SINGAPORE - It was a resounding yes for The Naysayer's Book Club at the Singapore Book Awards on Wednesday (Oct 2).
The non-fiction debut by multimedia journalist Simon Vincent, which profiles 26 figures from local civil society known for challenging the status quo, won Book of the Year at the annual industry awards by the Singapore Book Publishers Association.
The awards recognise the best in local book publishing. There is traditionally no shortlist for the Book of the Year category, which is judged by a separate panel after the other prizes are decided. The winning titles of the other categories, plus independent submissions, are considered.
Epigram Books publisher Edmund Wee, who received the prize in Vincent's absence, said he was surprised but glad. "Simon put in a lot of effort into doing it and it deserves to be read by many people."
Judge Kathryn Lane, who is National Library Board (NLB) English Language collection head of selection, said: "This collection of interviews with 26 remarkable, eloquent and colourful Singaporean personalities who are not afraid to say 'No, Sir!' - or Ma'am as the case may be - while resolutely and immeasurably contributing to Singapore's civic evolution, is an important, provocative, inspiring, gutsy and relevant book of the times."
Eight titles scored wins at the Conrad Centennial Singapore gala event.
The other winning titles were chosen from 37 shortlisted books in seven categories.
Epigram was the big winner, with four awards.
Besides The Naysayer's Book Club, it also won Best Literary Work for Ng Yi-Sheng's speculative short story collection Lion City; Best Children's Picture Book for The Incredible Basket by Quek Hong Shin; and Best Book Cover Design for comic novel The Minorities by Suffian Hakim, with a cover designed by Chee Jia Yi.
Marshall Cavendish got two awards: Best Middle Grade/Young Adult Title for Josephine Chia's novel Big Tree In A Small Pot, and Best Illustrated Non-Fiction Title for Between The Lines: Early Advertising In Singapore, 1830s - 1960s, which it published with NLB.
The Best Non-Fiction Title went to Flying Sleeves - The Grandeur Of Chinese Opera by Dr Chua Ee Kiam. It documents the heritage of Chinese opera in Singapore.
Dr Chua, 66, spent 12 years working on the book, for which he also took the photographs. He speaks no Mandarin but fell in love with Chinese opera through its colours and gestures and has even played a small part in a Cantonese opera.
He said: "It is a dying art and this is one of the first few books in English to document it. It is very special to me."
World Scientific Publishing took home the Best Education Title for Nury Vittachi's book The First Of Everything, which comprises 50 stories of discovery to teach children research skills.
This is the fifth edition of the awards, which were first held in 2012 and returned in 2016 after a hiatus.
To qualify, books must be published in one of Singapore's four official languages between Dec 2, 2017 and Dec 31 last year.
They must have a Singapore International Standard Book Number, a unique number that identifies each edition of a book, with hard copies legally deposited with the NLB. Books sold in print must be sold in retail stores locally and/or overseas.
Winners, who were chosen by a panel of judges comprising writers, academics, book distributors and other industry insiders, received a plaque and a certificate of recognition.
Singapore Book Publishers Association president Peter Schoppert said next year's awards would introduce new categories for Best E-book, Best Audiobook and Best Digital Marketing Campaign.
He noted that readership of e-books is on the rise in Singapore, thanks largely to the NLB's offerings, and also that web literature has been successful in markets such as China and Philippines.
He lauded Swedish audiobook giant Storytel's entry into the Singapore market and its efforts to create original audiobooks from homegrown content.
Despite the closure of outlets of bookstore chains MPH, Books Kinokuniya, Times and Popular this year, he said he was heartened by the opening of new models, such as independent bookshops The Moon and Huggs-Epigram Coffee Bookshop, as well as the annual Singapore Art Book Fair, which has proven to be a draw for young people.
"We have to tweak our business models to figure out how writers and publishers can work in the new market," he said.