Epigram Books Blog

A Day in the Life of Michelle October 19 2012

It’s time for another instalment of A Day in the Life! Read on to find out from Michelle about marketing efforts and events at Epigram Books.
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It’s been six months since I joined the publishing industry as an Editorial and Marketing Assistant for Epigram Books. To date, I’ve worked on or organised seven book events, emceed at four of these events and performed spoken word with a jazz band at our very own ‘Evening of Poetry and Music’ to celebrate the Singapore Pioneer Poets Series featuring the best of Edwin Thumboo, Robert Yeo and Kirpal Singh.

At last count, together with my manager Felicia I’ve launched, promoted and written to the press about our first graphic novels, three children’s titles, two food titles, one photography title, one travel book and one literary non-fiction collection. That’s a total of 29 books I’ve worked to promote in the last six months. Phew. On average that would make about four books a month but in reality, our publishing schedule does not work according to an average each month. Oh, and I’ve also co-produced three book videos to date with Meteor Workshop for our books. That was just too much fun to be called work.

Rock musician and friend Mik meets Singapore literary giant Edwin Thumboo
Rock musician and friend Mik meets Singapore literary giant Edwin Thumboo

Coming from a background of teaching drama, arts administration and a short stint in journalism and copywriting, a mid-career switch to publishing was a surprise just out-of-the-blue for me. I had just reconnected with my childhood love for comics and graphic novels having discovered Koh Hong Teng and Dave Chua’s Gone Case as well as Sonny Liew’s works. When a school friend with an illustrious career in the books industry called me about a part-time position in the publishing house she had moved to, something in me jumped. Before I knew it, I was tearing joyfully telling my soon-to-be employer why comics trump films any day. Before I knew it, I had my foot in the door of the enigmatic business of publishing. Before I knew it, I was hosting events I organised for books such as the never-before-published Mimi Fan, Singapore’s first English language play by a local, penned in 1962. I had come full circle from treading the hallowed boards as an actor since school days, to teaching students drama, to marketing plays and encouraging people to read Singapore literature and to buy books written by Singaporeans.

Actress Karen Tan, who once played Mimi Fan, at our event

Watching Karen Tan, who played Mimi Fan in a 1990 TheatreWorks production, tearfully express love to the late playwright Lim Chor Pee in the company of his family and friends meant something to me. I felt the same kind of gratitude as she did to him, as someone who also fell in love with the theatre and who never got over it. So did interviewing my local comic artist idols Koh Hong Teng and Sonny Liew who had been supporting me even before I joined Epigram Books at my jazz gigs at The Old Brown Shoe. Still, the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve had to go through apart from speaking in front of the likes of Singapore’s Ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee, was performing selected poetry by the likes of Edwin Thumboo, Kirpal Singh and Robert Yeo. It was a great honour to be trusted to present their works musically with my chosen genre of jazz and I will always be deeply humbled by the experience. If you’d like to see it, here is a preview on Epigram Books’ very own YouTube channel.

My best friend recently said to me, “I always see you posting about your work and photos of your events, glam glam all lah…” I related to him the analogy of the pretty-looking Mandarin ducks swimming on the lakes – elegant and calm above water, frenetic paddling below water. If you can see me as a Mandarin duck, that just about sums up this six-month-long Day in the Life of Michelle. This explains too why my blog post reads more like a retrospective than a Day in the Life account. It was six months in the making (or rather writing) as I just could not have written it until today.

For a taste of what the journey has been like for me this past year at Epigram Books, this is what it looks like above the water at least, in the public eye. Watch out for more Epigram Books titles and book events in 2012 and 2013!


With Denise Fletcher, author of Mum's Not Cooking: Favourite Singaporean Recipes for the Near Clueless or Plain Lazy, after a successful event!


