very fun. There wasn’t any food! But I got to meet Zubir Said and he said I had musical ears! 1964 was better. I went to the Van Kleef Aquarium! It was quite cool but we umm…had a little accident.
Dan: Actually, what does it feel like to time travel?
Danny: Very weird. Do you have any food?
Danny: But I’m hungry! Soooooo hungry! Can you buy a burger for me? Please? Pretty pleeeeease?
Dan: *mutters to himself and stomps off*
10 minutes later…
Dan: *returns and hands Danny a bag* Here’s your burger.
Danny: Thank you, Dan! You da bomb! Wait, I see something green. Ewww…you didn’t take out the pickle! *gingerly peels out the pickle* Did you get fries?
Dan: You seem to have a…huge appetite. How did the food of the past taste to you?
Danny: *munch* The laksa was great! *munch* The ice ball was great! *munch* The kacang puteh was great! The vegetables…not so great. *MUNCH*
Dan: You travel back in time with Melody, a mysterious girl from the future. Do you have a crush on her?
Danny: Yuck! Yuck! Why would I have a crush on her? She has such bad aim! Don’t tell her I said that. The person I like will be funny, sporty, have fantastic aim and play computer games!
Dan: I’ll tell your creators, Monica Lim, Lesley-Anne and James Tan, about that.
Danny: James should draw me with more muscles. How can I save Singapore with these scrawny arms? I don’t think it’s fair that Monica and Lesley-Anne gave Melody all the gadgets and gave me nothing. Must be because they’re girls!
Monica: Behave yourself, Danny. Or I’ll start calling you Ding Dong Dan in the books.
Danny: See? They bully me! And Lesley-Anne is an older sister, right? I don’t like older sisters!
Lesley-Anne: How would you like another sister in the next book, Danny?
Danny: Alright, alright! Fine, you win! You guys are awesome, ok? *sulks in corner*
Dan: *moves interview to corner* Tell us how their trips overseas with you went.
Danny: They did all the talking! I didn’t get to say anything! They left me in the hotel room and went to eat roast goose without me!
Dan: Okay, talk about your next adventure, Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate. What can we expect, and who on earth is this pirate?
Danny: Oh, it’s very exciting! I get to go on a pirate ship and I even meet Raffles! The human Raffles, not the statue! But he’s not the pirate! And Danger Dan meets his all-time nemesis, the Sinister Spyder, face-to-face for the first time. He’s quite a scary guy. If you want to find out how Danger Dan saves the day, you have to buy the books! And you have to like my Facebook page! Not just the page, you have to like every post! And every photo! And spam all your friends! And—
Dan: I think we’re done for the day. Thank you, Danny for that very…interesting interview.
Danny: You’re welcome, Dan! Thanks for the burger!
For a much more focused description of Danger Dan’s adventures, check out these links to Danger Dan Confronts the Merlion Mastermind: Issue #1, and Danger Dan Tackles the Majulah Mayhem: Issue #2. Don’t miss out on the release of Danger Dan Spooks the Peculiar Peranakan Pirate this May; you’re bound to catch it on Epigram Books’, or Danger Dan’s Facebook page.
“Brian organised for the body to be flown back”, Jolene Tan’s debut novel A Certain Exposure begins. From this unsettling start—tragedy met by administration—the story only grows in disquietude, encompassing within its cool grasp a suicide, burgeoning sexualities, fledgling romances and myriad forms of unfeeling as its cast of characters seek an answer to resounding grief.
Revolving around the adolescent years of twin brothers Brian and Andrew, A Certain Exposure alternates between their coming of age in Singapore and Cambridge, UK; the waning years of the LKY-led 1980s and the softer “heartware” of the 1990s. Newly published, Jolene Tan’s novel has already been hailed by author Sandi Tan (The Black Isle) as possessing “the feel of an essential Singapore classic”.
You may recognise Jolene’s name from her letters to the press. Educated at Cambridge University and Harvard Law School, she works for the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE), Singapore’s leading gender equality advocacy group. Some issues Jolene has addressed as part of her job include the need for regulation against workplace sexual harassment, abortion rights and in regard to the recent hijab question, “the right of every woman to choose what she wears”. A Certain Exposure marks the first time she has published her fiction writing.
In this email interview, we unravel the many layers of A Certain Exposure with her.
1. What drove you to write A Certain Exposure?
I’d always wanted to write fiction, but wasn’t confident that I could craft a good story. But then I read Still Life by A.S. Byatt, and it was one of the most pleasurable experiences of my life, somehow without featuring a story as I then understood the term: more a working through of dynamics, relationships and ideas. And I thought, right, this was well worth reading, and something like that would be well worth writing—so why not give it a shot.
So A Certain Exposure was me working through longstanding preoccupations about how much of ourselves we can afford to reveal or conceal, when prejudice and hierarchy can make opening ourselves up risky, but the apparent refuge offered by conformity is also more dangerous than it seems.
2. With this being your first book, what was the writing process like?
I wrote the first draft between the summer of 2009, when I was living in London, and the spring of 2012, when I was living in Heidelberg, Germany. Everything else—chatty emails, angry letters—I write pretty quickly, but with fiction I am agonisingly slow. I can’t bring myself to churn out words in a messy draft and come back later; I have to continually polish as I go along, like some kind of pedantic cowrie. A sentence can take an hour to happen, and then ultimately unhappen. I also get obsessive about researching certain points, or repetitively acting out movements, gestures and speech descriptors to check that they make sense. These things then become single lines or even two words of background detail. So basically I’m really slow.
3. So what did it feel like, in three words, when you finally saw A Certain Exposure in print?
A friend said she would have pissed herself in my position, so I guess my three words are “Remarkably continent, considering.”
4. Like the protagonist Andrew, you studied at Cambridge University. How much of A Certain Exposure is based on your real-life experiences, and/or the people you know?
I was very conscious of not wanting to write an autobiographical first novel. The book is resolutely fiction and nobody in it maps easily onto anyone I know. But I see something of me in all the characters, including the more unsympathetic ones, and many of the petty and not-so-petty cruelties in the book are based on things I have seen or heard.
5. You chose a pretty evocative title. How did it come about?
“Exposure” is a word which encompasses many of the themes that I had in mind: in particular, the danger that comes with revealing oneself in a hostile world, but also the notion of a risk that could carry a reward, such as connection or understanding or support. A lot of the book is about people trying to manage these tensions—to decide on just how much they can bring themselves to reveal or conceal—and the notion of a search for certainty is ironically reflected in the title. It’s obviously also a photographic pun, referring to a particular picture which plays a pivotal role in the plot. (How many more ‘p’s can I get into that sentence?)
6. You’ve written plenty about books on your website. What are your literary sources of inspiration?
I can’t say ‘inspiration’ is something I feel very much, but I guess writers who have achieved things that especially awe and resonate with me include: A.S. Byatt, Alison Bechdel, Yiyun Li, Greg Egan, Edward St Aubyn and China Miéville. (A very white list, I know; I’m working on broadening my reading habits.)
7. Speaking of, what do you miss most about living in England, and why?
The countryside. I’m sure this is partly or entirely a function of being a brainwashed postcolonial child, but the British countryside has a comforting human scale—in size, temperature, colours, walkability and textures—that nothing else in my experience matches.
8. Closer to home, what issues in Singapore concern you the most?
I’m professionally obliged to be mostly preoccupied by women’s rights, but fortunately that covers a lot of territory. Otherwise, the disempowerment of children bugs me a lot, and I have a long-standing interest in penal reform—I used to work for a prisoners’ rights organisation.
9. Do you have a favourite work of Singapore literature?
I don’t have strong opinions about a favourite, but of what I’ve read recently, I’ve really enjoyed Tania de Rozario’s Tender Delirium. I’m also a fan of the poetry I’ve heard from members of the spoken word troupe Sekaliwags.
10. It might be too early to tell, but do you already have a second book in mind? And if so, have you started writing it?
I’ve had too much going on in my life lately to have the bandwidth! I have, however, been working on a short story for two years (see the bit where I’m really slow). It helps that my husband is incredibly supportive and goes out of his way to create time for me. I would love to write a second novel; it’s just going to take a bit of time.
Experience A Certain Exposure with a reading by Jolene Tan and a Q&A hosted by Teng Qian Xi.
BooksActually, 17 April 2014, 7.30pm.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Winner of the Red Dot Book Awards 2013-2014
1st Place, Younger Readers’ Category
Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low, illustrated by drewscape
The first instalment of popular children’s book series, Sherlock Sam, has bagged first place in the Young Readers’ category of the Red Dot Book Awards 2013-2014.
Hosted by the International School Libraries (ISLN) in Singapore, the Red Dot Book Awards were created to recognise titles enjoyed by students of various ages. Books judged under the Younger Readers’ category are targeted at children aged 7-10 years old. Winning titles are chosen based on readers’ votes.
We are also honoured that Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong is the only local title that has snagged a Red Dot award, across its four categories.
For interviews with the creators, review copies, or further media enquiries, please contact Ilangoh Thanabalan at email@example.com, or at +65 6292 4456.
ABOUT THE SHERLOCK SAM SERIES
Meet Singapore’s greatest kid detective, Sherlock Sam. With his robot sidekick Watson, and a loyal group of friends, Sherlock Sam will stop at nothing to solve the case, no matter how big or small!
Hailed as a “worthy successor to beloved child sleuths like Encyclopedia Brown and Cam Jansen” by renowned author E.C. Myers, Sherlock Sam has enjoyed wild success, selling more than 14,000 copies in its first year of publication. The series is set in areas of interest in Singapore and the region, featuring delicacies, landmarks and other cultural aspects that are uniquely Southeast Asian. Catch up with Sherlock Sam’s latest happenings here.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
The writers behind the pseudonym A. J. Low are the husband-and-wife team, Adan Jimenez and Felicia Low-Jimenez. Born in California, Adan moved to Singapore after graduating from New York University with an English Literature degree. He previously co-wrote a children’s book, Twisted Journeys #22: Hero City. Felicia was born and raised in Singapore. She has a graduate degree in Literary Theory, and the Sherlock Sam series is Felicia’s debut writing effort, after accumulating years of experience buying, selling and marketing books.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
drewscape (Andrew Tan) is a freelance illustrator from Singapore. He illustrates and draws storyboards for advertising agencies as well as for magazines. He enjoys creating comics purely for the fun and challenge of it.
ALSO IN THE SHERLOCK SAM SERIES
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Winner of the 7th International MANGA Award (Bronze)
Ten Sticks and One Rice by Oh Yong Hwee, illustrated by Koh Hong Teng
Singapore, 24 February 2014—Epigram Books is thrilled to announce that Ten Sticks and One Rice by Oh Yong Hwee and illustrated by Koh Hong Teng has been awarded an International MANGA Award (Bronze).
Initiated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan and organised by the International MANGA Award Executive Committee with the co-operation of The Japan Cartoonists Association, the International MANGA Award has been established to honour MANGA artists who contribute to the promotion of MANGA overseas.
