Epigram Books to stop publishing in Britain

Home-grown publisher Epigram Books will stop publishing in Britain this month to shore up the local business amid the Covid-19 slowdown.

Epigram founder Edmund Wee, 68, announced on Monday: "Our business in Singapore has suffered to such an extent that we are unable to support our British arm any longer.

"We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has helped and supported us through the years."

Epigram set up its London arm on Nov 25, 2016. Mr Wee said then that his ambitions were to get a Singapore book on the longlist of the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

A book must be published in Britain to be eligible for the prize, which is open to English-language novels.

He took a six-figure bank loan to fund the London operation, saying he hoped to keep it going for at least two years "before we run out of money".

Epigram Books UK started out with three London-based staff and has published more than 30 titles there.

These include Sonny Liew's Eisner Award-winning graphic novel The Art Of Charlie Chan Hock Chye (2015), Singapore Literature Prize-winning novel State of Emergency (2017) by Jeremy Tiang, and Epigram Books Fiction Prize-winners such as Yeoh Jo-Ann's Impractical Uses Of Cake (2019) and Nuraliah Norasid's The Gatekeeper (2017).

The last titles it published in Britain were Barrie Sherwood's short-story collection The Angel Tiger (2019) and anthology Best Singaporean Short Stories 1, edited by Jason Erik Lundberg, in October last year.

Mr Wee told The Straits Times in September last year that the pandemic had severely affected publishing revenue. Staff had to take a 20 to 25 per cent pay cut, while he halved his salary.

Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop, which Epigram opened with coffee chain Huggs in the Urban Redevelopment Authority Centre in March 2019, had to shut during the circuit breaker period last year.

The annual Epigram Books Fiction Prize will proceed with its sixth edition on Saturday, but virtually, as the usual hotel-gala ceremony had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.

Instead, Epigram will redirect the savings towards expanding the prize shortlist from four to six novels, increasing the pot from $40,000 to $50,000.

In previous years, the prize was awarded to four novels, with one winner receiving $25,000 and three finalists each getting $5,000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2021, with the headline 'Epigram Books to stop publishing in Britain'. Subscribe