Book Launch: ‘Mum's Not Cooking, Favourite Singaporean Recipes for the Plain Clueless and Plain Lazy’ July 30 2012

Guess what! Awesome chef and talented writer Denise Fletcher is our guest blogger for this week!
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Mum’s Not Cooking : The Aftermath

I’d like to say a really big thank you, to all who attended the official Mum’s Not Cooking book launch at Kinokuniya, last week on Saturday 21 July. I was a bundle of nervous energy, full of anticipation, anxious that I might trip up, twist my ankle (damned stilletoes *grrr* damn you and your Amazonian stature Michelle *GRRR*) or kill someone with my fiery curry devil, but in the end, it was all good, save one casualty, my favourite cuff bracelet. One of the glittery panels got knocked out by an enthusiastic handshake (thanks Jos, for babysitting my ‘jewel’ while I took to the mic). Makes me wonder what the guy had for breakfast, that morning…

Speaking of enviably tall women, did you know that Mum’s Not Cooking is now available on Amazon.com??!  Yes, yes, I’m doing a little happy dance right now, because wherever in the world you may be, my fellow Singies, you no longer have to miss your chai tow kway, nasi lemak or sup kambing!! Anyway, back to the book launch… I got the chance to channel my oh-so-shy son Joseph, star of my slideshow on how to make Chocolate Chip Mug Cake, talk about why I wrote Mum’s Not Cooking, why it’s such a great little book, and banter with the lovely, vivacious and very tall Michelle (Epigram Books’ uber marketing assistant and sparkling event host).

Iron chefs, NOT! but, from left, the quick thinking Josephine, gallant Fernando and very young and promising Gabrielle.Iron chefs, NOT! but, from left, the quick thinking Josephine, gallant Fernando and very young and promising Gabrielle.

As hoped, I met friends, readers, relatives, curious strangers and book fans, talked, talked, talked then talked some more, presided over an acar making contest, tasted the efforts of the contestants then made a hard decision on who produced the best rendition of my acar recipe (a nine-year-old budding chef who got the flavour spot on). Thank you Josephine the knife virgin and improv genius who ditched the blunt knife in favour of her nimble fingers, Fernando, present day incarnation of Sir Galahad who thought nothing of helping out a damsel in distress, even at the cost of winning, and Gabrielle, pickle prodigy and upcoming chef, for being such great sports and adding a ton of fun to the contest.

After the excitement of the contest, samples of Mum’s Not Cooking recipes––Cottage Pie, Devilled Sausages and Breakfast Banana Muffins were passed around the appreciative crowd, who made short work of them. The all too short hour ended with a book signing session.

It was such a pleasure chatting with the lovely people who waited patiently to get their copies signed, for spouses, sweethearts, siblings, friends, children, parents or themselves. Thank you each and everyone of you, for attending and spending the hour with me, and for your wonderful support of the event and Mum’s Not Cooking! I hope you enjoy using the book as much as I relished writing it and that if you were before, you will no longer be a stranger to your stove.

 


Direct From Boston Recipe Test Report: Bak Chor Mee for First Time Cooks May 28 2012

Our interns form an integral part of the Epigram Books family. We entrust them with important duties like keeping the marketing and editorial teams sane. We also feed them regularly. However, because they’ve been so pampered by us, often when they leave us for the great big world, they find themselves ill-equipped to handle simple things like feeding themselves properly!

Siau Rui was with Epigram Books for a short four weeks, but we’ve kept in touch with her through Facebook and emails. As such, when our Marketing Manager came up with the idea of trying out some of the recipes in our upcoming cookbook, Mum’s Not Cooking: Favourite Singapore Recipes for the Near Clueless or Plain Lazy by Denise Fletcher, she immediately thought of our dear ex-intern, far far away from her family in Singapore, with very little culinary skills to speak off. A perfect guinea pig.

Siau Rui is actually studying in Vermont, but did her report from Boston where she was visiting her sister during spring break.

Goh Siau Rui, International Student
Boston, USA

I was actually pretty psyched when Felicia got in touch about trying out a recipe from Mum’s Not Cooking: Favourite Singapore Recipes for the Near Clueless or Plain Lazy. I mean, I’m not proud of the fact but the sub-title describes me perfectly. I hit my (hopefully) lowest point  (food-wise) this summer in the US when I gave up trying to eat like a normal person and just snarfed down mint Oreos for dinner (don’t judge––we all make bad decisions). Anyway, because some Chemistry major told me that our metabolism starts to slow down and our body becomes increasingly intolerant of junk food once we hit 25, I’ve decided to try cooking some…Bak Chor Mee!!