The 7th International MANGA Award received 256 entries from 53 countries. We’re proud that Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng’s graphic novel is the only Singaporean winner. The full list of winners is available here.
Join us in honouring the creators of Ten Sticks and One Rice. An award presentation ceremony cum book-signing session will take place on March 2 2014 (Sunday), 2pm, at the Kinokuniya Singapore Main Store.
For interviews, review copies, or further media enquiries, please contact:
Ilangoh Thanabalan | Sales & Marketing Manager, Epigram Books
firstname.lastname@example.org, +65 6292 4456
ABOUT TEN STICKS AND ONE RICE
Illegal bookie. Secret society member. Street hawker. Neo Hock Seng is all these, and more. As Singapore transforms from a kampong to a cosmopolitan city, Hock Seng struggles to make sense of life and eke out a living, even as he finds his old ways and values increasingly challenged. Reviewed by Akshita Nanda of The Straits Times, Ten Sticks and One Rice was called “incredibly moving and rejuvenating…It has been a while since a book left me sobbing in the middle of the night”.
Ten Sticks and One Rice is part of Epigram Books’ 2012 initiative to publish a collection of graphic novels by a group of Singapore-based creators—from seasoned comics veterans to fresh, emerging talents—challenging readers (Singaporean or otherwise) to see themselves and Singapore with humour, wonder and curiosity. In 2013, a short story featured in Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise by drewscape, published by Epigram Books, was nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award for Best Short Story.
In 2015, Eisner-nominated and Young Artist Award-winner Sonny Liew will also be published by Epigram Books with The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye. In addition, Koh Hong Teng’s graphic novel Last Train from Tanjong Pagar will also be published as part of this initiative.
The Singapore-based publisher Epigram Books is on the watch for other comics talents and is keen to receive manuscript submissions for graphic novels and comics.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oh Yong Hwee is the CEO and Creative Director of Patroids Creative Works, a Singapore-based creative agency. He enjoys the challenge of conceptualising ideas that blend creativity and technology, and has won awards and accolades on the local, regional and international stage. In July 2011, Yong Hwee and Hong Teng were invited by The Straits Times to imagine how a Singapore superhero would be like. Yong Hwee earned his BSc in Computing from the University of London while serving as a naval officer in the Singapore Navy.
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
Koh Hong Teng is a comic artist and painter based in Singapore. He published the graphic novels Gone Case Book 1 and 2 with writer Dave Chua in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In 2011, he was one of the recipients of the Arts Creation Fund from the National Arts Council. In 2012, he was commissioned by the National Library Board to illustrate a 16-page comic story for the irememberSG project. He is also an external examiner at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts for final year projects in Illustration Design.
Make a list of your top ten favourite books.
We are not very good with numbers.
Some were good and stuck to the ten requested. Others, cheated with parentheses. And then, true to the love we have for books, many just could not whittle their list down. Just as we all have different favourites, we all had different ways of expressing ourselves as well so here are our lists, with parentheses, comments and all.
Drown by Junot Díaz
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Matilda by Roald Dahl
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
Anansi Boys (and The Graveyard Book and Neverwhere heh) by Neil Gaiman
Ender Series by Orson Scott Card
Chrestomanci Series by Diana Wynne Jones
A Fractured Mind: My Life with Multiple Personality Disorder by Robert B Oxnam
Drina Series by Jean Estoril
To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite
The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien
Heart of Darkness (not exactly a favourite but a stuck in my head book) by Joseph Conrad
After the Fire by Boey Kim Cheng
Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli
Complete Plays by Sarah Kane
Complete Works by Harold Pinter
One Fierce Hour by Alfian Sa’at
The City of Forgetting by Gopal Baratham
The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The Three Theban Plays by Sophocles
The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro
Edmund’s Favourite Books of 2012 and 2013
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
The Dinner by Herman Koch
In One Person by John Irving
Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
The Infatuations by Javier Marias
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Hothouse by Boris Kachka
HHhH (debut novel) by Laurent Binet
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes
A Hologram for a King by Dave Eggers
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
Ancient Light by John Banville
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Fav African author – Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.
Book I read every Dec – Frederick Forsyth, The Day of the Jackal.
Fav Book that was made into a Play – Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman.
Fav Singapore published book – Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story, From Third World to First.
Fav Philosophical Book – Michael Sandel, What Money Cant Buy.
Fav Parable – Spencer Johnson, Who Moved My Cheese.
Fav Biography – Allan Hoe, David Stirling, the Authorised Biography of the Founder of the SAS.
Fav Thrillers – Tom Clancy, Rainbow Six and The Hunt for Red October…I took almost four years to read the former.
Fav Non Fiction Title – Victor Ostrovsky, By Way of Deception.
Fav Indian Author – Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things.
Fav Classics – Thomas Hardy, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Charles Dickens, Great Expectations and Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.
Fav Jeffrey Archer – Prisoner of Birth and Not a Penny More Not a Penny Less.
Fav Author I followed and then gave up on – Richard Marcinko, The Rogue Warrior Series.
Fav Self Help Book – Yu Dan, Confucious From the Heart.
Fav Ian Fleming – From Russia With Love.
Fav Mafia Themed Book – Mario Puzo, The Godfather.
Fav Author read during my childhood – Franklin W Dixon, The Hardy Boys, think read ‘em all till 1983.
Fav Singapore set book authored by a Caucasian – Noel Barber, Sinister Twilight.
Fav Flawed Characters in crime literature – Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Outside the Dog Museum by Jonathan Carroll
The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem
Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link
The City and the City by China Miéville
The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender
The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
Invitation to a Beheading by Vladimir Nabokov
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
The Sacred Book of the Werewolf by Victor Pelevin
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories by Vandana Singh
Corrupting Dr. Nice by John Kessel
The Five Wonders of the Danube by Zoran Živković
Alabaster by Caitlín R. Kiernan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera
The Complete Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Drawing Out The Dragons: A Meditation on Art, Destiny, and the Power of Choice by James A. Owen
UBIK and The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
At Home by Bill Bryson
Issola by Steven Brust
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Hitchhiker’s guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
The Way Back Home by Oliver Jeffers
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories by Joseph Gordon-Levitt
You Cannot Count Smoke by Cyril Wong
Fool’s Fate by Robin Hobb
About a Boy by Nick Hornby
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Room by Emma Donoghue
Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke
One Day by David Nicholls
Man and Boy by Tony Parsons
Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho
Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman
Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Riechl
Wild Swans by Jung Chang
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston
Understanding People by Larry Crabb
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault and Lois Ehlert
Henri’s Walk to Paris by Leonore Klein and Saul Bass
The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Room by Emma Donoghue
She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb
(NB: It’s very hard for me to whittle my list down to just these…and these are some of the ones that I am remembering at the moment…and I’m sure there will be more favorites that I have not yet read….)
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
To the Wedding by John Berger
Impossible Object by Nicholas Mosley
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami
Turtle Diary by Russel Hoban
Teacher by Sylvia Ashton-Warner
Broken Vessels by Andre Dubus
The One-Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka
The Inland Sea by Donald Ritchie
Wen Yeu’s Favourites
Sam, Sebbie and Di-Di-Di by David Seow
Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise by drewscape
The Girl Under the Bed by Dave Chua and Xiao Yan
Scenegapore by miel
Myth of the Stone by Gwee Li Sui
一年甲班34号 － 恩佐
妖怪模范生 － 恩佐
The New Sweater by Oliver Jeffers
The Rock and the Bird by Chew Chia Shao Wei
Curious George Series
Thanks to the hardwork of Aditi (Graphic Novels Editor) and Ilangoh (Sales and Marketing Manager), you can now buy four of our graphic novels, in digital form, on iTunes!
Now available in the following 12 countries:
Australia Belgium Canada France
Germany Japan Luxembourg New Zealand
Sweden Switzerland United Kingdom United States
Simply log on with your iTunes account, search for Epigram Books and click “Buy”.
More about the books can be found on the individual pages below:
Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise
Ten Sticks and One Rice
Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng
The Girl Under the Bed
Dave Chua and Xiao Yan
Singapore’s favourite toilet diarist is back! And this time, he’s reporting from much more far-flung locales. First stop: Taipei, Taiwan!
Take part in “The Weird and Wonderful Photo Contest” and stand a chance to win one of ten special hardcover editions of The Travel Diary of Amos Lee: Lost in Taipei and tea with the creators of Amos Lee!
We can’t wait to see your photos!
We’re celebrating Christmas with unbelievable prices at our Christmas Pop Up Store!
Come and do all your holiday shopping with us. It’s time to share the love of books this holiday season.
What can you expect?
Well, we’ve released 20 NEW TITLES since August and these include:
- Plusixfive: A Singaporean Supper Club Cookbook
- Five Children’s Picture Books
- Three additions to our Cultural Medallion Series
- Four new Literary Fiction Titles
And many more!
Plus, a total of 30 NOTBOOKS to choose from (Secret Santa gifts anyone?).
P.S. “I’m Not Kiasu, I’m Singaporean” is in stock!
Please note: All sales are on CASH TERMS ONLY
10 am – 6 pm
7th and 8th December 2013
1008 Toa Payoh North
We hope to see you then!
It can be a little difficult to find us to here’s some help
We Love Toa Payoh | Sam, Sebbie and Di-Di-Di: At the Night Safari | Penghulu
Sam, Sebbie and Di-Di-Di: At the Night Safari | Only the Best! | Myth of the Stone: 20th Anniversary Edition
Ministry of Moral Panic | The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One | The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza | Clear Brightness
The Good, the Bad and the PSLE | Confrontation | The Short Stories & Radio Plays of S. Rajaratnam
The Robot in My Playground | The Crane and the Crab | Mum’s Not Cooking
New Titles, New Voices in local fiction and More Variety than ever!
With an increasingly diverse repertoire, Epigram Books is presenting its largest collection of books at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival! In addition, we have 28 authors, illustrators and translators who are in the festival’s programme in various capacities. We are very excited for the Singapore Writers Festival 2013 and are glad to share this excitement with you!
This year we worked with established authors to publish Cyril Wong’s first novel, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza, and the 20th Anniversary Edition of Gwee Li Sui’s Myth of the Stone. In addition, new voices are being presented in The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One and Amanda Lee Koe’s Ministry of Moral Panic. On top of all this, we have brand new Children’s Picture Books and additions to our Cultural Medallion series.
At the Singapore Writers Festival 2013, we will be launching 10 new titles under the “Brand New Books” segment. Spread across two days, our authors, editors, illustrators and translators will be at the Festival Pavillion (SMU Green) on 2 and 9 November 2013.
