Epigram Books Blog
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.
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.
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’
Guess what! Awesome chef and talented writer Denise Fletcher is our guest blogger for this week!
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.
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.
“My goodness, where is this place?” friends asked, when they received invites to my book launch at Sekeping Victoria. That’s because it’s the newest and hippest event space in town, and tucked in a grid of streets filled with derelict warehouses and crumbling godowns.
The warehouses and godowns were built for the shipping and trading business that Penang had thrived on. The island was settled as a trading entrepot by its founder Francis Light. While trade had been the reason for the boom of Penang in the 19th century, the sun has definitely been setting on this industry since the mid-20th century. Little wonder then that warehouses like the one we were in had simply crumbled into obscurity.
They are coming out of The Twilight Zone now though. Just look at Sekeping Victoria which has been beautifully “Sek-San”ed. Ng Sek San is one of Malaysia’s premier landscape architects, and quite an eco-warrior. Like a Banksy of the architecture world, He’s been quietly showing Malaysians – and the world – how spaces can be re-designed minimally but cleverly so that they don’t lose their former personality. At the same time, they’re made relevant to today’s new uses .
It was a complete boon to learn that Sekeping Victoria was open for events – when I was planning my book launch in Penang. Because the Penang chapter revolves around the revitalisation of George Town, listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
Reading excerpts from the chapter in an old warehouse space, with much of its architecture like its walls left intact and practically untouched was completely poetic.
As I read out loud: “George Town is a city being revitalised, with new businesses taking over old ones and new entrepreneurs coming in to transform old spaces—former budget hotels (some otherwise known as brothels) are being turned into boutique hotels, derelict shophouses into art galleries, and disused warehouses into chic restaurants”—I really could feel that happy vibes were bouncing off the walls.
Just on Victoria Street alone, named after Queen Victoria, there is Sekeping Victoria, and a legal office where one of the partners is an avid art collector, and China House, a hip restaurant/bar/art gallery.
The first launch of my first book—Malaysia Bagus: Travels Through My Homeland—was held in Penang, and the crowd of friends and acquaintances numbered anything from 50 to a 100. About a core of 30-50 people had collected under the thin shadows of spindly trees planted inside the event space, to listen avidly to three guest readers and myself. Moira Toh, my running buddy, kicked off the reading with a Selangor excerpt; followed by Meng Yew Choong, a journalist, who read from Perak. Then Marina Emmanuel, Penang-based but born in Terengganu, read from that chapter. I finished off with excerpts from Penang, extolling her arduous journey towards heritage listing.
I then signed books after the reading. And posed for pictures with many friends and with many books!
Epigram’s design is totally eye-catching—the yellow, especially! Which, to a Malaysian these days, has meaningful connotations.
Our tea was local kuih and yummy orange-almond cake from China House. I was especially delighted to have the launch attended mostly by friends so it was a warm and friendly gathering, with most people knowing one another and even having something like a mini reunion on site! Seven girlfriends from Singapore had also flown up for the event—and since a couple of them were from PR and marketing, I had ample expert advice and help on the side! More photographs of the launch are available here!
Tell us a bit about your new book, Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring. What is your inspiration for the book?
Archie grows up in this second book and gets swept off his feet on a new adventure! His brother Alexander is framed for a theft that he did not commit, and Archie must help to clear his brother’s name and find the real thief. As Archie investigates, he and his friends get caught up in an even bigger mystery surrounding the death of a Black Knight seven years ago.
The Black Knights were introduced in the first book, and as you can see from the title, they are central to this second novel. I was inspired to further explore the life and culture of the Black Knights because, in the context of this story, they’re like a 19th Century version of the CIA or MI-5––they get sent on all kinds of classified secret assignments and even the location of their headquarters is a mystery. It’s good old-fashioned spy stuff, and Archie gets to be an amateur sleuth again.
Most local writers tend to focus on local content, why did you decide to write a book about 19th century England?
There’s a richer sense of adventure and intrigue when your characters fight with swords instead of guns and ride horses instead of cars. I grew up reading and enjoying stories about knights and castles and legends, so naturally my story was set in 19th-century England. In fact, I wrote a chapter of this novel while I was in holiday in England last June!
One of these days, though, I would like to try writing a local story set in Singapore.
How did you do research for Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring?
The Internet is an amazing repository of information. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t speak Latin, but I could translate what I needed for the story. Also, I wanted the vocabulary to fit the setting of the book, that is, the 1800s––and certain words such as “sabotage” didn’t come into use until 1910, so I couldn’t include them in my story.
Research is great because you can pick up all kinds of interesting nuggets of information. For instance, while researching about food in 19th-century England, I learned that poor folk in London would catch eels from the Thames River, since eels were one of the few creatures that could survive in the heavily polluted river. Eel became staple diet of the working class and eat them in a variety of ways: eel pie, jellied eel, stewed eel. Disgusting, yes! But this was a fascinating nugget of information, which I used in the story.
