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On Books, With Haresh Sharma

Need a good book to read this weekend? Read on for suggestions from Haresh Sharma, Resident Playwright at local theatre company The Necessary Stage.

Sharma has published two plays with Epigram Books: Those Who Can’t, Teach and Model Citizens.

What was your favourite book growing up?

I mostly read books from my primary school library and the second-hand bookshops, such as The Famous Five, The Secret Seven and The Five Find-Outers. But my favourite was the Amar Chitra Katha Indian stories for children [written in English]. I loved reading the fables, folktales and epics from Panchatantra and the Ramayana.

What books are currently on your ‘to-read’ list?

Fear of Writing by Tan Tarn How
Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw
Wish You Were Here by Graham Swift
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry

Who are your top five authors?

This is a random selection: EM Forster, Haruki Murakami, Jhumpa Lahiri. As a playwright, I also admire the works of Caryl Churchill. For Singapore writers, I would say Arthur Yap and Alfian Sa’at.

Have you ever faked reading a book? If so, which one(s)?

Unfortunately, I had to fake-read in university. There were too many books and too little time. When I discovered theatre, literature took a bit of a back seat.

Have you ever bought a book just because you thought the cover was beautiful? If so, which one?


If you could pick just one book to recommend, which book would it be?

These are my favourites which I read in the last year or so:

In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
Room by Emma Donoghue

Is there a book that changed your life? If so, which one?

There isn’t one specific book that changed my life. But when I was introduced to modern English literature back in school, I was heavily inspired, both by the writing and the writers’ world-views. The writings of Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, DH Lawrence, TS Eliot, EM Forster among others, sealed my love for literature and yes, changed my life.

What is your favourite line from a book?

I don’t recall lines from books––except the quotes I had to memorise as a literature student!

What book would you want to read again for the first time?

There isn’t any book I want to read again for the first time. But there are books I DO want to read for the first time, especially great classics which I’ve missed out on––writers like Tolstoy and Nabokov, CS Lewis and Tolkien, and Lorca and Marquez.

What book or book character would you want to be real?


Also check out our previous instalments in this series, with Robert Yeo and Ovidia Yu. Happy reading!

On Books, With Ovidia Yu

This week, the energetic and vivacious playwright and author Ovidia Yu graces us with her take on books!

Ovidia has published an anthology of plays with Epigram Books titled Eight Plays.

What was your favourite book growing up?

At different ages:

Apple Bough by Noel Streatfield
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Metamorphosis by Ovid (probably because of the name!)

What books are currently on your ‘to-read’ list?

The Taj Conspiracy by Manreet Sodhi Somesshwar (just published, I’m part way through now!)
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (coming out Aug 28th)

Who are your top five authors?

Currently: (if you’re talking living writers)

1. Louise Penny
2. Alan Bradley
3. Kerry Greenwood
4. Donna Leon
5. Alexander McCall Smith

But the list changes from month to month, sometimes from week to week and from day to day so don’t engrave this in stone!

Have you ever faked reading a book?

If you mean to avoid being drawn into conversation, yes. But it doesn’t work very well because if people want to talk they’ll ask “what are you reading?” “Is it any good?” So as a general rule it works better fake praying or meditating.

Have you ever bought a book just because you thought the cover was beautiful? If so, which one?

So far no.

If you could pick just one book to recommend, which book would it be?

Malay Sketches by Alfian Saat.

Is there a book that changed your life? If so, which one?

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

What is your favourite line from a book?

(I may be misquoting, I don’t have the book with me but this is roughly how it goes.) From Nancy Mitford’s Love In A Cold Climate:

“Such a beautiful girl and no BA at all,” Lady Montdore said. “SA,” said Lady Patricia faintly, “Or BO.”

What book would you want to read again for the first time?

Sorry, I can’t think of one. I think the more I reread books the more I grow to love them. I wouldn’t want to lose that bond with any of the books I’ve grown to love and I wouldn’t want to read any of the others (again) for the first time.

What book or book character would you want to be real?

The Three Pines books by Louise Penny. I would love to go visit the B & B in Three pines where the food is fantastic (in fantasy and novel worlds I can eat meat) and all the furniture is for sale, and meet Clara Morrow and Inspector Gamache.

From Stage to Print, With Haresh Sharma and Tan Tarn How

“The political drama that unfolded in real life in Singapore last year was perfect fodder for the political drama of the stage”
The Straits Times

Epigram Books presents the latest additions to our Stage to Print series: Model Citizens by Haresh Sharma and Fear of Writing by Tan Tarn How.

Both plays, written amidst a climate of increased political awareness, inspired impassioned thought and discussion upon their respective releases.

Model Citizens delves into the lives of the people affected when a man stabs an Member of Parliament at a Meet The People’s Session. Exploring the state of Singaporean social order through a cast of highly relatable characters, Haresh Sharma delivers a work both intellectually stimulating and deeply humane.

Fear of Writing is a groundbreaking commentary on the political climate of Singapore today. Tan Tarn How, Singapore’s quintessential political playwright, marks his return to the scene after a decade of inactivity with a monumental play that confronts the purpose of art and censorship in Singapore, and questions whether Singaporeans have become indifferent to the injustice around them.

The books continue to pose questions as of yet unanswered by Singapore’s shifting political scene and remain representative of the tumultuous period.

Model Citizens won Best Director and Best Actress at the Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards 2011. Fear of Writing was nominated for Best Original Script, Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards 2012.

Model Citizens and Fear of Writing will be launched at The Arts House on Friday, 18th May at 7.30pm. Both Haresh Sharma and Tan Tarn How will be attending to discuss their respective inspirations and motivations behind their works. Additionally, cast members from both plays will be staging a reading during the event.