2 November 2013, Saturday
1130 – 1230
Ministry of Moral Panic – Amanda Lee Koe
The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One
The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza – Cyril Wong
1430 – 1530
Tibby, the Tiger Bunny – Emily Lim | Illustrator: Jade Fang
The Robot in My Playground – Pauline Loh | Illustrator: Avina Tan
Myth of the Stone: 20th Anniversary Edition – Gwee Li Sui
9 November 2013, Saturday
1130 – 1230
Other Cities, Other Lives – Chew Kok Chang | Translator: Shelly Bryant
Durians are Not the Only Fruit – Wong Yoon Wah | Translator: Jeremy Tiang
1430 – 1530
The Tower – Isa Kamari | Translator: Alfian Sa’at
Confrontation – Mohamed Latiff Mohamed | Translator: Shafiq Selamat
ABOUT THE BOOKS
Myth of the Stone: 20th Anniversary Edition by Gwee Li Sui
Gwee Li Sui’s Myth of the Stone, first published in 1993, is an endearing tale of one unlikely hero’s journey through an unfamiliar landscape. This 20th Anniversary Edition of Singapore’s first full-length graphic novel in English comes with improved art and bonus features.
The Epigram Books Collection of Best New Singaporean Short Stories: Volume One Edited by Jason Erik Lundberg
The best short fiction published by Singaporean writers in 2011 and 2012. Here are twenty unique and breathtaking literary insights into the Singaporean psyche, which examine what it means to live in this particular part of the world at this particular time.
The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza by Cyril Wong
A retiring teacher reflects on her long career, and discovers a truth that will completely overturn her perceptions. The stunning first novel from award-winning poet Cyril Wong, The Last Lesson of Mrs de Souza is a tour de force, an exceptional examination of the power of choice and the unreliability of memory.
Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe
A fresh collection of short fiction that transgresses the normal and examines the improbable necessity of human connection. Told in strikingly original prose, these are fictions that plough, relentlessly, the possibilities of understanding Singapore and her denizens discursively, off-centre. Ministry of Moral Panic is an extraordinary debut collection and the introduction of a revelatory new voice.
Confrontation by Mohamed Latiff Mohamed | translated by Shafiq Selamat
Seen through the unique perspective of the young Malay boy Adi, this fundamental period in Singaporean history is brought to life with masterful empathy. In the tradition of Ben Okri’s The Famished Road and Anita Desai’s The Village By the Sea, Confrontation is an incredible evocation of village life and of the consequences that come from political alignment.
Tibby, the Tiger Bunny by Emily Lim | illustrated by Jade Fang
In this cheerful tale about fitting in and acceptance, Tibby, a black-and-orange striped rabbit changes the minds of other rabbits after he shows them what he’s really made of.
Robot in My Playground by Pauline Loh | illustrated by Avina Tan
Lucas loves robots. Especially the robot in the playground by his house. He wishes that robot would wake up, so that Lucas can play with him. And one night, he does!
ABOUT THE CULTURAL MEDALLION SERIES
The Cultural Medallion is Singapore’s highest cultural award, given to those who have achieved artistic excellence in the areas of literature, dance, music, theatre and art. Epigram Books’ Cultural Medallion series is a commitment to bringing works written in native tongues to a wider audience. Matching the acclaimed writers with talented translators such as Alfian Sa’at, Shelly Bryant and Jeremy Tiang, these books are being made available to an English-language audience for the first time.
Following the launch of the first five titles in our Cultural Medallion series at the Singapore Writers Festival 2012, Epigram Books is launching three new titles this year!
Other Cities, Other Lives by Chew Kok Chang | translated by Shelly Bryant
A collection of mini-fiction by Cultural Medallion-winner Chew Kok Chang. Told in the elegant, spare style of a Chinese scholar, Chew’s micro-fiction reflects the voice of his generation, living through a time of immense change in the region.
Durians Are Not the Only Fruit: Notes from the Tropics by Wong Yoon Wah | translated by Jeremy Tiang
A collection of nature writing and essays about Malaysia and Singapore from scholar and Cultural Medallion-winner Dr Wong Yoon Wah. Both personal and informative, this selection of Wong’s essays is a stunning re-addition to the creative non-fiction landscape.
The Tower by Isa Kamari | translated by Alfian Sa’at
From Cultural Medallion-winner Isa Kamari comes a masterful tale of success and failure, which has been translated for the first time into English by Alfian Sa’at, his debut work of translation.
All books will be hitting bookshelves soon so keep an eye out at your favourite bookstore!
With these 10 new titles, we have a total of 28 authors, illustrators and translators at the festival this year.
ADELINE FOO, AJ LOW, ALFIAN SA’AT, ALVIN PANG, AMANDA LEE KOE, ANN PETERS, BOEY KIM CHENG, CHEW KOK CHANG, CYRIL WONG, EMILY LIM, GWEE LI SUI, ISA KAMARI, JADE FANG, JASON ERIK LUNDBERG, JEREMY TIANG, MOHAMED LATIFF MOHAMED, OH YONG HWEE, OVIDIA YU, ROBERT YEO, SHAFIQ SELAMAT, SHERMAY LOH, STEPHANIE YE, EDWIN THUMBOO, MARANNA CHAN, PAULINE LOH, WEI FEN LEE, WONG YOON WAH, YU-MEI BALASINGAMCHOW.
Apart from the “Brand New Books” segment at the Festival Pavilion, many of our authors will be participating in the different programmes at various venues during the festival. One of which is the Sherlock Sam Treasure Hunt! On the 3rd and 9th of November, as part of the “Little Lit” programme, AJ Low will be conducting a Sherlock Sam Treasure Hunt.
We are very excited to be contributing so much to the Singapore Writers Festival this year and we hope to see you there!
One of our more controversial books is Glass Cathedral by Andrew Koh.
Winner of the Singapore Literature Prize Commendation Award, Glass Cathedral’s sensitive depiction of homosexuality in conservative Singapore is a landmark in local literature. This novella was part of a small wave of gay and lesbian – themed drama and fiction that appeared in Singapore during the early 1990s.
The following is a translation of an article by Edith Werner in LiteraturNachrichten Summer 2013.
Gay in the Glass Cathedral
Being homosexual in glitzy Singapore, one sits in a glass house. And if on top of that one is attracted to his priest, it becomes a glass cathedral. Andrew Koh has distilled his experience of running the gauntlet in the Asian Tiger’s conservative climate into a short novel. The classic love triangle is somewhat different: it involves two men and one man of God. Edith Werner spends time with the author and his book.
For the launch of the reprint of Glass Cathedral at the Singapore Writers Festival in 2011, the author flew in from Sydney. Shortly after the first publication of the novel in 1995, he immigrated to Australia and he does not want to come back. “I don’t want to be startled every time I am together with my boyfriend and the doorbell rings”, he explains. Even after a couple of loosening-up exercises during the past few years, Singaporean society is still quite conservative, and homosexual practices remain an actus reus. Surprisingly, Edmund Wee, director of Epigram Books, an ambitious, small literary publisher, dared to republish the book and put Andrew Koh in a series with Singaporean greats like Robert Yeo.
The back story of Andrew Koh’s alter ego, Colin Tan Seng Kuang, already greatly sets him apart from the Singaporean mainstream. He comes from a humble background and belongs to the catholic community of faith, a minority within his ethnically Chinese environment, which is predominantly influenced by Buddhism and Taoism. Accordingly, his ‘coming out’ also takes place in the strongly religiously moulded milieu of family, church, school, and youth groups. On the day of his communion, he sings “Onward, Christian Soldiers” with a burning heart, while the bearded, white-skinned Christ and the saint of the Asian mission, Francis Xavier, looks down upon him and the bishop blesses him. Come and experience God’s grace. All are welcome in the house of God, but is he welcome as well? On that very day, the rather shy boy has his first epiphany. Sitting a few rows ahead of him is another boy, who draws Colin’s gaze. They look at each other. A first fresh breeze. Not so in the catholic boys’ school. Sex out of wedlock is a sin, teaches Sister Mary, and Brother Cedric responds to one schoolboy’s question of whether masturbation is also a sin with lengthy passages from the Bible.
Pressured by the expectations of his loving but conventional parents, by the orthodox beliefs of his peers in his church’s youth group, and by his awakening sex drive, the adolescent flees to the charismatic, young Norbert Lim, a Franciscan priest who is known for being open-minded, sympathetic, and undogmatic. Concerned about the self-satisfaction and narrow-mindedness of Singapore’s catholic circle, the Father tries to push open as many doors as possible. He can even make Colin’s experience with the other boy in the pews compatible with his religious beliefs. God wants to show him beauty and love. Yet soon Colin is labeled a homo by his youth group peers, since one sees him together with Father Lim too often. And he is so sayang, so lovable. The future emotional storm makes itself known.
Relief is only first brought about by Colin’s entrance into university. Out of the cramped familial and church circle. New thoughts, new friends. Rani, the lively Indian girl who has already long cast aside her sari, could be his spouse if he had not realised in the meantime that he will probably never be together with a woman. James, the cool guy from one of Singapore’s most happening neighborhoods, whose openness and bluntness renders Colin speechless. Allurement, bliss, hidden joy. For the overbearingly curious Rani, they fabricate a girlfriend for James. The author truly unfolds a paper chase. Rani wants to meet Rose, and the two lovers are constantly forced to invent ever more far-fetched stories as to why Rose never shows. It is as enjoyable as it is oppressive. Even the bravest can’t afford openness if they don’t want to become outcasts. James is no longer as cool when he has to explain to his mother why he still has not brought a girlfriend home. For, a son and heir is required, without whom the well-to-do Chinese family would be lost, which despite also being catholic is prostrate to the veneration of the dead that pervades the island state’s syncretic faith-environment. James has as much trouble evading the net of lies as Colin.
Colin continues to keep in touch with Father Norbert. The Father is his confidant, his emotional support. He reveals himself to the Father—and vice versa! “There is nothing wrong with being gay. You, James, I, we are equally the church”. In view of his defiant avowal, Father Norbert is now just as helpless as Colin, since his church, his superiors still see it differently. And he loves Colin. But he must renounce, a word that for us sounds like it belongs in a 19th-century novel, but is by no means outdated in the prude Chinese milieu, where one tends to hide feelings rather than openly acting on them. The end strikes the reader unexpectedly. “Cool” James ultimately submits to the familial pressure and breaks up with Colin. “There is no future for us here”, is his resigned conclusion. He doesn’t only choose the convention. He also chooses the family. “One cannot experience the kingdom of God outside of family ties”, is the self-evident insight, given the strong family ties of the Singapore Chinese, that he finally manages to reach. And soon he runs into Colin with his arm around a smart, Chinese girl, naturally from the best circles of society. Rose, the white lie, once invented for Rani, has become flesh and blood. Does a real life exist within a wrong one? From now on James will avoid this question. The comforts of his home city’s well-coordinated social life will help him in doing so. There will be a glamorous wedding, the ancestors will be satisfied. Only Father Norbert frees himself from the shackles of convention and bigotry. He steps out of the Order and takes up a teaching job. Our shy hero remains how he has always been—completely at a loss and under the church’s bell jar. At least he now knows that he feels more than just emotionally attracted to his own sex. Will he also be able to finally free himself? The author does not divulge it to us. An open end.
His own response to the societal pressure—emigration—came much later. The thin novel’s publication caused a stir in Singapore. Andrew Koh went out on a limb with his brave literary ‘coming out’ and probably saw evasion to Australia as the only option; there he found enough countrymen. For many Singaporeans that feel penned up at home, even if they are not gay, Sydney is the preferred emigration destination. Andrew Koh’s own liberation was his deeply autobiographically tinted novel.
