Epigram Books Blog
SINGAPORE, 10 March 2015—Epigram Books is pleased to announce the launch of a new literary prize, the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.
The annual prize of S$20,000 is the richest literary award in Singapore. It is to be awarded to a Singaporean, Singaporean permanent resident or Singapore-born author for the best manuscript of a full-length, original and unpublished novel written in the English language. The first winner will be announced at this year’s Singapore Writers Festival in November 2015 and have his/her novel published by Epigram Books.
“We want to reward excellence in contemporary Singapore creative writing and to encourage the readership of high-quality Singapore literature by publishing the winning and shortlisted entries,” explains Edmund Wee, Publisher and CEO of Epigram Books.
The competition is now open for entries. The manuscript must be unpublished and uncontracted to a publisher. Four hard copies of the manuscript and a completed official entry form should be submitted by post or delivered by hand to Epigram Books at Block 1008 Toa Payoh North #03-08 Singapore 318996. The closing date for submissions is August 31, 2015, 6pm.
The judging panel will be chaired by Edmund Wee. The names of the other judges will be announced at a later date. For more information about the inaugural edition of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, or for any queries, please visit www.epigrambooks.sg.
About Epigram Books
An independent publisher based in Singapore, Epigram Books is known for putting together well-designed and thought-provoking titles. It began as a division of the multiple award-winning communications design firm Epigram but registered as a separate entity in July 2011 to champion Singaporean literature.
It is best known for the middle grade series, The Diary of Amos Lee, which has sold over 240,000 copies worldwide. Other landmark publications include translations of Cultural Medallion winners and new editions of out-of-print classic Singaporean novels.
Epigram Books Fiction Prize
The Epigram Books Fiction Prize promotes contemporary Singapore creative writing and rewards excellence in Singapore literature. The annual prize is Singapore’s richest literary award. S$20,000 is awarded to the Singaporean, permanent resident or Singapore-born author for the best manuscript of a full-length, original and unpublished novel written in the English language. The competition is now open for entries. The first winner will be announced at the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2015 and have his/her novel published by Epigram Books. Please download the official entry form and rules and regulations here.
This week, local literary giant Robert Yeo shares some thoughts on his work and his process of writing. At this juncture, Mr. Yeo has published The Adventures of Holden Heng and The Best of Robert Yeo with Epigram Books.
You write in many different genres: poetry, plays, fiction, memoir, libretti. Why have you explored so many different genres of writing over the course of your long writing career, rather than sticking to just one? Do you, for example, find yourself writing in different genres at different points in your life? And do you feel more comfortable in one genre over another?
I enjoy writing in a variety of genres because each genre poses challenges. Sometimes I go into another because of neglect for instance my plays, and then some one asks me to write a libretto, and I jump at the opportunity. Leow Siak Fah , founder of the Singapore Lyric Opera, asked me and John Sharpley to jointly write an opera sometime in 2003/04, and I welcomed it as I felt it provided me with the chance to combine the skills of poetry and drama. We co-wrote the opera Fences which was staged in August 2013.
Writing in several genres often overlap. I do not favour one genre over another, although poetry is a sentimental favourite because it is the first, whilst plays and opera are exciting because they get performed. Fiction, because it is now a dominant form, travels the best, I think. Memoirs represent another challenge, of selective remembering and also because, with exceptions, most autobiographies in Singapore are not well written.
There’s always been a performative aspect to your writing –playwriting, librettos. Was this an accident, or has there been a conscious decision on your part to explore writing for performance?
My interest in the performative aspects of writing was triggered by listening to the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg read in the Roundhouse in London in the late sixties. Ginsberg took reading out of the book, made it hip, spouting words to be performed rather than read between covers. I was thrilled, and after that my poems became freer, conversational, more aware of a live audience.
When I went on to write plays, and my first play was staged in 1974, it meant writing dialogue and being aware of the immediate impact of words as spoken.
I’m often struck by the links between poetry and music, or between poetry and spoken word and even rap music, in that poets, even more so than prose writers, have to pay a lot of attention to rhythm. What do you perceive are the links between poetry and music, or poetry and libretti, for example?
I learnt, early in writing poetry, of the importance of writing regular, employing the metres of English poetry. Writing free verse was a late development. Using regular feet in poetry imparted to lines a pronounced cadence, a musical quality approximating to music.
In writing libretti, especially arias, I used the various feet of traditional verse consciously. As an example, when I wrote my second libretto called Kannagi, performed in 2009, I combined the anapaestic and iambic feet in a line like this: “In the flush of first love when days were honey”.
There’s a very romantic, and even sensual aspect to many of the poems in your Best of collection. You mentioned in a recent interview that two subjects important to young men growing up are “love and death”, and that your first collection of poems was very concerned with these themes, but that one also has to be conscious of the fusion of the personal and the public or social. Do you think writers or poets have a responsibility to their readers to get outside of themselves? To engage with larger issues or reach wider audiences?
I will address the items posed in the last two questions in your long question. Yes, I think writers ought to address societal issues: by that I mean going beyond self, family, to nation and the world. The current word for this view is ‘global’. Thus my poems reflect my growing up in Singapore, residencies in England, Thailand, travel in Europe, America, Australia, engaging in international issues like the Vietnam War etc…In my case, it has all to do with fusing private and public concerns and thus investing my writings with concerns beyond the individual. I have spoken of this before often.
How many years have you been writing? What inspires you to keep at it, year after year after year?
I have been seriously writing since I graduated in 1962. Through the sixties and seventies, I had poems published in Singapore, Malaysia, US, New Zealand and India, and my first book, poems entitled Coming Home, Baby, was published in 1971 by Federal Publications. So, if you date my writing career from tht year, then I have been writing for just over four decades.
What inspires me to keep on going? Enjoyment, including the lonely moments of struggle with words. Keeping boredom at bay. A little vanity, I suppose.
Last week, our editor Jocelyn offered some insight into the editorial process behind Ming Cher’s Spider Boys—part 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 friends—Kwang, Chinatown Yeow, Sachee. It is however a work of fiction—to 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 work—Jurong, 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 time—Hogg 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!
Find out more about Ming Cher’s Spider Boys and read sample pages from the novel here.
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.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about Singapore’s literary heritage, this is the event for you! The Singapore Classics book launch is part of the featured Singapore Writers Festival event, “Revisiting Singapore’s Literary Heritage”. This talk features Dr Philip Holden as moderator and distinguished guests, Robert Yeo and Andrew Koh. They will be discussing all five books in the SG Classics series among other topics.
Date: Saturday, 29th October 2011
Time: 1.30 to 3pm (Book sale & signing from 1.30pm, talk from 2pm)
Venue: The Salon, 1st floor, National Museum of Singapore, 93 Stamford Road Singapore 178897
RSVP: An informal RSVP is requested to firstname.lastname@example.org.
As this is a featured event of SWF, a Festival Pass ($15) must be purchased via SISTIC or at the Festival Pavilion to attend.
During the event, you’ll also get a chance to take home these iconic novels. Books and limited edition book sets will be sold at the special launch prices of $16 and $78 respectively.
Only 200 box sets total are available for sale (100 sets at the special launch price) and they are individually numbered. To order your box set for pick up at the book launch, please email email@example.com. Box sets are also available in major bookstores for $79.90 each. As you can see from the photos below, the set will make a dashing addition to any library.