Epigram Books Blog
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.’
In our new instalment of A Day in the Life, we bring you the perspective of Esther, our Design Intern (officially under Epigram). One of the bubbliest interns we’ve ever had the fortune to have under our employ, Esther pitched in with quite a few Epigram Books’ projects as well!
“Hello, this is Esther here, I am coming here for an interview, but I think I got lost. I don’t know where am I now, somewhere near a school called St Nicholas Girl School.”
“Huh… Got difference mehhh?”
And that was my adventurous start at Epigram, the award-winning design firm! I’m a design intern so officially I’m under Epigram. However, because we’re one big happy family, I’m often tasked to assist Epigram Books on design jobs as well!
On my first day, while I was sorting out PANTONE colour chips, I felt a huge sense of disbelief that as an intern, I had a such huge desk in such a nice open office, with whole stretches of white book shelves, and black and white photographs everywhere. I was stunned by how nice the office was and even more stunned by the awards displayed at the front of the office. While I tried to look cool and collected, I kept saying to myself, “Ahh… is this for real? I’m in Epigram! EPIGRAM!!”
This is a list of A+ experiences I had with Epigram:
1. Went for press check for the book Farrer Park.
It was really cool and a fantastic learning experience for me to see the maze like printing press and witness the birth of books! Seriously, those machines are crazy!
2. Doing overtime to read books.
Yes, design books, children books, coffee table books and all other kinds of BOOKS! I always imagine books on those nice white shelves will fly and one day if I accidentally fell asleep in office, words in it will line up and cover me with blanket.
3. Ate raw beef…
… and also other things that tasted really good but in all honesty, I didn’t really know what they were. This was during Edmund’s (the Managing Director of Epigram and Epigram Books) birthday.
4. Admitted to hospital.
Kidding, I became an actress! I posed as a mock patient for an annual report photo-shoot.
5. Did the layout for a book that is going to be published this year.
The title of the book is Sushi and Tapas and it will be out mid-August this year! Speaking about readability and legibility, Macheads spent lots of time getting things like layout and formatting right! (Macheads=designers who buried their heads with Mac). “I shall appreciate books and words more.” Repeat 3 times before you read any book!
Yes, I used to be afraid of doing illustrations because someone once told me I couldn’t draw. But I’ve found new confidence by illustrating for SPARK newsletter. It is one of the things I enjoyed most in my to-do-list. By the way, SPARK is an ADHD association, which Epigram supports.
7. Attended a book launch.
I’ve never attended any book launch before as I’m not quite a book person, but I get to eat nice pastries and drink champagne! (It was the launch of our new play, Mimi Fan by Lim Chor Pee). And it was really fascinating to see how the team at Epigram Books together with BooksActually pulled it all off! It’s really hard work!
Edmund once asked me, “So how? Do you still want to be a designer after being with us for 6 weeks?”
“Maybe, but I want to be a housewife! That’s my long term dream!” I replied with a silly grin. (But of course I wanted to be a designer first!)
I came to Epigram as a design intern thinking “hmm… I’m just an intern, I’m just going to learn about publication and probably a lot short cut keys using Adobe InDesign!”
But in the end, it turned out to not just be an internship, it was much more…
After a brief hiatus, our A Day in the Life mini-series returns with Josephine, our newest intern! Read on to find out what high jinks our interns get up to everyday.
My editor and supervisor, Ruth, warned me to always remain objective while evaluating a manuscript.
“Even if you like it, it might not sell. Or if a book bores you, you still have to read through everything,” she told me, in her wise motherly voice.
What this meant was that I would have use all the objective analytical skills at my command to evaluate the manuscript that she emailed me, no matter how much I liked or hated it. So I cuddled up on my seat with a nice steaming cup of Milo, and was quickly absorbed by the manuscript. To my colleagues it must have seemed like I was taking a nice, slow stroll through the park. As they passed by and saw me so comfortably sprawled in my seat, they eyed me with suspicion, and as I like to imagine, envy.
“The previous intern had so much work to do,” Stefany, our in-house designer, accused me during lunch, when I seemed to have nodded off by accident at my desk. (I wasn’t really though, I was just resting my eyes. Honest).
“I wasn’t slacking! I was assessing a manuscript!” I cried. And they all nodded pacifyingly.
After I was done with reading, I began typing out my evaluation report about how the book depicted a protagonist’s journey through life, and while the characters were realistically portrayed, with touching moments, the prose style could be somewhat awkward and stilted.
As I valiantly fought to insert both the good and bad points of the story in my report, I also considered the four criteria that were used to judge a manuscript’s potential to be published––Personality, Prose, Plot and Profit. I decided that the manuscript scored points on Personality and Plot but none on the other two, and explained why.
I then sent the report to my editors, who would use my report to help with their evaluation process. They make the final decision of course; I’m just an intern after all. And that, folks, is the manuscript evaluation process for you.
If you are a hopeful author reading this, please do go ahead and submit your works. We’re very nice people and like the good and professional publishers we are; we try our best to help all aspiring authors achieve their dream of getting published!
If you are a hopeful intern reading this, and think that this is an exceedingly easy job, you haven’t heard about the other tasks. But don’t worry on that count either. Nothing a book-lover can’t handle.
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
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!
The latest entry in our series on working at Epigram Books. In this episode, our intern Aran finds out what it’s like to track down an author the old-fashioned way.
Today Jocelyn, one of the editors, approaches me to give me more work. This is most satisfactory––an intern is created to serve. As the voluntarily enslaved, designated master of menial tasks, lackey work is what I exist for. Maybe it will be a new press clip to upload to the website, or a parcel to pack. Or maybe even an invoice to do up…One has the right to dream.
But Jocelyn has in mind something outside my usual job scope. Today I am to be an intern-cum-private investigator, set on the trail of a case shrouded in mystery and intrigue: The case of a man named Tan Kok Seng, who wrote a series of notable books in the 1970s but who has now seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. A tip-off from an unnamed informant tells us that he is still alive, and still in Singapore. Jocelyn has done reconnaissance via the Yellow Pages; I’ll just have to call every person with that name.
There are 49 people named Tan Kok Seng in Singapore.
Tan Kok Seng #1:
“Hello.. Can I speak to Mr Tan Kok Seng?”
“He’s working. What you want?”
“Do you know if he’s written a book before?”
“没有 la [No, he hasn't]. Bye bye.”
The next 10 or so calls repeat this pattern: “Don’t have la”…Never pick up…Never pick up…“Sir not home sorry”…“Wrong person”…Weird sound (dial up connection?!)
Around #15 is this very funny Tan Kok Seng.
Me: “Have you written a book before?”
TKS: “Return book?! I never borrow book how to return?”
Then around #17/18 is this old lady.
“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”
“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”
“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”
“(same thing in chinese)”
“Oh…ha ha. 他不在 [He's not here].”
Wah lau. The search for the true Tan Kok Seng does not seem to be drawing closer to an end. I pause for a while to contemplate the enormity of the task and the disastrous consequences of failure, then continue.
At #30 plus is this Tan Kok Seng who actually wrote a Chinese book before, but nothing in English…
By this time I have perfected my manner of speaking to grumpy old men, which is what most Tan Kok Sengs turn out to be (no offence to the handful of nice/youthful/non-grumpy TKSs). Just speak loudly and impatiently and they will relate to you/understand what you are saying much better.
#32-39 is this long stretch of no one picking up and discontinued numbers. By this time I’m almost just going through the motions. Even as the excellent, resilient intern I am, any hopes of getting to the end of this mystery are rapidly fading. Of all the countries in the world, Tan Kok Seng has sought refuge in the one where the most people share his name, and spun around himself a web of deception and misdirection. His insidious guile has bested me and he will forever remain an enigma, a phantom roaming the dark streets of Ang Mo Kio, an urban legend whose books we’ll never get to publish. With a heavy heart, I pick up the phone to resume.
Tan Kok Seng #40:
“Hello can I speak to Mr Tan Kok Seng please?”
“(woman’s voice) Ok wait”
“Hello? Mr Tan?”
“Yes, this is Tan Kok Seng speaking.”
“Hi Mr Tan I’m calling from a book publishing company. Have you ever written a book before?”
“What book are you talking about?”
“It's called Son of Singapore.”
“Oh yeah, my first book was Son of Singapore, my second book was Man of Malaysia, my third book was….”
But I’ve stopped paying attention. An angel’s choir has erupted in my head, and I feel like my entire being has been flooded with light. Felicia, Sok Wan and Charmayne, who have been eavesdropping on my phone calls and laughing at my failed conversations, freeze and turn in my direction.
“Mr Tan!!!!! I have been looking for you!!!!!!!!!!”