All of this has been put into the limelight a little too obediently, as is proper in Singapore. Even he who lives outside of the norm, always behaves nicely and dapperly in the Asian paragon country. Extremes are detested. Emotional releases are considered bad manners. Yet the conflict within the family, within groups of peers, and above all within the church is real. Even the unprejudiced Rani acknowledges the limits of her understanding in the first open conversation with Colin. “I can’t pretend that I share your experiences as a homosexual […] It is always easier to belong to the majority.” When Colin points out that as an Indian woman she also belongs to a minority, she draws the line between ethnic and sexual minority. For her, the sexual exclusion is tougher than the ethnic exclusion, at least in Singapore’s ethnically tolerant environment. Last but not least, what makes Glass Cathedral an unusual reading experience is the contrast between the light parlando of learned narrative tradition overflowing with hinting undertones and the severity of the conflicts that are dealt with. The confines are narrow, not just geographically, but also aesthetically and morally. The passion is tamed, the form agreeable, but the explosive force suffices to advise the author that emigration is the best solution. “It was not the best time to be catholic and gay”, sums up Robert Yeo in his preface.
Translated from the German by Jakob M. Jürgensen
How do you write a mystery book? We unravel the processes involved in the creation of young adult mystery series Triple Nine Sleuths with the author, local educator and first-time writer Maranna Chan. The first three books in the series, Dangerous Limelight, Dangerous Despair and Dangerous Island were released in the first half of 2013.
How did the Triple Nine Sleuths series come about?
It all started when my husband was trying to describe to me what a decomposed body smells like. He visited a friend that lived in a one-room where an elderly neighbour had died without anyone’s knowledge. He said the smell permeated the entire floor and even after a week, the smell still lingered. That sparked the beginning of book 1. I ended the first book with a cliffhanger and wanted to continue with the second book but when I told the story for book 2 to my husband, he said that should be the main plot that runs through a series and revealed only at the end. So that was how the idea for a series began.
How did you develop the characters Corey, Colton and Stacy?
The first draft was actually about Corey and Stacy only but I was given feedback that it would only appeal to girls and cut my readership to half so I added in Colton. Corey was going to be the smart, shy one and Stacy the funny, outgoing one. I decided if there was going to be a boy, he should be the one that wants to get to the bottom of things.
What makes the Triple Nine Sleuths series different from other mystery series for young adults?
Firstly, it’s set in Singapore. It’s fun to read about a mystery in a setting that’s familiar to us. Secondly, it’s fast-paced. The suspense often starts from Chapter 1. Thirdly, there is another mystery about Stacy’s parents that runs throughout the series.
How do you do research for your books? Do you rely a lot on technology, like the Triple Nine Sleuths? Or, are you inspired by the locations you visit, like St John’s Island in Book 3, Dangerous Island?
Like Colton and Corey, I live in Serangoon and there’s a Primary and Secondary school just next to my block. There’s a one-room type flat opposite my block, a basketball court below my flat, a new elderly care centre at a void deck of my neighbouring block. The NEX mall is close by and I often visit the library there. The places in my books are based on what’s around me. I used to visit St.John’s Island yearly…Till the bed bugs really got to me.
You’ve mentioned you enjoy crime shows on television. Which are your favourites? Do you draw from these in writing your books?
The Mentalist, Bones, Hawaii Five-O, CSI, Castle, Psych, NCIS. I usually like those that have some humor in them. Yes, definitely, they are written mainly in dialogue so they read like a television series. I think some readers would like something light and entertaining. That’s what the Triple Nine Sleuths series is.
You have a background in education, having worked with Montessori kids up till secondary school students.What advice would you give to parents who want to encourage their kids to read?
Start when they are very young. Read to them regularly even when they’re babies. Bond with your kids as you read to them and make it a pleasant experience. They will always have a good memory about reading and it will become a part of their lives.
What advice would you share with young aspiring writers?
Don’t let criticism discourage you but let it help you improve your work instead. Be humble and be willing to make changes to your work.
We’re now editing Book 4, Dangerous Schemes, and you’re hard at work on Book 5, Dangerous Message. Can you give us any hints about Corey, Colton and Stacy’s upcoming adventures?
Later in the series, Stacy will be framed for a murder. It also brings her closer to finding out what happened to her parents ten years ago. Look out for that one in Dangerous Mistakes.
For more information and updates on the Triple Nine Sleuths, click here.
This week, local literary giant Robert Yeo shares some thoughts on his work and his process of writing. At this juncture, Mr. Yeo has published The Adventures of Holden Heng and The Best of Robert Yeo with Epigram Books.
You write in many different genres: poetry, plays, fiction, memoir, libretti. Why have you explored so many different genres of writing over the course of your long writing career, rather than sticking to just one? Do you, for example, find yourself writing in different genres at different points in your life? And do you feel more comfortable in one genre over another?
I enjoy writing in a variety of genres because each genre poses challenges. Sometimes I go into another because of neglect for instance my plays, and then some one asks me to write a libretto, and I jump at the opportunity. Leow Siak Fah , founder of the Singapore Lyric Opera, asked me and John Sharpley to jointly write an opera sometime in 2003/04, and I welcomed it as I felt it provided me with the chance to combine the skills of poetry and drama. We co-wrote the opera Fences which was staged in August 2013.
Writing in several genres often overlap. I do not favour one genre over another, although poetry is a sentimental favourite because it is the first, whilst plays and opera are exciting because they get performed. Fiction, because it is now a dominant form, travels the best, I think. Memoirs represent another challenge, of selective remembering and also because, with exceptions, most autobiographies in Singapore are not well written.
There’s always been a performative aspect to your writing –playwriting, librettos. Was this an accident, or has there been a conscious decision on your part to explore writing for performance?
My interest in the performative aspects of writing was triggered by listening to the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg read in the Roundhouse in London in the late sixties. Ginsberg took reading out of the book, made it hip, spouting words to be performed rather than read between covers. I was thrilled, and after that my poems became freer, conversational, more aware of a live audience.
When I went on to write plays, and my first play was staged in 1974, it meant writing dialogue and being aware of the immediate impact of words as spoken.
I’m often struck by the links between poetry and music, or between poetry and spoken word and even rap music, in that poets, even more so than prose writers, have to pay a lot of attention to rhythm. What do you perceive are the links between poetry and music, or poetry and libretti, for example?
I learnt, early in writing poetry, of the importance of writing regular, employing the metres of English poetry. Writing free verse was a late development. Using regular feet in poetry imparted to lines a pronounced cadence, a musical quality approximating to music.
In writing libretti, especially arias, I used the various feet of traditional verse consciously. As an example, when I wrote my second libretto called Kannagi, performed in 2009, I combined the anapaestic and iambic feet in a line like this: “In the flush of first love when days were honey”.
There’s a very romantic, and even sensual aspect to many of the poems in your Best of collection. You mentioned in a recent interview that two subjects important to young men growing up are “love and death”, and that your first collection of poems was very concerned with these themes, but that one also has to be conscious of the fusion of the personal and the public or social. Do you think writers or poets have a responsibility to their readers to get outside of themselves? To engage with larger issues or reach wider audiences?
I will address the items posed in the last two questions in your long question. Yes, I think writers ought to address societal issues: by that I mean going beyond self, family, to nation and the world. The current word for this view is ‘global’. Thus my poems reflect my growing up in Singapore, residencies in England, Thailand, travel in Europe, America, Australia, engaging in international issues like the Vietnam War etc…In my case, it has all to do with fusing private and public concerns and thus investing my writings with concerns beyond the individual. I have spoken of this before often.
How many years have you been writing? What inspires you to keep at it, year after year after year?
I have been seriously writing since I graduated in 1962. Through the sixties and seventies, I had poems published in Singapore, Malaysia, US, New Zealand and India, and my first book, poems entitled Coming Home, Baby, was published in 1971 by Federal Publications. So, if you date my writing career from tht year, then I have been writing for just over four decades.
What inspires me to keep on going? Enjoyment, including the lonely moments of struggle with words. Keeping boredom at bay. A little vanity, I suppose.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Winner of the 2013 Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award
Where’s Grandma? By Edmund Lim and Illustrated by Tan Zi Xi
Singapore, 29 May 2013—Epigram Books is very proud to announce that Where’s Grandma? by Edmund Lim and illustrated by Tan Zi Xi has been awarded this year’s Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award (HABA).
The award is presented biennially for an outstanding book for children written by a Singaporean or PR. Its aims are to encourage the quality and quantity of books published for children, as well as promoting the publication of books set in a familiar and meaningful background that is relevant to children in Singapore.
Where’s Grandma? is a poignant tale of a boy’s struggles to come to terms with his beloved Grandma’s deteriorating condition due to Alzheimer’s disease. With Tan Zi Xi’s sensitive and understated illustrations, the book evokes powerful emotions in anyone who has dealt with the loss of their loved ones.
Where’s Grandma? was also selected for the 2012 READ Singapore! Campaign organised by the National Library of Singapore.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Edmund Lim is an educator who has taught in the National Institute of Education. Edmund enjoys reading and writing. He hopes that his storybooks will engage readers, young and old. His love for his grandparents and family, along with his desire to educate children, inspired him to write Where’s Grandma?
ABOUT THE ILLUSTRATOR
Tan Zi Xi studied at Central Saint Martins (London) on a DesignSingapore scholarship and currently works full-time as an independent illustrator. Zi Xi recently held her first solo exhibition at The Art Studio in Singapore. She has been recognized with several awards and commendations, and was a finalist in the London International Creative Competition 2010.
ABOUT MRS HEDWIG ANUAR
Mrs Hedwig Anuar was the first Singaporean Director of the National Library of Singapore, a position she held from 1960 until her retirement in 1988. Though she put in place the foundations of the modern library system in Singapore and made contributions to all aspects of library work, this award recognises her outstanding contribution to children’s librarianship and the promotion of books and reading for children.
“A heartwarming and well illustrated story”,
Ken Spillman, Chief Judge, HABA picture book Awards.
“I am glad and grateful for this award and pleased that our work will touch the lives of children and our society”,
Edmund Lim, 2013 Hedwig Anuar Children’s Picture Book Winner.
“I feel privileged to have worked with Edmund on this project, and I am pleased to know that the illustrations complemented so well the story that Edmund wrote”
Tan Zi Xi, 2013 Hedwig Anuar Children’s Picture Book Winner.
“We took a chance on a very important topic and both the authors and illustrator did a fantastic job”,
Edmund Wee, Publisher of Epigram Books.
“This is a fantastic win-win situation for Singapore literature and for Singaporean picture books”,
Sheralyn Tan, Editor of Picture Books, Epigram Books.
For further media enquiries, please contact Cathlin Anabella at email@example.com or at +65 6292 4456.
