Unlike Harry Potter author JK Rowling, writers are nowhere listed among Singapore’s wealthy elite, who are, rather, a collection of property magnates, bankers and investors.
While a place on Singapore’s rich list doesn’t motivate Mr Suffian Hakim, 31, he sees himself as part of an ecosystem of writers, editors and publishers whose task is to articulate and broadcast the voice of Singapore.
The home-grown author of Harris bin Potter and the Stoned Philosopher, a localised parody of Ms Rowling’s series that started out as a series of blog posts, self-published it in 2015 and a second novel last year. He currently plans to write a third book as an entry to the annual Epigram Books Fiction Prize, spend a month in New York or London to break into the publishing scene there and, of course, pen a Man Booker Prize winner.
But seriously, he notes: “The more I mature as a writer, the more I want to write about more universal themes — themes that humanity as one tribe struggles with.”
Mr Suffian has the distinction of being among the first of Singapore’s blogger-turned-print authors. In addition to actually crafting his stories, his approach involves crowdfunding, promoting his work in the digital space, and old-fashioned hard work — taking on freelance jobs and digging into his savings to fund his creative endeavours.
From screen to print
Mr Suffian began to write Harris bin Potter while studying Mass Communication at Ngee Ann Polytechnic from 2007-09. His blog posts transplanted Harry Potter into Singapore, and included many off-beat jokes (for instance, Hog-Tak-Halal-What, Harris’s school, is located on the PIE — not the expressway, but an actual magical pie).
These posts came into the public eye in 2013 when they were relaunched on Mr Suffian’s new website, https://suffianhakim.com/. They were repeatedly shared on social media, receiving widespread acclaim.
After meeting the owner of Publishizer, an online crowdfunding platform for books, Mr Suffian decided to turn his blog-posts into a full-length publication. He launched a crowdfunder on Publishizer in mid-2013.
He set aside some of his salary to pay for Facebook ads, promoted his crowdfunding page on social media, and even put in $1,200 of his own money to fund the book. After multiple re-writes — including one complete overhaul — Harris bin Potter was finally published in 2015.
“Nothing happens without hard work and humility,” says Mr Suffian, who juggled full-time jobs in media agencies and freelance projects while writing Harris bin Potter. “You need to invest time and energy into your work, and to also understand that you can always improve what you currently have.”
A voice of Singapore
Last year, Mr Suffian launched a second print run of his book, and then a third. He also published his second book, The Minorities, last November — a comedic tale of a rag-tag band of friends that carries underlying social commentary. Both his books will be re-published under the Epigram Books imprint in October.
He views himself as one of the voices who represents Singapore, specifically of people who want to transcend social barriers, whether of race, social class or income. At the same time, he recognises the value of money in making his voice heard.
“I’ve learnt the value of money in the form of capital,” he says. “A hundred writers can have a hundred different ideas on what the public should be moved by, but only the ones with capital get their words published and heard.”