It is probably the food I miss the most here. You just can’t find it in the US––not even in New York City, which is supposed to have everything. I checked out the recipe for Bak Chor Mee in Mum’s Not Cooking and it seems fairly simple––no chopping, no frying––just mixing and boiling. So far so good!

But first––ingredients. A bunch of my friends cook regularly so most of the ingredients are already on hand––I just needed to get chilli garlic oil and the Mee (noodles). It’s a good thing that it’s Spring Break and I was visiting my sister in Boston!

I went by Chinatown’s C-market (the big one), but they only have chilli garlic sauce. Why!?

I got some chilli oil instead––

But how to make chilli garlic oil? There was information in the recipe on how to make it from scratch (i.e. making the chilli oil from scratch too) but I wasn’t sure about the measurements now that I already have chili oil…so I just mixed the chopped garlic into a random amount of chilli oil that looks right. Seemed to work.

The minced pork. Because I was doubling the recipe, I was working with way more meat. Cue bigger bowl. As it turned out, the bigger bowl didn’t fit into the microwave oven. Bummer. So the bowl didn’t rotate and the meat wasn’t evenly cooked. Also, I had forgotten to cover the bowl. I felt pretty ‘lame’. But I transferred the meat into a smaller bowl and covered it this time––it still came out of the microwave oven weird. Too much liquid. Looked a little goopy. I threw the meat into a pan and it ended up looking…okay. I didn’t really know though, I’ve never really cooked meat before so I was just guessing.

Then I made the noodles and put everything in a bowl. It tasted decent! Better than my laksa attempt that ended up looking and tasting like mee rebus. The chili oil has a crazy kick (probably because my proportions are all off) and the pork was a little overpowering (probably because of the weird process I put it through) but it tasted close enough to the real thing. I got a neutral response (not a lambasting!) from my fellow Singaporean and a thumbs-up from my Malaysian friend (apparently they don’t have bak chor mee/meepok in Malaysia?). Also, no one got food poisoning. Good enough I suppose. Maybe I can actually be a real person and start cooking real food someday soon, especially now that I have a copy of Mum’s Not Cooking!


A Day in the Life of Jocelyn March 06 2012

It’s time again for another dispatch from the world of Epigram Books! This week, we learn what goes on in Jocelyn's day.

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Someone recently asked me how I’ve liked working here as editor since joining the company in December 2011. I think my haiku “Lo Hei”, which I composed after our company lunch during the Chinese New Year and posted on my Facebook wall the same evening, should speak volumes.

Feastful of dishes:
Never more tasty than in
present company.


For one, I now have a namecard that says, simply, “Jocelyn Lau, Editor”, printed on a nice hard card. Editor, not Assistant Editor, not Associate Editor, not (oh gosh) Production Editor. Just Editor. (It matters!)

For another, everything I’d imagined life as an editor would be, since the year 2000 when I graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute course, has finally taken form. I’d almost given up (boss, you know this), disillusioned, until this job presented itself.

At present, I’m juggling five book projects: Model Citizens by Haresh Sharma of The Necessary Stage (April––it’s a very, very good play! Read it! Or go watch it!); a book of rhyming verses for children (April––this will have sweet hand-drawn illustrations); a cookbook for clueless Singaporeans (May––I will be buying my own copy), Singapore Classics 2’s series of books (October––interesting job, this one); and a to-be-edited manuscript for Singapore expatriates (August?). [All the editing and proofreading at Epigram Books are done in-house.] There’s also a new photographic book project we’re brainstorming, due Christmas. And a couple of other projects in the pipeline we’re keeping an eye on.


Today, I had my face in a complicated author’s contract, which has been negotiated at length. Taking breaks while doing so, I wrote to a literary agent in New Zealand to explain why we want to edit the Singlish used in a book we’re hoping to republish; texted another writer to request personal particulars for an ISBN application; communicated with two photographers about a potential project; and wondered about a potential author’s silence over a draft contract. In between, our studio manager managed to distract my intense gaze from my Mac screen long enough to receive my project updates for the next day’s publishing meeting. And just before dashing off, late, to pick up my kid from his daytime minders, I sent off by email my suggestions for the title of that book of poems, knowing full well that ideas will come in fast and furious from various colleagues – throughout the night.

It’s been a good day at work.