Recently, the (female) CEO of Yahoo’s decision to put an end to work-from-home arrangements sparked a fierce debate, particularly amongst working mothers and women who were hit hardest. Then, Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg released Lean In, a book in which some claim she “does what too many successful women before her have done: blaming other women for not trying hard enough” to achieve career advancement and work-life balance. Now, with the Ministry of Manpower’s family-friendly policies going into action closer to home, our Managing Editor Ruth reflects on her own journey of motherhood and work, and how much she enjoys currently being a part-time stay-at-home mum (PTSAHM)!
I recently had dinner with a friend who had just returned to work after her maternity leave. She, the naturally chatty and effervescent one, was recounting the travails of dealing with a newborn, establishing a good sleep routine, and breastfeeding, with great drama and humour. This was all stuff that I’m familiar with, having three kids of my own. The struggles of new moms are so similar, and we two had a terrific time laughing our heads off, thanking God that “things have now stabilised” after “six months of hell in the beginning” and then, quite naturally, my friend moved on to talk about her return to work. As a doctor, her work is demanding and these days, she hardly sees her baby girl. For a mere 30 minutes before bedtime. And that’s it.
“But it can’t be helped,” she said, trying to hide the disappointment in her tone. “That’s the life of a working mom. Too bad.”
A strange silence followed her statement. I wasn’t sure how to react, and so, didn’t react at all. We began talking about other things, and that was that.
But this issue of working and motherhood has been bothering me for a long time, and not just because of my friend’s comment. For me, it started way back. Perhaps it started with my own mum being a stay-at-home mum. She raised three kids by herself while Dad worked long hours, and on weekends. Or, perhaps it started with me studying in the US for four years, me being determined not to hang out with Singaporeans, and consequently, me making a lot of American friends who invited me to their homes and introduced me to their parents. I had friends who talked to their dads every night in college, as if they were chatting with their best friends. I had friends whose mums were homemakers. They made jam which they stored in their basement and prepared delicious roast turkey for Thanksgiving. One of them even sewed the cushion covers of all the cushions in the house! It’s weird—most people think going to college in the US is all about getting drunk, joining a fraternity/sorority, “finding yourself”, and of course, developing a thick and fake American accent. I’m sure all those things were there, somewhere, in my college experience, but what stood out the most was not all these superficial and ultimately pretentious things. I found amazingly affirming friends in the US. I also discovered a new pattern of family life and parenthood, which starkly contrasted with my own slightly dysfunctional family in Singapore.
And I found God. That brings me to my next point. When I returned to Singapore, I began moving in the opposite direction of most of my friends. My other Raffles Girls’ School (RGS) and Raffles Junior College classmates were joining big law firms, saying things like, “I have to make partner first before I start a family.” I, on the other hand, found myself in a job where I was trying my best to do as little as possible, so that I could get off work by 5pm to meet up with my boyfriend or go for Bible Study! I’m being totally frank here, and my former bosses and colleagues would probably be shocked to read this. You see, there was still enough of an “RGS girl” in me to at least try to appear career-minded and driven. Like all the other scholars in my batch, I tried my best to look like a “rising star”, to be someone who had a “helicopter view of issues”, who was able to “distil the key issues” into “salient points” and develop “comprehensive and innovative ideas” to address challenges, taking into consideration “ground up feedback” and the “uncertain security and economic environment”. I did work hard—until 5pm, that is—and found myself taking on more responsibilities and challenges as the years went by.
But these are not the things I remember of my eight years in the Civil Service. Yea, the “Civil” years were more about me adjusting back to crowded life in Singapore, losing my thick and fake American accent (I confess, I had one, and it was super thick and super fake!) and finding an amazing church community which I eventually called home. There are stories about that as well—because in searching for a church home, I went from ultra-charismatic to super-conservative. At the end of the day, I found myself settling into a church that actually preached the Bible faithfully every week, and where sermons made me feel uncomfortable because of how challenging they were.
One particular sermon series was about working and motherhood. By then, I was six months pregnant with my first child. I remember I was sitting on the carpeted floor of a large ballroom in a Malaysian hotel. It was our annual church camp, and the speaker turned his attention to the issue of motherhood. He challenged the mothers in the room to think about whether they were truly putting their kids and their husbands first by making the decisions they did, and organising their life the way they did. Two months later, I gave birth to Daniel and shortly after that, I decided to take no-pay leave from the Civil Service and become a stay-at-home mum.
Why did I make that decision? Was it because my own mum stayed at home? Was it because I had friends in the US who had amazingly close relationships with their parents? Was it because of that sermon series? As I listened to my friend saying, “It can’t be helped. That’s the life of a working mom. Too bad,” I reflected on why I decided to stay at home. And the best way to put it, after years of thought on this issue, is: I’m just more at peace if I put my kids first.
Kids first. Job second. Kids first. Work second. Kids first. Career second. A few months after stopping work, I did actually have lunch with one of my high-powered RGS friends who had ended up joining a big law firm. I remember saying something like, “So you have to think, at the end of your life, will people remember the long hours you put in in the office? Will they remember what you did at work? Or, is it the relationships that you build that count to eternity?” My high-powered RGS friend stared blankly at me. She had driven her boyfriend’s Lamborghini to meet me for lunch. With her once-pimpled complexion (in secondary school) now masked with make-up, and wearing a powersuit (with a string of pearls no less!), I’m not sure the significance of what I said sunk in at all.
She was probably thinking: in Singapore, the way people raise their kids is to hire a maid, get the grandparents to help, and both parents continue to work. But, come on. It’s one thing to continue working because you can’t afford to stop, because your family requires two incomes to survive. It’s another thing to continue working because that’s the way it’s done in Singapore and you don’t even want to think about it further because you just want to follow what everybody else is doing.
For me, I embarked on the lonelier path. I admit, I did have a bit of a self-righteous mentality. A sort of I’m-better-than-all-working-women-because-I’m-sacrificing-my-career-for-my-flesh-and-blood pride. Of course, all of that was very quickly dashed to pieces when I discovered how utterly mundane and mind-numbingly boring staying at home could be. How many times CAN an educated woman listen to “The Wheels On The Bus” before wanting to be put to death before she hears it again? And have you ever had to deal with a toddler the whole day long, let along two (at one point, I had a two-year-old and a six-month-old to deal with concurrently!) Let me tell you—your worst boss? The one who’s erratic, offensive, tempermental? The one that keeps going back on his word? The one that lashes out at you for no reason, fails to motivate you, the one you can’t understand? YOUR TODDLER MAKES HIM LOOK LIKE JESUS.
So many times, while I was pushing my pram with my second child in it, while scolding my first child (who was walking by my side) between clenched teeth (walk faster! walk slower! drink your water! stop drinking your water!), I would wonder, “WHAT am I doing?” Once, while taking one of those “leisurely” strolls down the street, we walked past an RGS girl in uniform, carrying her bag. Forgetting that I was in a baggy T-shirt with yesterday’s dirty shorts on, I smiled at her with a knowing smile. She stared at me disgustedly—You’re just a housewife with two unruly kids. Stop ruining my RGS aura! At that point, I had enough irony in me to want to shout out to her, “I’m an RGS girl too! This is what you have to look forward to!”
Of course, I did no such thing. Staying at home was not quite the “holiday from work” and the “idyllic tai tai life” that is typically imagined, especially because I did not have a helper. But looking back, I would not trade it for the world. Because despite feeling sad enough to eat an entire bar of chocolate when I discovered my peer at work was now promoted to deputy director in the ministry I was working at, staying at home has brought tremendous joy. I have seen my children go from helpless baby to senile toddler to think-he’s-got-superpowers boy/girl to near-tween. All those teachable moments, all those one-to-one lunches, all those not-really-funny jokes that they make up and look expectantly at you to laugh at, all those conversations about evolution and God, all those sad moments when friends have spurned them, or when they were bullied in the playground, and all those times spent doing afternoon outings, library visits and swimming. I’m not saying that all this would not be possible if I were a full-time working mom. But I’m saying that less of this would be possible if I were not around during the day for them. And the truth of the matter is: I would have missed out.
After three years of staying at home, I returned to part-time work because I had to serve out my bond. Then, I joined Epigram Books in November 2008, also part-time. Having worked part-time for more than five years now, I think I have some street cred to say conclusively that, “Part-time work rocks!” This is a message I want to bring to the world of close-minded bosses who are too skeptical to be family-friendly. If that happens to be you, or if you happen to know someone who vaguely or partially resembles aforementioned said “type of boss”, do me a big favour and tell him the following:
1. Part-timer stay-at-home mums (PTSAHM), are super motivated individuals who will work hard for you.
Reason: Stay-at-home mums are looking for something to balance their life at home. If you give them a job, they will be, first of all, very grateful. They will want to do well, to keep you happy, and in addition, they will want to be efficient BECAUSE they want to go home to spend time with their kids. Hence, they will not Facebook in the office, they will not download porn movies on iTunes, and they will not stand around the pantry making coffee for an hour while chit chatting with everybody. In short, it is in the interest of a part-timer stay-at-home mum to get the job done efficiently and effectively.
2. Part-timer stay-at-home mums usually come with prior job experience and skills.
Reason: To achieve the status of part-timer stay-at-home mum, this person must have gone through several years of full-time work, usually at least three to five years. This puts her in the category of NOT an entry-level candidate, but a “person with prior experience”. Hence, there will be less training time involved.
A super-motivated, super-efficient individual who has work experience and skills.
What could be better?
Furthermore, studies have shown that workers who have a life outside work tend to be better workers that those who make work their life. Hey, that totally describes the part-timer stay-at-home mum! Bosses, pay attention!
I’m blessed to have found part-time employment at Epigram Books, all thanks to Edmund Wee. I’m sure he didn’t hire me for altruistic reasons. In fact, I AM ACTUALLY sure he didn’t. A while ago, he told me point blank, “I hired you because you were cheap.” As a part-timer, I had to accept a portion of my usual full-time pay, of course. But hey, I was happy to do so, since I was only working part-time! So, I was motivated, efficient, experienced and CHEAP. Once again: bosses, pay attention!
Of course, there are problems with part-time employment. It’s not all a bed of roses. In my previous part-time job, tongues started wagging when I left work in the middle of the day, even though those were my official working hours. It just seemed strange to people that I was leaving, even though I was supposed to! People were also unhappy that my then-boss seemed to be doing something special for me, like carving out a special portfolio, just so that I could work part-time. In that department, and sadly, in the rest of the Civil Service, part-time work remains uncommon and part-timers are seen as unreliable, odd individuals.
