Epigram Books Blog
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.
It’s been six months since I joined the publishing industry as an Editorial and Marketing Assistant for Epigram Books. To date, I’ve worked on or organised seven book events, emceed at four of these events and performed spoken word with a jazz band at our very own ‘Evening of Poetry and Music’ to celebrate the Singapore Pioneer Poets Series featuring the best of Edwin Thumboo, Robert Yeo and Kirpal Singh.
At last count, together with my manager Felicia I’ve launched, promoted and written to the press about our first graphic novels, three children’s titles, two food titles, one photography title, one travel book and one literary non-fiction collection. That’s a total of 29 books I’ve worked to promote in the last six months. Phew. On average that would make about four books a month but in reality, our publishing schedule does not work according to an average each month. Oh, and I’ve also co-produced three book videos to date with Meteor Workshop for our books. That was just too much fun to be called work.
Coming from a background of teaching drama, arts administration and a short stint in journalism and copywriting, a mid-career switch to publishing was a surprise just out-of-the-blue for me. I had just reconnected with my childhood love for comics and graphic novels having discovered Koh Hong Teng and Dave Chua’s Gone Case as well as Sonny Liew’s works. When a school friend with an illustrious career in the books industry called me about a part-time position in the publishing house she had moved to, something in me jumped. Before I knew it, I was tearing joyfully telling my soon-to-be employer why comics trump films any day. Before I knew it, I had my foot in the door of the enigmatic business of publishing. Before I knew it, I was hosting events I organised for books such as the never-before-published Mimi Fan, Singapore’s first English language play by a local, penned in 1962. I had come full circle from treading the hallowed boards as an actor since school days, to teaching students drama, to marketing plays and encouraging people to read Singapore literature and to buy books written by Singaporeans.
Actress Karen Tan, who once played Mimi Fan, at our event
Watching Karen Tan, who played Mimi Fan in a 1990 TheatreWorks production, tearfully express love to the late playwright Lim Chor Pee in the company of his family and friends meant something to me. I felt the same kind of gratitude as she did to him, as someone who also fell in love with the theatre and who never got over it. So did interviewing my local comic artist idols Koh Hong Teng and Sonny Liew who had been supporting me even before I joined Epigram Books at my jazz gigs at The Old Brown Shoe. Still, the most nerve-wracking experience I’ve had to go through apart from speaking in front of the likes of Singapore’s Ambassador-at-large Chan Heng Chee, was performing selected poetry by the likes of Edwin Thumboo, Kirpal Singh and Robert Yeo. It was a great honour to be trusted to present their works musically with my chosen genre of jazz and I will always be deeply humbled by the experience. If you’d like to see it, here is a preview on Epigram Books’ very own YouTube channel.
My best friend recently said to me, “I always see you posting about your work and photos of your events, glam glam all lah…” I related to him the analogy of the pretty-looking Mandarin ducks swimming on the lakes – elegant and calm above water, frenetic paddling below water. If you can see me as a Mandarin duck, that just about sums up this six-month-long Day in the Life of Michelle. This explains too why my blog post reads more like a retrospective than a Day in the Life account. It was six months in the making (or rather writing) as I just could not have written it until today.
For a taste of what the journey has been like for me this past year at Epigram Books, this is what it looks like above the water at least, in the public eye. Watch out for more Epigram Books titles and book events in 2012 and 2013!
With Denise Fletcher, author of Mum's Not Cooking: Favourite Singaporean Recipes for the Near Clueless or Plain Lazy, after a successful event!
“My goodness, where is this place?” friends asked, when they received invites to my book launch at Sekeping Victoria. That’s because it’s the newest and hippest event space in town, and tucked in a grid of streets filled with derelict warehouses and crumbling godowns.
The warehouses and godowns were built for the shipping and trading business that Penang had thrived on. The island was settled as a trading entrepot by its founder Francis Light. While trade had been the reason for the boom of Penang in the 19th century, the sun has definitely been setting on this industry since the mid-20th century. Little wonder then that warehouses like the one we were in had simply crumbled into obscurity.
They are coming out of The Twilight Zone now though. Just look at Sekeping Victoria which has been beautifully “Sek-San”ed. Ng Sek San is one of Malaysia’s premier landscape architects, and quite an eco-warrior. Like a Banksy of the architecture world, He’s been quietly showing Malaysians – and the world – how spaces can be re-designed minimally but cleverly so that they don’t lose their former personality. At the same time, they’re made relevant to today’s new uses .
It was a complete boon to learn that Sekeping Victoria was open for events – when I was planning my book launch in Penang. Because the Penang chapter revolves around the revitalisation of George Town, listed as a World Heritage Site in 2008.
Reading excerpts from the chapter in an old warehouse space, with much of its architecture like its walls left intact and practically untouched was completely poetic.
As I read out loud: “George Town is a city being revitalised, with new businesses taking over old ones and new entrepreneurs coming in to transform old spaces—former budget hotels (some otherwise known as brothels) are being turned into boutique hotels, derelict shophouses into art galleries, and disused warehouses into chic restaurants”—I really could feel that happy vibes were bouncing off the walls.
Just on Victoria Street alone, named after Queen Victoria, there is Sekeping Victoria, and a legal office where one of the partners is an avid art collector, and China House, a hip restaurant/bar/art gallery.
The first launch of my first book—Malaysia Bagus: Travels Through My Homeland—was held in Penang, and the crowd of friends and acquaintances numbered anything from 50 to a 100. About a core of 30-50 people had collected under the thin shadows of spindly trees planted inside the event space, to listen avidly to three guest readers and myself. Moira Toh, my running buddy, kicked off the reading with a Selangor excerpt; followed by Meng Yew Choong, a journalist, who read from Perak. Then Marina Emmanuel, Penang-based but born in Terengganu, read from that chapter. I finished off with excerpts from Penang, extolling her arduous journey towards heritage listing.
I then signed books after the reading. And posed for pictures with many friends and with many books!
Epigram’s design is totally eye-catching—the yellow, especially! Which, to a Malaysian these days, has meaningful connotations.
Our tea was local kuih and yummy orange-almond cake from China House. I was especially delighted to have the launch attended mostly by friends so it was a warm and friendly gathering, with most people knowing one another and even having something like a mini reunion on site! Seven girlfriends from Singapore had also flown up for the event—and since a couple of them were from PR and marketing, I had ample expert advice and help on the side! More photographs of the launch are available here!
From Stage to Print, With Haresh Sharma and Tan Tarn How April 20 2012
“The political drama that unfolded in real life in Singapore last year was perfect fodder for the political drama of the stage”
–The Straits Times
Both plays, written amidst a climate of increased political awareness, inspired impassioned thought and discussion upon their respective releases.
Model Citizens delves into the lives of the people affected when a man stabs an Member of Parliament at a Meet The People’s Session. Exploring the state of Singaporean social order through a cast of highly relatable characters, Haresh Sharma delivers a work both intellectually stimulating and deeply humane.
Fear of Writing is a groundbreaking commentary on the political climate of Singapore today. Tan Tarn How, Singapore’s quintessential political playwright, marks his return to the scene after a decade of inactivity with a monumental play that confronts the purpose of art and censorship in Singapore, and questions whether Singaporeans have become indifferent to the injustice around them.
The books continue to pose questions as of yet unanswered by Singapore’s shifting political scene and remain representative of the tumultuous period.
Model Citizens won Best Director and Best Actress at the Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards 2011. Fear of Writing was nominated for Best Original Script, Straits Times Life! Theatre Awards 2012.
Model Citizens and Fear of Writing will be launched at The Arts House on Friday, 18th May at 7.30pm. Both Haresh Sharma and Tan Tarn How will be attending to discuss their respective inspirations and motivations behind their works. Additionally, cast members from both plays will be staging a reading during the event.
Be sure to make a date with these prolific playwrights and delve into their creative processes writing these bold, winning plays.