Epigram Books Blog

Interview with Prof. Edwin Thumboo January 11 2013

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?

ET:

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.

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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.




Interview with ‘Sherlock Sam’ Authors! January 04 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.

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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.

 

 


‘Spider Boys’: Interview with Author Ming Cher December 28 2012

Last week, our editor Jocelyn offered some insight into the editorial process behind Ming Cher’s Spider Boyspart 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 friendsKwang, Chinatown Yeow, Sachee. It is however a work of fictionto 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 workJurong, 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 timeHogg 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!

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Find out more about Ming Cher’s Spider Boys and read sample pages from the novel here.


‘Spider Boys’: A Book Recommendation by the Editor! December 21 2012

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.

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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!

 


‘A New Home for Bo Bo and Cha Cha’: Interview with the Author December 14 2012

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. :)

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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!


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!


‘Our Gurkhas’: The Process of Creating the Book August 17 2012

Epigram Books is proud to present Our Gurkhas: Singapore Through Their Eyes by talented photographer and writer Zakaria Zainal.

Do keep a look out  on the Epigram Books Facebook page for more details about the first book event!

Zakaria will be on hand to autograph copies of your book.

Date: Friday, 31 August 2012
Time: 7:30pm to 9:00pm
Venue: National Library, Possibility Room, Level 5


Without further ado, we’ll hear from Zakaria about the journey he embarked on to publish his book.

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Exactly a year ago, I was based in Nepal doing fieldwork—gathering portraits and anecdotes of the retired Singapore Gurkhas. Little did I know the impact this work would have on the Gurkha community as well as Singaporeans.

What a difference this year has been.

Let me state upfront: The journey in making a book on this invisible community would not have been possible without the support of Epigram Books.
I first met Edmund in November 2011, as we both were speakers for PLATFORM—a gathering of Singapore-based photographers, who use stills, video or multimedia, to tell stories.

I was sharing my work on the Gurkhas while he was sharing more about book publishing, especially photography books. A few meetings later, work on the book started. I believe we were both excited at the thought of making this photography book possible.

It was my first time being involved in such a process but I have enjoyed it at every step—be it the editorial direction, choice and sequencing of portraits and stories as well as marketing this book project.

But it cannot be said enough, the help and support of the Singapore Gurkha community in Nepal for opening their homes and hearts, and allowing me to document their lives to be shared with other Singaporeans.

Enjoy these photographs that documents the process of making the book.


A Day in the Life of Esther July 16 2012

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!

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“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.”

“Are you coming for an interview under Epigram or Epigram Books?”

“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!

6. Illustrate.
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…


The Truth About Advance Review Copies April 04 2012

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!)

E


So there you go! Another brief inside look at what goes on at Epigram Books and the not-always-glamourous world of book publishing.


A Day in the Life of Sok Wan March 28 2012

Rejoice! It's the latest of instalment of A Day In The Life. Sok Wan talks about her life of Editing and spills the beans on our top-secret upcoming launches.
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One of the perks of my job is that I often get to meet and work with some very interesting people, with fascinating stories and backgrounds. Tomorrow I will be meeting Ernest Goh, the photographer behind The Fish Book, to discuss on future marketing plans for the book, and he will also be showing us samples shots from his new project! His photographs have never failed to amuse and amaze me and I very much look forward to seeing what he’s been up to after wrapping up The Fish Book. (Felicia and I couldn’t help bursting out in laughter when Edmund shared with us the subject for this new project. It’s unheard of and Edmund even came up with a hilarious title for the project. I’d love to share, but I have to keep mum for now to protect Ernest’s interest!) Later this week, I’ll be meeting a famous local comic artist to discuss on publishing his comics, and also a local celebrity chef to have a follow-up meeting on publishing his cookbook. Plus many more meetings with poets, artists, photographers and chefs in the following weeks.

Besides these prospective projects, here’re the statuses of the ongoing projects I’ve been working on for the week…


1.Uncle Lau’s Teochew Recipes by Lau Chiap Khai and Lau Lee Leng.