Was it easier or more difficult to write the second instalment of Archibald? Why?
It was more challenging and took longer to write––about four months.
Firstly, because the first book was well received, I wanted to make sure the second book lived up to the standard set by its predecessor.
Secondly, Black Knight’s Ring was like a bigger budget movie – the first book was set mainly in Wyndsor, the boarding school that Archie and his friends attend. However, this book has many different locations, which required more time and research to write.
However, because the first book had already established the characters and their interactions, it was easier to dive straight into the action. I could focus on continuity and character growth, as well as developing the new characters in the story.
The first book, Archibald & The Blue Blood Conspiracy, won the Bronze Award for the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award. How did you feel about this win?
Surprised and very flattered! The Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards is a US-based contest, with entries from all over the world. So it felt great to know that Archibald could compete with all these entries and still impress the judges. It reaffirms my belief that Archibald has international appeal, and some publishers in Europe and Canada have expressed interest in acquiring overseas rights to the Archibald books.
You have a growing readership with young and adult readers. What do you think is the appeal of your series of books?
Archibald is a character that all of us––young and not-so-young––can all relate to, because he’s just a normal person finding his place in the world. He’s not fearless, he’s not perfect, but that’s what makes him real. His loyalty and empathy, in particular, are his strengths, and these help him to overcome his doubts and fears as he deals with problems and challenges along the way.
Additionally, the story has a strong and colourful supporting cast, such as Alexander, Archie’s older brother, as well as other interesting characters. Both kids and adults enjoy the twists and turns in the plot – I’ve been told by readers that the last four or five chapters of both books HAVE to be read all in one sitting. They couldn’t put the book down!
What was involved in publishing this book? Are you already writing the next book?
Not yet! It has been a whirlwind getting this second book ready for publication. A great deal of work went on behind the scenes. In a nutshell: there were several rounds of editing, done by me and my editor. The designer laid out the book pages and a professional illustrator from Imaginary Friends Studios created the cover and nine awesome interior illustrations. We also printed a small number of review copies that were sent to advance reviewers, who gave a blurb (short review) for the back cover of the final book. There’s also the marketing side of things, where we prepared for the book launch and planned marketing and promotion initiatives (such as contest tie-ups with bookstores to feature the book).
What is your advice for budding young writers?
This may sound counter-intuitive, but don’t start writing to be published. Don’t write what you think people want to read. Write what’s fun for you. Because what you write when you’re just starting out should be just for practice and for fun. And more importantly, this process will help you develop and improve your unique writing style, which is the foundation of writing for publication in the future.
From the perspective of the book-loving team at Epigram Books, there are few sights more magical than watching a book being made. A few of us have attended book binding courses, but this is the first time that Epigram Books has produced Advance Review Copies! (to be subsequently referred to as ARCs)
So just what is an ARC for, you may ask. Usually, ARCs are sent to professional book reviewers and reporters for advance praise and reviews. In our case, however, we have printed ARCs for our partners at the Budding Writers League for their members to participate in our first ever review initiative!
The title in question is Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring by our award-winning author SherMay Loh! The second book in the Archibald series, the book will be officially launched at Books Kinokuniya (Singapore Main Store) on 2 June at 2.00pm, but a few lucky people will be able to read this exciting new instalment more than a month before anyone else.
So how is an ARC produced, you ask? In chronological order: printing the book on our in-house printer, cutting it to size, and then binding it all together. The last step is printing the front and back covers and sticking them on the bound book, and viola! A completed ARC. Of course, from the printing of the ARC to the actual publication of Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring, there will frantic final edits between the editor and the author, harried insertions of advance praise on the front cover by our designer, and final checks on all the text and illustrations (done by the fantastic Imaginary Friends Studios!)
So there you go! Another brief inside look at what goes on at Epigram Books and the not-always-glamourous world of book publishing.
Schoolboy, toilet diarist, Twitter star—just who is this Amos Lee? Visit our Facebook page to view this teaser. “Like” us for the latest updates on the books and special events! The Amos Lee TV series (official page) starts next Wednesday at 8pm on okto.
By the way, the Amos Lee series will be the first local children’s books adapted to TV! Thank you, all you Amos Lee fans! Your support has made this achievement possible.
In the meantime, you can find the latest Amos Lee book, The Diary of Amos Lee: Your D.I.Y. Toilet Diary to Fame! in major bookstores islandwide.
Here are photos from yesterday’s launch at the Kinokuniya Main Store.
Save the date! On Sunday, January 15, meet Ernest Goh, photographer of The Fish Book, and Adeline Foo, author of the brand-new Amos Lee book The Diary of Amos Lee: Your D.I.Y. Toilet Diary to Fame!