Epigram Books Blog
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.
Last month, we invited members at the Budding Writers League to participate in our Advance Review initiative, and we are extremely pleased with the enthusiastic response that our young hero Archibald has generated.
Many were delighted by the gripping plot from author SherMay Loh, who impressed readers with a well-thought-out mystery adventure. Our reviewers exclaimed that they were kept in suspense after suspense, twist after turn, as the mystery of the black knight’s ring unravelled.
One of our young reviewers, Rachel Han, was thoroughly impressed by the book. She wrote:
- Miss Rachel Han, 11, from Methodist Girls’ School
Another reviewer, who wrote a lovely, elaborate review, said:
We want to thank all our reviewers for reviewing Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring! Remember to introduce Archie to all your friends, or to anyone who loves a good read!
Oh, and before we forget, you’re all invited to the book launch!
See you on the 2nd of June for a day of games and contests! There are prizes to be won, so bring your friends and family, and grab a copy of Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Hunger check. Do I want to snag a biscuit from the pantry…or work?
Think I’ll continue working while I figure out the answer.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
Do you need fresh gift ideas? Would you like your dollars to support local industry? Like to read, but don’t have an iPad?
Well, you’ve come to the right blog. Take a look at these hand-picked recommendations for you and everyone on your list.
1. ARTSY FOLK
by Tan Tarn How
Tan won critical acclaim this year with his censorship-themed play Fear of Writing. Theatre buffs and culture watchers will appreciate Six Plays, a collection of his earlier works, which also push boundaries in topics such as sex, life and politics.
by Ernest Goh
The Fish Book is an collection of art photography focusing on the miniature world of ornamental fish. Warning: these charming close-up portraits may trigger a run to your local aquarium shop.
2. YOUNG AT HEART
by SherMay Loh
A thrilling tale about a bumbling son of a duke who gets embroiled in a sinister conspiracy. SherMay Loh keeps pages turning with endless wit and a fast-moving plot. This novel for young adults picked up a Bronze Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and a nomination for Popular Readers’ Choice in 2011.
by Adeline Foo
The latest volume in this bestselling series brings more laughs and tween angst as Amos takes part in his school’s talent contest. Catch up on the Amos Lee saga before the TV series airs on okto next year! This book won third place in the Children category of the Popular Readers’ Choice Awards 2011.
3. ARMCHAIR ADVENTURERS
by Stella Kon
Stella Kon may be most famous for a certain play starring Ivan Heng as a Nonya matriarch, but did you know she brought her dramatic talents to prose too? This historical novel brings you to Singapore of the 1910s, where overseas Chinese fought the revolution to bring down the Qing dynasty. This book is part of the Singapore Classics series, which reprints formerly out of print novels by pioneering local writers.
by Robert Goh
The real-life adventure story of how a Singaporean team climbed a Himalayan mountain without fixed ropes or the aid of sherpas. Written by Robert Goh, the leader of the expedition, this account sheds light on the many uncertainties of unguided expeditions to Himalayan big mountains and how they were overcome. “If you’re sure you can do it,” Goh often says, “where’s the challenge?”
4. FOOD LOVERS
by Dr Leslie Tay
Featuring mouthwatering photos of dishes from rojak to wanton mee, and stuffed with entertaining facts and fictions about hawker food in Singapore, this is a foodie guide like no other. Use this insider’s guide to clue in your friends and family about the best hawker stalls in Singapore.
by Ambrose Krishnan
Indian food fans will be enthralled by this collection of over 120 treasured family recipes from Pondicherry and Kerala. Recipes include those for Chutneys & Thovials, Rice, Seafood, Poultry, Meat, Vegetables, Snacks & Desserts, and Home Remedies.
5. EVERYONE ELSE
If none of your prospective giftees fit into the previous categories, we’re sure you’ll find an suitable design in our new series of NOTBOOKS. Take the NOTBOOK that reads “I AM NOT BOSSY. I AM TAKING CHARGE”, for instance. How many people does that remind you of?
Where to shop: all the books can be found in major bookstores, and NOTBOOKS can be ordered directly from Epigram Books and purchased at selected retailers.
The inaugural Popular Readers’ Choice Awards recognise Singapore’s favourite books as measured by sales and readers’ votes. We’re very pleased to note that of the 20 English books nominated, no fewer than 4 were published by Epigram Books! Not a bad showing for a young publisher! The nominees were: The End of Char Kway Teow, Archibald And the Blue Blood Conspiracy, Whoopie Lee and The Diary of Amos Lee 3.
We’re also excited to announce that The End of Char Kway Teow and The Diary of Amos Lee 3 each took third place in the Adult and Children categories, respectively. Congratulations to authors Dr Leslie Tay and Adeline Foo!
When we first read SherMay Loh’s manuscript for Archibald and the Blue Blood Conspiracy, we couldn’t put it down. We knew immediately that it was something special. And now, it looks like prize committee of the Moonbeam Awards are the latest folks to agree with us.
SherMay is the first author in Southeast Asia to bag an award at the international Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards for Young Adult fiction. And she is only the second in SE Asia ever to be “anointed” with a Moonbeam! (The first person was Emily Lim, also from Singapore, for a children’s picture book.)
And just how did she beat a thousand other entries, from all over the world (but mostly from America) to bag the Bronze Award for YA fiction? You’ll just have to read her book to find out. Though there is no prize money, SherMay will receive a medal, a certificate, endless publicity and some serious author “street cred”: PRICELESS! Congrats SherMay! We look forward to your next book, Archibald and the Black Knight’s Ring, out in 2012.