This book was supposed to go to print like…two weeks ago? But that didn’t happen because we had to make some last minute changes to the illustrations. Last week, Lee Leng requested that we use illustrations done by her late husband (renowned local architect Mr Jack Tan). It’s quite problematic as our publication deadline will need to be pushed back for at least a month and our ongoing promotion and publicity plans halted. However, after seeing the illustrations, I believe the delay will be well worth it. Mr Jack Tan’s food illustrations––stunningly intricate and lovely––are perfect accompaniment to the delicate and refreshing Teochew recipes in the book! But don’t take my word for it, grab a copy of the book when we launch it late April and see for yourself!

2. A series of poetry collection by Professor Edwin Thumboo, Professor Kirpal Singh and Mr Robert Yeo.

This landmark poetry series will showcase the best works by Singapore’s Pioneer Poets. To ensure that the poems included in the collection are indeed the ‘best of’ their works, the poets have been working hard, and I have been working closely with them to re-re-re-revise their selection. Mr Robert Yeo dropped by in the afternoon to pass me his revised poetry selection, which was all hand-written. I spend about an hour typing it out, but, I quote my managing editor, “For you, Robert, anything!”  (see A Day In the Life Of: Ruth) But, seriously, Mr Yeo is a very nice person to work with and I’m really grateful that he has been dutifully keeping to the timeline of the project. And today, I finally manage to confirm a date for the book launch event! Given the busy schedules of the poets, finding a suitable date for the launch is no easy task—it took about 20 emails back and forth and frantic flipping of the calendar to confirm a date that is three months in advance! Yes, the series will be launched in July!

3. Graphic novel series (or comics series, but calling it graphic novels does make it sound more ‘atas’ and serious, because we are a serious publisher!)––Epigram Books’ new imprint!!

I’m real excited and looking forward to this project. Who knows? This could just be Singapore’s first successful graphic novel series that breaks into the international market! We have big plans to sell rights of the series to the US where the comics industry is burgeoning. Details of the graphic novels or identities of the comic artists that we are working with will be announced via our blog and Facebook. So hurry and ‘Like’ our Facebook page right now! And stay tuned!

 


A Day in the Life of Felicia March 12 2012

Welcome back to the hectic harried universe of Epigram Books. In this edition, our Rights and Marketing Manager Felicia gives us an inside view into the glamorous world of book marketing.

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Greetings Earthlings!

I’m Felicia, the Rights & Marketing Manager with Epigram Books. Basically what this means is that it is my job to ensure that all our titles are known by and hopefully read by everyone the world over!

Now. When I decided to join Epigram Books, I thought that I would be taking on something less hectic in my old age. I mean, after more than five years in book retail, what could compare to prepping for the release of the final book in the Harry Potter series or a new Lee Kuan Yew title? Now that’s the Hard Truth. Little did I realise the insanity that awaited me at Epigram Books: firstly, a food crazy Managing Editor constantly dragging us around the island for lunch to try new food places; secondly, a Managing Director who only answers emails after 2am. And yet…I wouldn’t change anything for the world (Well, maybe just the printers. Maybe).

So here you go. A peek at my to-do list slash post-it mad day.

TO DO LIST

  • Ask someone how to turn on the darn Mac! Buy new mouse because the Apple mouse has no roller and fingers are not equipped to deal.
  • Call Canadian publisher to discuss sale of rights for Archibald and the Blue Blood Conspiracy. (Update: When trying to use a Skype account, first remember to set up Skype account.)
  • Read Rights Contract. Bring contract home to read. Bah. (Note: Go back to school to get a law degree.)
  • Chase editors to fix a launch date for new titles in Stage to Print series: Model Citizens, Fear of Writing and Mimi Fan. (Note: Remember to read scripts in order to appear somewhat intelligent when talking to playwrights.)
  • Talk to Min about press kit for Stage to Print series. (To think about: How far is too far when it comes to creating controversy over political plays? Should probably check with someone as would like to keep job.)
  • Tell Aran minion to mail samples of The End of Char Kway Teow and Heritage Cookbook title to Overseas Singapore Unit (OSU). (Update: Make sure that all future minions are taught from the start that they should write the address on the front of the envelope not the back.) — Reminder: Email OSU about new cookbook for lazy people aka students!! Also newlyweds.
  • Check with Boon how to print paperwork needed to process first ever Epigram Book title order from Dubai!!! (Note: Also ask Boon why the printer hates me and refuses to print for me. Create own Epigram Books letterhead because the printer hates me.)
  • Talk to Jocelyn about marketing plan for new local kid’s poetry book coming out. (Reminder: Tell her about the time I almost drowned longkang fishing since there’s a poem about longkang fishing in the collection.) Also ask Sok Wan what’s the progress on the SG Poets series (Note: Think really, really hard about how to plan an event with Professor Edwin Thumboo, Robert Yeo and Kirpal Singh).
  • Email Adeline Foo on her upcoming appearance at the Hong Kong International Young Readers Book Fair in March. IMPORTANT: Make sure Sok Wan is around to speak Cantonese in case HK distributor calls to talk about sending The Diary of Amos Lee titles to Hong Kong. Speaking Mandarin in a funny accent does not Cantonese make.
  • Continue to set up meetings for Edmund at the Bologna Children’s Fair in March. To check: What exactly constitutes spam mail? (OMG, remember to actually BUY Bologna fair tickets for Edmund!!!!!)
  • Prepare for Books-in-Progress meeting next week. (Note to self: actually prepare this time, don’t pretend to have lost notes. THEY KNOW.)
  • Help draft email to comic creators keeping in mind delicate sensibilities of artists (Note: remember to hide notepad so no one can see comments on delicate sensibilities of artists, especially in-house designers).
  • Do a to do list for tomorrow. (Reminder: Buy more post-its too. Sticky ones this time)

 


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.


A Day in the Life of Aran February 29 2012

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.

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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?”

“Huh”

“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”

“HUH?”

“Can I speak to Tan Kok Seng?”

“HUH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“(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!!!!!!!!!!”

 


A Day in the Life of Ruth February 16 2012

What is it really like to work at Epigram Books? How is a manuscript or an idea scribbled on an NTUC receipt turned into a finished book that you hold in your hands?

Now, with our new series A Day In the Life, you can find out! First off is our managing editor Ruth, who recaps a typical day. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into the wild, weary and wonderful reality of literary publishing.

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7.45am 

I fumble for keys as I walk towards the locked doors of the office. First to arrive. Again. Have just dropped my son off at his primary school––school starts way too early, and I’ve nothing to do after bidding him goodbye, so that’s why I’m always the first one in. After staring at my computer for a while, I begin work.

First task of the day: sieve through the 100 emails I have received. Indian company advertising its book cover design services. Hotel in Frankfurt advertising cheap hotel rates. “Book now for the Frankfurt Book Fair in October (or risk disappointment!)”. I also get other emails: a potential author griping the advanced royalties we offered him is way too low (“how to feed family?”), a colleague who sends a funny quote she read on how to write well, and another cold call from a wannabe writer with a tome of a manuscript for me to assess. I make hot tea while contemplating the trajectory of my day. Oooom.

 

8.30am

Ding, dong! We receive a surprise visit from Robert Yeo! How I love that man––such an easy person to work with, always a gentleman, so dapper. We republished his book The Adventures of Holden Heng last year. Robert is stopping in to drop off his introduction to a play we’re hoping to publish in April––Mimi Fan by Lim Chor Pee. I look at the introduction––it is handwritten! How cool is that! I spend the next hour typing it out. For you, Robert, anything!

9.30am

After sending off the introduction to my intrepid designer, Boon, for layout, I buckle down to look at the emails that really matter. Imaginary Friends Studios has just sent in the draft illustrations for the new Archibald book, out in May. Eeks! Why does Archibald look like a Japanese manga character? It’s ok, it’s ok––still early days, and I’m very confident they’ll get it right because Darren Tan of IFS is DA BOMB.

Have a quick discussion with Stefany regarding the draft cover. We also spend time choosing eight portions of the book to illustrate––these will be spot illustrations, more like sketches. Should we illustrate the twist at the end of the book? Hmm. Would it give the story away if someone accidentally flips to that picture at the end? Double hmm. Should we illustrate the evil villain? Hmm. Hmm. Hmm. Or leave it to the readers’ imagination? Got budget? What is best for reader? Decisions, decisions, decisions. And oh yes, Stef and I both agree this Archibald book is even better than the first one. Go SherMay!

11am

Hunger check. Do I want to snag a biscuit from the pantry…or work?

Tough question...

Think I’ll continue working while I figure out the answer.

11.15am

Receive an email from Lim Chor Pee’s family. They are the ones signing contract with us as Lim Chor Pee has passed away. The daughter, Claudine, explains she is from a family of lawyers. I understand the reason for her explanation as I read her email––she is requesting to include, among other things, the following clause in our contract:

The illegality, invalidity or unenforceability of any provision of this Agreement shall not affect the legality, validity or enforceability of any other provision of this Agreement.

Wha wha what?

I call Claudine and she is extremely friendly and approachable. In essence, the terms and terminology and phrasing and phraseability of the aforementioned contractual agreeity are rectified, clarified and demystified in, but not in exclusivity of, and not limited to but in consideration of the following ways: colloquial banter, jokes, plainspeak and much humour and discreet laughing. In short, we sorted it out!

11.45am

Contract settled (I think! I hope!). It’s time to…call some celebrities! Yes, celebrities! Wait, let me check my breath. My nail polish. My hair. JUST kidding. First on the list: Woffles Wu. Yes, we are doing a book project with Woffles and he is lovely to talk to over the phone. Next I call Mr Brown. I hope to convince him to do a book project with us. I call, and call, and call. Then email. He replies to email, “Ah, that was you? Sorry, having flu.” I tell him I will call him later. It’s off to lunch then. Lunch is porridge, colleagues, talk of board games, Munchkin, Ticket to Ride, Hwa Chong students, doing wushu as CCA and studying in America.

1.30pm


Start chatting with Felicia, our marketing manager about marketing ideas for our Gurkha Book and our Teochew Recipes Book. Unlike our fiction titles, these non-fiction titles rarely receive sponsorship or grants. =( How do we ensure they make money for us? How do we ensure people buy our beautifully-designed cookbooks and photo books? We think of a few ideas which Feli will follow up on. Suddenly, I get a call from SherMay––she was supposed to drop by to discuss marketing for Archibald. “Sorry, Ruth, I have flu. On the way to doctor’s. Postpone to next week?” Is there a flu epidemic today? Hee. No matter, I start to type out my discussion points with her over email, since our meeting has been postponed. Don’t want to lose a week because of flu!

2pm

Off to a meeting with Edmund which will take the whole day. But before that, I note down my key tasks for tomorrow: a) Proofread Mimi Fan in layout b) Call Mr Brown c) Send new short story to Dr Howard Goldblatt who is helping us translate some Cultural Medallion Chinese novels, including You Jin’s, for publication in October this year c) Chase Tan Tarn How for the revised manuscript of Fear of Writing (yes we’re hoping to publish that in Apr!) and d) Send email IFS to discuss our comments for the book cover (make Archibald less manga!) and spot illustrations.

I switch off my computer, grab my bag and speed off behind Edmund while he harrumphs and harranghs about our celebrity book project, his latest culinary find ODP and how we should rename a poetry book we’re putting out soon. That’s all, in the day of a life of an Editor, for you!


Goodbye 2011, Hello 2012 December 29 2011

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!


The NOTBOOKS Report December 27 2011

It’s been a hectic two months since the official launch of Epigram Books’ NOTBOOKS. So, what happens when a small book publisher decides to take its first plunge into retail by selling its own line of designer stationery?

For one thing, formerly deskbound staff found themselves getting up to 150 additional minutes of cardio a week due to new delivery duties, plus toned arms from lifting boxes of NOTBOOKS (50 count). Especially exciting for the shopaholics among us, we got to meet (virtually or in-person) the managers and merchandisers of cool indie stores like Cat Socrates and Woods In the Books. We even got to play shopkeeper as we participated in holiday fairs and bazaars. It was great fun to have people stop by our stalls to browse and comment out loud on the books that would be perfect for certain friends or co-workers. (Don’t worry, your comments are safe with us.)

Two months on, we’re pleased to see our NOTBOOKS selling briskly, and furthermore, that they’ve won mentions in various lifestyle blogs and magazines like Home & Decor, Simply Her and Young Parents. All you dreamers, shopaholics and bossypants out there, thanks for the support! And stay tuned, because this won’t be the last you’ll see of NOTBOOKS.

By the way, if you haven’t already, order your NOTBOOKS directly from Epigram Books to get up to 3 books free! This promotion will end December 30, 2011.