When I joined Epigram, things were slightly better. Edmund is the sort of boss who empowers you and leaves you alone to get the job done. (Once again, he’s not being enlightened. He just hates details! But hey, win-win!) However, my irregular working hours meant I took longer to bond with my colleagues, who preferred to come in late and work into the evenings, by which time I was at home snuggling with the kids. I also felt very upset with some colleagues who didn’t seem supportive of stay-at-home or part-time moms. One person in particular said to my face, while at lunch one day, “I never want to stay at home.” “Why?” I asked meekly. I hate confrontation. Her reply was quick and curt: “You lose touch. I don’t want to lose touch.” There was a bit of a silence before I felt the need to say: “You DO know that I stayed at home for many years right?” Once again, her quick reply: “Yah.” And that was it. I spoke to her less often since then. I wish I had had the courage to forgive her for insulting my life choices to my face, but I wasn’t so big-hearted then. Of course, I need to add that many other Epigram colleagues were wonderful and, supportive, if not politely indifferent, to my “weird” choice not to dedicate all my working hours to sitting at a desk. And, I have to reiterate again that I respect and support all options for moms: I DO NOT think that staying at home is better than part-time work which is better than working full-time. There is NO definitive scale of what is better and what is not. Every family and every mom may have a different model. But I do believe and am even more convinced now than ever before that children needs their parents to put them first. You can do this as a full-time worker. You can do this as a part-timer. You can do this as a stay-at-home mom. It is all possible. But only you will know in your heart what your priorities are, and where your treasure lies.
If part-time work were more accepted and prevalent in Singapore, women would not have to make that difficult choice of ALL or NOTHING. Bosses would benefit from part-timer stay-at-home mums. And perhaps, full-time employees would gain more openness to the diversty of work options that should be a normal part of our employment landscape, and become more family-focused themselves. I have a lot of sympathy for women who wish they could go part-time, but have unwilling bosses, or are just not able to because they need the income. I genuinely feel the struggle of these women, and pray that more employment opportunities would open up for them, enabling them to care more directly and quantitatively for their children. As my experience has shown, spending more time with your kids is a tremendous experience, not one that is entirely trouble-free, but one that is undeniably rewarding.
But as for now, I celebrate the patchwork journey that God has led me through. I’m very sure that life will continue to bring more surprises, heartaches and through it all, growth. What is important to me, I have realised, is the relationships that I have, not the work that I do. And, for me, at least I can say with a clear conscience, that I have tried my best to put my family first.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
drewscape’s Comic Longlisted for Eisner Award!
Singapore, 17 April 2013—In 2012, Epigram Books started a bold initiative never before ventured by any Singaporean publisher: a collection of graphic novels by a group of Singapore-based creators—from seasoned comics veterans to fresh, emerging talents—challenging readers (Singaporean or otherwise) to see themselves and Singapore with humour, wonder and curiosity. Now, a short story featured in Monsters, Miracles and Mayonnaise by drewscape, published by Epigram Books, has been longlisted for this year’s Eisner Award for Best Short Story!
The Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, considered the “Oscars” of comics, turn 25 in 2013. The most prestigious of the industry’s awards, the Eisners are given out at a gala ceremony on the Friday night of Comic-Con International: San Diego. The Awards encompass more than two-dozen categories covering both works and creators. Nominees are chosen by a blue-ribbon committee of judges, and the winners are chosen by professionals in the comics industry. Started in 1988, the awards are named for Will Eisner, the legendary creator of “The Spirit” and giant of the graphic novel.
First commissioned for the Singapore Memory Project, the longlisted short story “Moving Forward” is a bittersweet comic about growing up, moving on and learning to drive. The short story was then collected in the graphic novel Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise, released in November 2012. A delightful collection of short comic stories, it features the uncanny (monsters), miraculous (miracles) and absolutely mundane (mayonnaise). This book surprises even the most cynical reader with a mix of fantasy and childhood memoir. With just the right amount of nostalgia, drewscape daringly straddles and opens readers to the world from within his quirky imagination.
Eisner-longlisted and Young Artist Award-winner Sonny Liew will also be published by Epigram Books with The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye in 2015. The Singapore-based publisher Epigram Books is on the watch for other comics talents and is keen to receive manuscript submissions for graphic novels and comics.
For interviews or review copies, please contact:
Michelle Chua | Marketing & Editorial Assistant, Epigram Books
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Call for Illustrators for Picture Books
Singapore, 28 March, 2013—Hello, all you illustrators out there! We are looking for an experienced and reliable artist to bring to life four picture book stories about three siblings who have adventures around Singapore. The style should preferably be hand-drawn and not realistic (a little quirky is good!).
Please send us samples (or links to samples) of your work, along with a sample full-colour illustration of three siblings: a girl about seven years old, a boy about five years old, and a three-year-old boy. Don’t forget to include your contact info! Book experience is a big plus.
We will only contact you if selected. Illustrator should be able to commence work straightaway and complete all four titles in six months.
Please send your submissions to:
Sheri Tan | Editor, Epigram Books
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Call for Submissions of Singapore Comics and Graphic Novels
Singapore, 18 March, 2013—Calling all aspiring comics creators! Local independent publisher Epigram Books invites you to submit your manuscripts to be considered for publication.
With support from the Media Development Authority, Epigram Books has published three comics by local creators in 2012—Ten Sticks and One Rice by Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng, Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise by drewscape and Scenegapore by miel. The Girl Under the Bed by Dave Chua and Xiao Yan is forthcoming in 2013 and The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Eisner-nominated Sonny Liew in 2015.
We are especially enthusiastic about work that is set locally and/or reflects a Singaporean or regional perspective. We welcome submissions from both established and first-time creators, and partial manuscripts or detailed book proposals are welcome.
For further information or queries, contact:
Ruth Wan | Managing Editor, Epigram Books
firstname.lastname@example.org | +65 6292-4456
Here at Epigram Books, we’re blessed to be surrounded by what we love best: books! So what better subject to have Wei-Ling, our editorial assistant, write about? Here’s the latest A Day in the Life, with a literary twist!
As someone who works at a publishing company, I often find myself surrounded by books—whether in the office, at my work desk, or at home. I regularly max out the loan quota on my national library card (and then resort to begging my parents for their cards).
These past few months, I’ve been borrowing as many cookbooks as I can lay my hands on, in order to get some inspiration for the Plusixfive Singaporean Supper Club Cookbook that I’m editing. Currently on my desk is the Momofuku cookbook, Everyday Harumi, Tartine, Tessa Kiros’ Falling Cloudberries, and the beautiful food memoir Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer. Shiro is as beautiful to hold as it is to look at, with wonderful illustrations, old photographs of Shiro’s childhood in Kyoto and of his working life in the sushi restaurants of Tokyo and later, Seattle. I also recently read Kenny Shopsin’s hilarious cookbook, Eat Me, from beginning to end, and could appreciate how well-written and entertaining it was. Kenny runs the New York City West Village institution Shopsin’s, which boasts a menu of over 600 items, each of which is offered all day, every day. In addition to describing his philosophy of cooking and food, the book is also about Kenny’s staunch belief in the importance of developing a relationship with one’s customers, leftover from his days running a small grocery store in the West Village. Closer to home, I’ve been using Cooking for the President (designed by Epigram) as a resource, sometimes even resorting to referring to the glossary of our children’s book series, Sherlock Sam, which contains helpful descriptions of various Peranakan dishes.
At Epigram Books, we’re also blessed with a huge in-house collection of books, many of which our boss, Edmund Wee, buys almost immediately upon release. During my lunch break recently, I read two beautifully illustrated children’s books: Henri’s Walk to Paris (designed and illustrated by legendary designer Saul Bass) and the delightful Waterloo & Trafalgar, by Olivier Tallec. And when I’m not reading for work, or reading my own books for pleasure, I’ve got my eye on Edmund’s copies of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Several Short Sentences about Writing, Christopher Hitchen’s Mortality and Big Questions from Little People: and Simple Answers from Great Minds, as well as Chris Ware’s graphic-novel-in-a-box Building Stories, which is lurking somewhere in the office.
Oh, and if I’m still lacking for reading material, there’s always Epigram’s wall-to-wall shelf of design books, archived design magazines, old cookbooks (conveniently filed close to the microwave and coffee maker) and lots of books offering… dating advice? Hm… well, staff here know that’s a favourite topic of Edmund’s (just catch him at lunch time), but more about that another time!
Congratulations to writer Jason Erik Lundberg and illustrator Patrick Yee! Their children’s picture book, A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha (2012), has been nominated in the Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards!
Organised by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the annual, peer-given Crystal Kite Member Choice Awards recognise outstanding children’s books from around the world. A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha, the first in the “Bo Bo and Cha Cha” series, is a finalist in the Middle East/India/Asia category. Previous winners include Thelonious Mouse, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and Random House Children’s Books’ MINE!.
Lundberg and Yee's A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha finds the titular pair of Chinese mountain pandas arriving at Singapore’s strange and wonderful Mandai Zoo. Bo Bo is excited, but Cha Cha is not, until a caring sloth shows her what being home really means.
Lundberg, also an editor at Epigram Books, is “incredibly surprised and delighted” at the nomination. He’ll next be at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) from 25 to 30 May with A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha. The expected publication date of the second book in the “Bo Bo and Cha Cha” series, Bo Bo and Cha Cha’s Big Day Out is May 2013, and it will launch at AFCC.
A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha can be purchased at Amazon and all good bookstores now.
Last September, Epigram Books launched the Singapore Pioneer Poets series, which features the poetry of Edwin Thumboo, Kirpal Singh and Robert Yeo. In today’s blog post, Wei-Ling, our editorial assistant, asks Professor Edwin Thumboo (unofficially known as “Singapore’s Poet Laureate”) some questions about his life, work and Time Travelling, an exhibition about him currently on at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.
Wei-Ling (WL): Place has always been important to you, and many of your poems are about a specific place. I also found it interesting that the Time Travelling exhibition highlighted your workspaces, both at home and in the university. Do you think you’d be as concerned about the issue of place if you were not from Singapore?
Prof. Edwin Thumboo (ET): Yes and no. Personal space is a matter of serious interest wherever you may be. There is that other sense of the nation and space, which you become aware of more acutely, where and when in a nation such as Singapore whose physical statistics are small. You feel hemmed in. Territorial issues become sharp reminders. Some of our neighbours guard their air space. Fortunately, neighbourliness and other conventions allow us to fly across their territory. Moreover, if we were a homogenous society, satu bangsa, satu agama, satu bahasa, sharing a national unity and identity, our sense of space would be less visited by difference, by the presence of others, who are equally of Singapore. The facts—which need no extended reminding—are that this little red dot had to make, evolve, innovate in every area of national survival, starting with a multi-racial population, no natural resources apart from its people, in a geo-political and socio-economic setting that was often hostile. Converting place and people into nation was and is utterly crucial.
WL: At the Time Travelling exhibition, it was interesting to see both your handwritten and typed manuscripts on display. Do you now write your poems on a computer, or do you still use a typewriter or pen? Do you find that each medium affects your poetry-writing process, and if so, how?
ET: I now use my computer, the pen only rarely, when I have a hard copy while the poem is in progress, or when it is a manuscript being prepared for publication. These changes are then transferred to the final soft copy. Using pen and paper, a typewriter or a computer makes no basic difference to the act of writing/composing a poem, though with a typewriter or computer, I had to get used to the system first. When using either a pen or typewriter, the revisions, including the arrival of new words, phrases, lines and punctuation, were done by pen and pencil. When the hard copies became cluttered, neat copies were made. The process was repeated till I felt I had done enough, or could do no more, and that the poem was OK. I continue to believe that, “The perfect poem is future tense. Meanwhile, neat incompletion must suffice. Life goes on.” ( “A Poet Reading”)
With the computer, the poem’s growth and expansion, including revisions, are neatly there in the text/version of the moment, with each sequentially marking its progress. I save them as separate drafts, each numbered alphabetically and mostly dated.
WL: Do you write many drafts of your poems? What is the longest amount of time you have spent on a poem?
ET: The number of drafts range from six to twenty-six; time from five to twenty-five hours, scattered in a day, two, three days or more; sometimes a week or more. Occasionally a draft is abandoned.
While every poem in the making is demanding, each in a unique way, there are a few which are especially so. It seems to be the case with long poems. I recall the difficulties I had with “The Cough of Albuquerque” in 1957. “Bukit Panjang”, which I wrote last July, is less ambitious. Its geological, historical and contemporary parameters are limiting, defined by time and place, and their inter-connections and continuities. When I started on “Bukit Panjang”, the pre-thinking began to link with memories of contact with it. The earliest was just before WWII, part of an idyllic childhood, then a 1955 hike with fellow hostelites along its slopes and ridges when it was dominated by a massive radar installation in the middle of a British military base. “Bukit Panjang” enveloped me when I mounted successful moves—helped by others—to restore Bukit Panjang as the official name for the Housing Development Board for the whole area, replacing the little known, un-historic Zheng Hua, whose adoption, in my view, reflected a painful, disappointing chauvinism. By this time we were part of Bukit Panjang, having moved into Phoenix Heights in 1975. I adopted the growing village and was adopted by it.
Each part of “Bukit Panjang” had its foci. Just to illustrate, Section III attempts to profile the Village at its height, at the time when it was earmarked for development:
Those PAP days were rapid fire; heaving.
Planners with satellite towns itching
In their brains, came super charged.
The heart of Bukit Panjang then consisted of two rows of shophouses, a mixture of wooden and brick buildings tapering off at either end. Behind these were lanes, unpaved firm in dry weather and sloshy if there had been a spell of rain. One had a cinema, and a cluster of food stalls. The other, across the main road, roughly the eastern side, was dominated by the market with fish, meat, and vegetable stalls and regular road-side pitches set up by the farmers from the surrounding areas, offering the freshest of tree-ripened fruit and live poultry. You could buy toys, kites, tops, and fighting and other fish in glass bottles. There were plants and shrubs for the gardening crowd. Nothing plasticky yet. A meeting place for friends, mainly women, including those who were re-settled because their farms were about to be replaced by flats. As I speak Teochew and understand Hokkien, I found their very public conversation animated and fascinating, recalling Mandai days.
Old ladies return to hungry dogs, harvest
Memories, whatever hangs, then head to
Market to sell to chat to meet old friends.
'Has Ah Noi given birth? How much did
You get for those ducks? These spectacles?
Too modern!' Enjoying a circuitry grown
Over years, but now declining, as another
Wooden shed is shredded in just hours.
WL: When we were compiling The Best of Edwin Thumboo, you expressly told me not to format “foreign” words such as angpow, gongsi, gopi etc. in italics, as tends to be the convention. Can you explain your reasoning behind this?
ET: You are right to put foreign between quotation marks. But most of the words, phrases and references in my poetry are not foreign to most of us. They are part of our experience, our discourse. If you format in italics, the question is, who are you formatting it for? In any case, formatting disturbs and interrupts the flow of the lines. I accept the need for readers to be given some help to understand the “plain meaning” to help them get to the poetry. Most of us will remember the footnoting and annotations when we studied literatures set in other cultures. Hence the inclusion of a glossary which, incidentally, indicates the spread and reach, the sense of history and the contemporary, the topicality underpinning some of my poems. And let us not forget that there are now World Englishes, each with unique linguistic and metaphorical components. If the reader is interested enough, he/she will seek the necessary explanations/information.
WL: You once said in an interview that “the art of writing and the art of living—the two must come together”. What did you mean by that?
A City is the people's heart, beautiful, ugly,
Depending on the way it beats. A City smiles
The way its people smile. When you spit,
That is the City too. A City is for people, for living,
For walking between shadows of tall buildings
That leave some room for living…A City
Should be the reception we give ourselves;
What we prepare for our posterity.
A City is what we make it,
You and I. We are the City.
For better or for worse.
(“The Way Ahead”)
Hopefully, that living, so substantial a part of our lives, has found an appropriate, though not the only, language. The way of living should become the way of art. Life is sometimes silence waiting to be broken.
Preview poems from The Best of Edwin Thumboo here and view video from the launch of The Singapore Pioneer Poets series here. An exhibition about Edwin Thumboo's life and work, Time Travelling: A Poetry Exhibition, is now on view at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library, level 8, the National Library Building, until 7 March 2013.
Happy New Year, dear readers! Here at Epigram Books, we’re looking forward to another year of putting out well-designed and thought-provoking titles. Today, we’re excited to present an interview with A.J. Low, the husband-and-wife writing team behind our latest children’s series, Sherlock Sam. The series follows “Singapore’s greatest kid detective” and his trusty robot sidekick Watson, and is illustrated by drewscape.
1. What are the ingredients that go into the making of a great children’s book? Are these aspects what you used or thought about in concocting the story of Sherlock Sam?
The same as any other kind of story: relatable characters and a good plot. Everything else is an added bonus (things like genre, humor, etc.) that can make a story better, but without that foundation of character and plot, readers, especially children, will be able to tell and will never pick up a book by you again.
For Sherlock Sam, we first focused on all the characters and tried to make them as great as possible. Sherlock, his sister Wendy, his parents, his robot, and his friend Jimmy make up the core of the first book, and we think readers of all ages will love them, and recognize them as people they might know (even possibly the robot). We think our plot is pretty good too, if we do say so ourselves, and was made better by invaluable input from various folk who read our initial drafts, especially our editor Ruth Wan. If you read our very first draft now, you’d think it was a completely different, and not as good, book as what we ended up with.
2. What kind of preparation and research went into the story and the series?
We researched Peranakan food a lot. Like, we ate it every day. That was fun research.
3. What are the characteristics of a good children’s writer in your opinion?
Again, the same as any other kind of writer: being able to write a good story that people will enjoy. I think it’s important to not talk down to children, but also understand that there are things they won’t be able to understand yet. It’s a fine line between “dumbing down” a story, and writing age-appropriate material, but I think we were able to hit that sweet spot in the middle with Sherlock Sam.
4. Describe your creative collaboration process as a writing duo.
We tend to plot out the book together, agree on all the major story beats and then get them down on paper, then we split up the actual writing: I’ll write a chapter, then she’ll write a chapter, etc. After that’s done, we go through it together and make sure everything makes sense and is cohesive. Chances are good that if something doesn’t make sense to your writing partner, it’s not going to make sense to anybody else either, so something needs to be changed.
5. Why would children enjoy this book and the series?
We set out to write a book that we ourselves would enjoy, at any age. Since we’re mostly still kids ourselves (you should see our LEGO collection!), and we enjoyed writing and reading the heck out of this book, we cannot imagine anybody else not enjoying reading this.
6. Why should parents buy this book for their children?
Because it’s good. It’s the only reason to ever buy any form of media.
7. What makes this book and the character of Sherlock Sam different from those of other investigative series?
We based a lot of Sherlock Sam’s mannerisms on his namesake, so he’s extremely intelligent, he has a food vice, and he wants to solve mysteries for their own sake. However, unlike Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Sam is quite a nice person, so while he wants to solve mysteries because, in his mind, they all need to be solved, he also does it because he wants to help people. And he readily asks for and accepts help when he needs it. He’s not in it for the fame or money or prestige; he simply wants to help people and get to the bottom of things.
8. What were some of the key inspirations of the book and its characters?
Nancy Drew, the Famous Five, Scooby-Doo, and, of course, Sherlock Holmes. We’ve been watching a lot of detective shows as well, like Castle and Elementary, to help with our plotting. When and how to reveal clues is a very important element of all mystery fiction that we constantly have to keep up on.
9. What advice would you give to parents in bringing up their children as avid readers (having grown up to become avid readers and writers yourselves)?
Let them read. Let them run wild at a bookstore, or give them a library card, and let them read. If they ask to be read to, read to them (in fact, chase them around the house reading aloud to them). If they pick up something you think might be too advanced for them, don’t tell them to put it back. Instead, help them with it. Read it with them and explain words or concepts that they don’t yet know or understand.
Let them read.
Look out for the first book in the series, Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong, out later this month! In the meanwhile, explore the Sherlock Sam website and follow the Facebook page for exclusive content and behind-the-scenes sneak peeks.
See more of series illustrator drewscape’s work on his website and check out his collection of short comic stories, Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise, published by Epigram Books last year.
Last week, our editor Jocelyn offered some insight into the editorial process behind Ming Cher’s Spider Boys—part of our Singapore Classics series—and gave us an overview of the gritty story set in 1950s Singapore. Today, read on to find out more about the novel from the author himself!
Epigram Books: What prompted you to write Spider Boys? At which point in your life did you write it?
Ming Cher: I wanted to write a novel about Singapore’s recent history since the country had changed so much over a 30-year period. I began writing in 1988 when my son Marco was five years old (Marco has an Australian mother) to show him something of my own childhood at around his age. I was living in Auckland and had just sold a shop on Grafton Road which I had owned for ten years (Batik Bazaar) and was at a loose end and needed something to do.
I also wanted to move into the present by setting down everything I knew personally about the past. The past is of value especially when it leads us into the future.
EB: How long did it take you to write Spider Boys?
MC: It took me four years to write Spider Boys. Writer’s block was always a problem and my English was not really up to the task. The writing went very, very slowly. A page often seemed to take an eternity.
EB: Which of the characters do you most closely identify yourself with? Why?
MC: I identify with most of them in a literary sense. I should stress that while it is not “my” story, many of them are based loosely on my friends—Kwang, Chinatown Yeow, Sachee. It is however a work of fiction—to protect the reputations of the innocent! Although it sounds autobiographical, it is not an autobiography. My own life has been different and often darker than the events within the book. I am however proud of all my characters in their struggle for survival and in their truth to themselves. They are colourful and essentially honest. There is a lot about life in Singapore that I do not wish to talk about.
EB: We understand that you grew up in Bukit Ho Swee, represented in the book as Ho Swee Hill. How did life change after the big fire in 1961?
MC: I was away from Bukit Ho Swee, living on construction sites wherever there was work—Jurong, Bedok. The whole face of Singapore was changing rapidly and we lived in workers’ camps wherever the big jobs were.
EB: Why did you leave Singapore? Do you think you’ll return any time in the future?
MC: I went to work in Sabah and then worked in Vietnam as a construction supervisor. I became a seaman and for seven years sailed all over the world with many of the big lines at that time—Hogg Line, under the Norwegian flag, Neptune Orient Lines (Singapore), KDM Shipping.
However, my six brothers and sisters all remain in Singapore. If I return, it will be only as a visitor, since I relinquished my citizenship for citizenship in New Zealand.
Original 1995 Penguin and William Morrow editions of Spider Boys
EB: Spider Boys had been out of print for several years now. Do you have any particular thoughts on this new edition?
MC: I am delighted by this new Singaporean and Malaysian edition for many reasons. The first is that I am working on a sequel to Spider Boys, which follows the characters after the first novel ends. It is called Big Mole and any interest which comes as a result of the new edition may translate into interest in the sequel.
The second reason is that the book has never been published before in Singapore. It has been successful in the US, in Australia and New Zealand, and in Italy. It is the subject of many university courses on Asian writing in English but, really, has been looking for its true home for almost twenty 2 years.
The third reason is that it was written away from Singapore, and from memories of a distant past, so naturally there were some inaccuracies. The excellent team at Epigram Books, and in particular my editor there, Jocelyn Lau, have ensured through diligent historical investigation and enquiry that location and street names are all accurate for the time it was written, which means, in turn, that it will read more authentically for a contemporary Singaporean. These things do not matter in an “overseas” publication, but are vital in your homeland. Funnily enough, the Italian edition, I Ragazzi di Singapore, was very popular with readers there because in translation into the Italian tongue, the street slang of the spider boys rang true immediately for local readers!
Find out more about Ming Cher’s Spider Boys and read sample pages from the novel here.
Spider Boys, by Ming Cher, was launched earlier this year as part of our Singapore Classics series. First published by Penguin New Zealand in 1995, Spider Boys has been re-edited to not only retain the flavour of colloquial Singapore English in the dialogues, but also to improve the accessibility of the novel for all readers by rendering the narrative into grammatical Standard English. Our intrepid editor Jocelyn Lau offers some insight into the painstaking yet rewarding editorial process she undertook:
“It’s like reliving my boyhood again.”
— Tan Kok Seng, author of Three Sisters of Sze, Son of Singapore and Man of Malaysia
When I first began the daunting task of re-editing the original edition of Spider Boys, published in 1995 by Penguin Books, New Zealand, I had to decide how to go about making the book more accessible to readers—both international as well as Singaporean and Malaysian. For me, not only was the use of tenses in the narrative and the dialogues inconsistent, but the depiction of the ‘street slang’ was not wholly accurate; I found it taxing to read beyond even the opening paragraphs.
The work involved ‘regularising’ the narrative so it conforms to standard English, and also retaining as much of the colloquial flavour in the dialogues as possible; this was so that readers from our part of the world would identify more closely with the language they use in informal banter, as they certainly would with the life in Singapore in the 1950s portrayed in Ming Cher’s novel.
As I turned the millstone, I was gratified to discover how handsomely the story would reward my efforts. Set in Chinatown and Bukit Ho Swee, two historically-rich neighbourhoods, Spider Boys is true to “[…] aspects of colonial Singapore in the mid-fifties: gangs and gang rivalry, fighting spiders, fighting fish, kite flying, adolescent angst, religious observances and superstitions amid working-class poverty”. (Robert Yeo, introduction, Spider Boys).
“As someone born in 1940, who also flew kites, kept fighting fish and spiders and took part in competitions […], knew gangsters in my district of Hougang and grew up hearing stories of old wives’ tales, I can testify to the authenticity of the novel.”
— Robert Yeo, introduction, Spider Boys
Gritty, it is unsentimental in its description of poverty: while the parents are out all day (or, in some cases of live-in servants, all month), the street children scrabble in mosquito-infested grasses for fighting spiders that would bring them extra pocket money through bartering or gambling, or in stench-filled monsoon drains for recyclable scraps for the karang guni men—while tourists took photographs of them. Grim, it tells how betrayal of one’s compatriots can result in untimely death—by knife, perhaps, plunged into the chest once in drunken sleep. Gripping, it is evident of first-hand experience in its richly textured account of Chinese festivals, such as the Hungry Ghosts Festival, and attendant superstitions—pontianak can be kept at bay with a six-inch coffin nail, for example, while one must be careful not to be suddenly shocked, because the soul can unknowingly jump out of its body.
But it’s not all gore. The teenage protagonists of the novel, Kwang and Kim, while grappling with the daily reality of making ends meet, also spend leisure moments chatting, playing with their fighting spiders and—exploring each other’s sexuality. When the heat from the ‘Spider Olympics’ intensifies, Kwang becomes increasingly obsessed about winning the Championship—equally for prestige as for the prize money, and his bored companion turns her attention to Kwang’s dangerous gangster rival, the smiling-faced Yeow, and finds herself on unfamiliar terrain.
“It reminds me of the old days, when your mum used to cut our hair by putting a rice bowl on our head! Very funny.”
— Priscilla Lee (my aunt!)
Hypnotic, arousing and shocking all at once, Spider Boys will especially endear itself to readers who grew up in Singapore between the late 1940s and early 1970s. To readers younger than this, the realness of the story, the palpable excitement in the plot and the historical value of the novel will appeal.
Find out more about Ming Cher’s Spider Boys and read sample pages from the novel here. And visit our blog again next Wednesday for an insightful interview with the author himself!
Here at Epigram Books, we’re especially excited about one of our latest children’s titles, A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha, as it is written by one of our own—author Jason Erik Lundberg has been an editor here since September this year!
Bo Bo and Cha Cha have come to the Mandai Zoo! Bo Bo is excited, but Cha Cha is not.
Everything here seems too strange: the other animals, the heat, and the food!
Cha Cha wants to leave—until a caring sloth shows her what being home really means.
Read on to hear from Jason about his experiences working on the book:
What was it like working on a children’s book? Was it very different from editing or writing speculative fiction, which you have previously done?
Very different indeed! Writing for kids, especially for very young kids, was a big challenge, because you have to hit all of these emotional beats with character and plot, and do so in an entertaining way, and in language that is both simple enough for three- to seven-year-olds to understand but at the same time doesn’t talk down to them.
Many people think that writing picture books is easy; you’re only dealing with 32 pages, only about a thousand words (or less) of text, but children tend to be a much less forgiving audience than adults. If you can’t grab and keep their interest with a good story and interesting characters, they’re on to the next thing straight away.
I’d written a couple of middle grade stories prior to A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha, but had never even considered writing picture books. However, when the opportunity arose, I took it as an exciting task, and actually had a great experience in doing so. Crucial to this as well was working with editor Sheri Tan, who has years of experience editing children’s books; after I’d come up with the basic story, we worked together closely to shape it into something that was compelling and meaningful, and also fun to read.
What was your process working with illustrator Patrick Yee? For instance, did his illustrations come first, or did he base them on your writing? Did you work collaboratively?
Patrick actually approached Epigram Books with the premise of the pandas coming to the zoo, as well as some initial illustrations, back in April or May, so I had some preliminary visuals to work with in my head. But in terms of story, I basically started from scratch, turning it from a concept that was more appropriate for a baby board book into a proper picture book with some emotional complexity.
Once Sheri and I had finalised the text, she sent the story to Patrick so that he could illustrate the pages based on her proposed layout. There was again some back-and-forth between him and Sheri about the artwork, and once that was all finished, everything was sent to our designer Andy Koh for the final publication layout.
Is there anything in particular you hope kids (or, in fact, any readers) will take away from the book?
At its heart, the book is about the experience of migrating to a new home, and having to deal with a different environment and culture, as well as the inevitable homesickness. It’s very much based on my own journey from the US to Singapore back in 2007, and all of the culture shock that arose from relocating to a country very different from my own. Many of Cha Cha’s complaints in the book—Singapore is too hot, the food is weird, the people behave strangely—were my own at the time.
But what I hope that kids, as well as older readers, will take away from the book is that, even if moving to a new place is a disruptive and disorienting experience, it is possible to feel at home there. That homesickness can feel horrible and never-ending at first, but that it will dissipate, and things will get better. People are surprisingly resilient and adaptable, especially children.
Jason reads his book with his daughter Anya.
Did you learn anything interesting or amusing about pandas in the process of writing the book? Did you have to do a lot of research on them?
I did some research on pandas before I started writing, but because we were on such a tight timeline, I wasn’t able to do as much as I would have liked. Regardless, what I found was fascinating. Many pandas are quite solitary creatures, and prefer to have lots of time to themselves; as an introvert, this appealed to me greatly, and I projected much of this temperament into Cha Cha’s personality. They can also be playful and gregarious, and so I steered Bo Bo’s character in this direction to show the contrast between the two of them.
Also, even though pandas’ digestive systems can accommodate different types of foods, including fruits and even meat (they’re actually classified as carnivores), they choose to solely eat bamboo; and because bamboo can only give them limited amounts of energy, they have to eat massive amounts of it. This seems counter-intuitive to survival, but since pandas appear happy to hang out in the mountains of China, where bamboo is plentiful, there’s no need to vary their diet.
What’s next for Bo Bo and Cha Cha? Can you give us any hints about their next adventures in Singapore?
A New Home For Bo Bo and Cha Cha is the first book in a planned series about the pandas’ new experiences, and the next three books have already been outlined; now I just need to write them! And that’s all I’ll reveal for now.
A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha is available in all good bookstores. Check out the book page and view sample pages on our website. You can also visit author Jason Erik Lundberg’s website and illustrator Patrick Yee’s website to find out more about their work!
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Enjoy ATTRACTIVE DISCOUNTS OF UP TO 70% on our titles. Check out some of our books that would make great Christmas gifts for your loved ones:
Mum’s Not Cooking: Favourite Singaporean Recipes for the Near Clueless or Plain Lazy, by Denise Fletcher, is the perfect gift for Singaporean foodies who live abroad, or a kid who’s away at college.
Only the Best!: The ieatishootipost Guide to Singapore’s Shiokest Hawker Food, by local food blogger Dr Leslie Tay, is the only guide you’ll need for laidback weekend meals out with your family.
Our colourful children’s picture books, with their heartwarming tales and beautiful illustrations, make great bedtime stories to read with your young ones. For slightly older kids, consider the bestselling The Diary of Amos Lee series.
From L-R: A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha, translated children’s title The King and the Frog, and the recently launched The Diary of Amos Lee 4: Lights, Camera, Superstar!
Our graphic novels tell an eclectic array of stories: Ten Sticks and One Rice by Oh Yong Hwee and Koh Hong Teng is inspired by the experiences of their hawker parents and their friends, Miel’s Scenegapore offers sharply observed yet tongue-in-cheek commentary on our country’s past, present, and future, and drewscape’s Monsters, Miracles & Mayonnaise is a collection of personal anecdotes both real and imagined.
And if you’re not sure what would exactly suit someone on your Christmas shopping list, look no further than our bestselling NOTBOOKS that put a positive spin on people’s lovable quirks. This year, we have launched four new titles:
With such an array of titles, the Epigram Books Holiday Pop-up Store is a great one-stop holiday shopping destination. We hope to see you there!
Please note that we only accept payment in cash or by cheque.
We are located at 1008 Toa Payoh North, #03-08.
Braddell MRT (NS Line): Take the Toa Payoh North exit and follow the route outlined on the map.
*While stocks last. Goodie bag contents are subject to change.