Local lit in London book fair

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 13, 2013

Singapore literature will be showcased at the London Book Fair for the first time this year.

The National Arts Council, together with a delegation of local writers and publishers, will present literary works from more than 60 Singaporean writers in a Best Of Singapore Literature showcase at the fair, and will also take part in trade events and public literary events at bookstores.

The fair, a key event in the publishing world which attracts more than 25,000 people from 133 countries, begins tomorrow and runs until Wednesday.

Singapore writers whose works will be promoted there include Dave Chua, Alfian Sa'at, Claire Tham, M.Balakrishnan and Ahmad Jaaffar Munasip.

Mr Khor Kok Wah, the council's senior director for sector development in the literary arts, says that the council had visited the fair last year and had been impressed by it.

"Therefore we decided to participate this year, with the perspective of committing to a strong Singapore presence at the fair for the next three years," he says.

Mr Khor says that the council hopes to cultivate closer ties and explore opportunities with international publishers.

"In the long run, we hope that such exposure will bring opportunities for the promotion of Singapore content, through the sale of rights and intercultural exchanges such as co-publications or showcasing our writers on international platforms," he says.

The National Arts Council has showcased local literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2007 and 2008, and at the Gothenburg Book Fair in Sweden in 2009.

Poet Alvin Pang, who will be speaking on a panel of international writers about issues surrounding the translation of literary texts written in languages other than English, says that it is about time Singaporean writers and publishers "did more groundwork in Europe and the UK".

"There's a ready audience here for good quality work, but you have to be there, meet people, network, show what you can do. And we do have lots to show," he says.

Pang, who has a book published in Britain and has attended several literary festivals in the region over the past few years, adds that this fair will be a good opportunity for him to introduce his business contacts and friends from the British literary scene to the Singapore delegation.

"I've been raving about the work we put out to them for years and many of them are keen to see more of what we're about," he says. "This is a good chance to bridge the two communities and see what happens."

Publisher Fong Hoe Fang from Ethos Books feels that the London showcase is a "significant milestone and step forward for the Singapore literary and publishing scene".

He will be speaking at an event organised for international publishers interested to expand into the Singapore market or work with Singapore content.

"I hope that people will begin to take notice of Singapore literature internationally, that serious literary content from this part of Asia can be equally engaging and exciting," he says.

Publisher Edmund Wee of Epigram Books said he hopes to get to know some of the international publishers and distributors at the fair as he is trying to find someone in London who will sell his books there.

He will be participating in a panel discussion on contemporary Singapore literature, titled Un(dis)covered Treasures? Writings From A Unique Island, at London bookstore Woolfson & Tay Books, alongside Pang and writers Joshua Ip and Colin Cheong.

Mr Wee says that he is trying to set up a meeting with British bookstore chain Waterstone while he is there. "I'm hoping they will look at my books and buy some," he says.

He adds that he will be meeting publishers in London "with a view to co-publishing, so our books can be eligible for the Booker and other prizes".

The Man Booker Prize, a prestigious international literary award for contemporary fiction, is open to any living author in the Commonwealth, but the novel must be published in Britain.

"I have books that are coming out soon, original works that show a lot of promise, but I need to get a co-publisher - otherwise they won't be eligible," says Mr Wee.

These upcoming titles include a novel by Singapore Literature Prize-winning poet Cyril Wong and a debut short-story collection by Amanda Lee Koe.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 13, 2013

To subscribe to The Straits Times, please go to