Be sure to make a date with these prolific playwrights and delve into their creative processes writing these bold, winning plays.


A Day in the Life of Jocelyn

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


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.

Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012

Happy New Year to one and all! In this special Q&A, Epigram Books staff look back on the year nearly over and gaze into the months ahead.

1. What was one of your favourite projects this year?

Sok Wan: I enjoyed working on all of the projects! I worked on a variety of projects this year: a play collection, a food guidebook, a cookbook, a photography book and also a children’s book. But if I had to pick my favourite, it would be The Fish Book. The fish photographs by Ernest are all so whimsical and quirky! I think it is amazing that he managed to capture various moods (happy, sad, grouchy, cheeky, etc.) of the fish. I never knew fishes were so expressive!

Min: The time I spent working on Epigram Books’ website and Facebook community was pretty rewarding. Besides the fun of conceptualising and writing blog entries and Facebook posts, it was interesting to learn how WordPress and Facebook page administration worked behind the scenes.

Ruth: I really enjoyed working on Archibald and the Blue Blood Conspiracy by SherMay Loh. I love SherMay’s writing, and it was fun working with Imaginary Friends Studios to illustrate the book and see the characters come to life through their amazing drawings. Conceptualising the book cover with our designer, Stefany, was also a cool experience––we had a lot of discussion about “imagining” the scene that is now the front cover of the book.

2. What was a high point of your year?

Sok Wan: Selling NOTBOOKS at the MAAD Pajamas market. It was quite tiring to stand at our stall (by the road and no shelter!) for 8 hours straight, but seeing the NOTBOOKS sell like hot cakes was really exhilarating! It was also fun to see groups of people crowding around our NOTBOOK banner laughing as they pointed at different NOTBOOKS to assign the different titles to their friends. I am looking forward to seeing more NOTBOOK-related merchandise come out next year!

Min: I was thrilled to sit in on an exploratory meeting that included several local comic artists. I’ve been reading some of their comics for years and it was fascinating to see these creators in person and hear the personal thoughts and concerns outside of their works.

Ruth: One of the high points was selling Chong Tze Chien’s collection of plays, Four Plays, at the staging of Charged in July 2011. Why was this a high point? For one, the book sold like crazy! We could hear the click-clack of our little cash box opening and closing all night long. Secondly, it was the first time the whole Epigram Books team hauled itself down to execute a book launch. We were like travelling salesmen for the night, carrying posters, books, spare cash, receipts, and we even had to do catering that night! Talk about one multi-talented editorial team, plus it was a bonding experience!

3. Name a person or thing that inspired you. Why did they inspire you?

Sok Wan: Madam Padma Krishnan is a very lovely person who is fiercely passionate about cooking. I am glad we published her cookbook which fulfilled her wish to document her family’s recipes so that future generations can get to taste authentic South Indian cuisine. I can still remember the scrumptious feast she prepared for us when we went to her house for food tasting––the food she cooked was truly inspirational and till today, the colleagues who came along for the food tasting are still asking when we can have a meal at her place again!

Min: The Epigram Books and Epigram team! It’s a pleasure to come in every day knowing at some point someone will make you laugh, teach you something new, or complete whatever request you might make with professionalism and grace.

Ruth: For a while, being the only Editor with a car, I played “delivery man” and helped deliver our NOTBOOKS to several lifestyle shops in Singapore. I am very encouraged by shops like Cat Socrates and Woods in the Books. These are small, quirky, independent locally-owned lifestyle shops, started by people with great passion and vision. I’m glad there’s still the spirit of enterprise and passion out there in our local shops–that really makes me happy!

4. What are you looking forward to next year?

Sok Wan: I am looking forward to working on upcoming photography books under our Wee Editions imprint. Titles that are scheduled to be released in 2012 include The Effigies Book, The Teochew Muay Book, and The Durian Book, to name a few. We hope to expand our photography titles in 2012 and I’d like to take this opportunity to invite all interested local photographers to contact us if you have any works you’d like to publish, or if you have ideas for a photography book!

Min: It looks like we’re adding to our marketing resources in the new year, so I look forward to thinking up publicity and marketing strategies to get Epigram Books’ titles in the hands of people who would enjoy them…even if they may not know it yet.

Ruth: I am looking forward to editing the five Cultural Medallion works we are publishing in English next year. These will be works by Chinese authors You Jin, Xi Ni Er and Dr Wong Meng Voon, Tamil author M. Balakrishnan and Malay author Suratman Markasan. We have been hard at work putting the series together, meeting these luminary Cultural Medallion authors and identifying good translators who will do justice to their works. For me, having read some of You Jin’s works in Chinese before, I especially look forward to editing her works in English! Happy New Year everyone!

Follow the Playwright's Process

In two weeks, Epigram Books and Books Actually will host an intimate session in which Chong Tze Chien, Tan Tarn How and Ovidia Yu will speak about their craft and playwrighting journeys.

When we were deciding what the theme for this event should be, Dr Robin Loon, our distinguished moderator, pointed out how rare it is to have three luminary playwrights get together for a literary evening. He therefore suggested the title of “The Playwrights’ Progress” and said he wanted to focus on the playwrights themselves, their journey, their insights, and their stories.

All are welcome to join this singular event; theatre buffs, aspiring writers, students, teachers, academics, young and old.

Date: Friday, 4th November 2011
Time: 7pm (Book sale from 7pm, talk from 7:30pm)
Venue: Books Actually, 9 Yong Siak Street Singapore 168695

Read more about the books in the Playwright Omnibus series: