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On Books, With Haresh Sharma

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

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

What was your favourite book growing up?

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

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

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

Who are your top five authors?

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What is your favourite line from a book?

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

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

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

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


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

A Day in the Life of Jocelyn

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


Someone recently asked me how I’ve liked working here as editor since joining the company in December 2011. I think my haiku “Lo Hei”, which I composed after our company lunch during the Chinese New Year and posted on my Facebook wall the same evening, should speak volumes.

Feastful of dishes:
Never more tasty than in
present company.

For one, I now have a namecard that says, simply, “Jocelyn Lau, Editor”, printed on a nice hard card. Editor, not Assistant Editor, not Associate Editor, not (oh gosh) Production Editor. Just Editor. (It matters!)

For another, everything I’d imagined life as an editor would be, since the year 2000 when I graduated from the University of Denver Publishing Institute course, has finally taken form. I’d almost given up (boss, you know this), disillusioned, until this job presented itself.

At present, I’m juggling five book projects: Model Citizens by Haresh Sharma of The Necessary Stage (April––it’s a very, very good play! Read it! Or go watch it!); a book of rhyming verses for children (April––this will have sweet hand-drawn illustrations); a cookbook for clueless Singaporeans (May––I will be buying my own copy), Singapore Classics 2’s series of books (October––interesting job, this one); and a to-be-edited manuscript for Singapore expatriates (August?). [All the editing and proofreading at Epigram Books are done in-house.] There’s also a new photographic book project we’re brainstorming, due Christmas. And a couple of other projects in the pipeline we’re keeping an eye on.

Today, I had my face in a complicated author’s contract, which has been negotiated at length. Taking breaks while doing so, I wrote to a literary agent in New Zealand to explain why we want to edit the Singlish used in a book we’re hoping to republish; texted another writer to request personal particulars for an ISBN application; communicated with two photographers about a potential project; and wondered about a potential author’s silence over a draft contract. In between, our studio manager managed to distract my intense gaze from my Mac screen long enough to receive my project updates for the next day’s publishing meeting. And just before dashing off, late, to pick up my kid from his daytime minders, I sent off by email my suggestions for the title of that book of poems, knowing full well that ideas will come in fast and furious from various colleagues – throughout the night.

It’s been a good day at work.