Thursday 2 June 2016

Lion City Lit: Swag

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore. Our regular column Lion City Lit explores in-depth what’s going on in the City-State, lit-wise. Here Lucía Damacela continues her series investigating Singapore online literary magazines by highlighting new kid on the block, Swag.

Launched in January, Swag is just a few months old. A quarterly magazine for writers in Singapore, it accepts submissions on a rolling basis, giving priority to texts or authors somehow connected to Singapore. The second edition, just released, explores Sensitive Souls. In addition to presenting works of fiction and articles relevant to writers and readers, the magazine sports a literary events calendar.

Here Jo Furniss, a British author and journalist based in Singapore, and the editor and co-founder of Swag, answers a few questions.

What are Swag’s main aims?
I want it to provide a central portal for literary events in the city; the quarterly magazine is a way to pat a few writers on the back, which I think is important in this tough business. We try to cover as wide a range of events as possible and, as a result, I hope the readership is equally diverse. There are, of course, numerous other journals and blogs covering the busy field of the arts in Singapore. As an editor, I work on the basis that if something - a writer, a book, an event, an issue - interests me, it may appeal to others - it’s as simple as that!

What do you think about the fact that Singapore has several online literary magazines?
It’s always encouraging to see people engaging in a discourse about literature, and the arts more generally, because it reflects the vibrant culture we live in.

What obstacles do you face running Swag?
The main obstacle that I encounter is a lack of funding; I have been fortunate in that the Singapore Writers Group (SWG) was able to support Swag to get started, paying costs relating to the website. But apart from that, it’s all voluntary and I find myself asking a lot of favours or relying on goodwill. As a professional journalist, it hurts every time I ask someone to write for nothing; after all, you don’t ask a plumber to fix your sink for nothing. Most authors are willing, of course, because it crosses the line into promotion and profile-raising, but I would feel a great personal satisfaction if I could offer writers a payment for their hard-wrung words. Related to the issue of financing, there was clear advantage to putting the magazine online. It also has the benefit of being bang up-to-date, which is vital for our events calendar, which is being loaded with more information day-in, day-out. 

What gave you the idea to start Swag?
As is so often the case, the idea for Swag was born of frustration. I was irritated with myself for missing events that I always seemed to hear about afterwards. When I moaned to friends and colleagues, I realised it wasn’t just me being an ostrich; there was a need for a thorough events calendar to cover literary happenings in the city.

Who are your readers?
Swag is supported by the Singapore Writers Group and promoted to their members, who number almost 1,000 writers these days; so that is a big part of our readership. But there are many different writer networks in Singapore and with each edition of the magazine, I see that it reaches out to more people who follow on Facebook, Twitter or by signing up to receive listings on the main website.

Are you pleased with the way local writers have responded to Swag?
Yes! And I’m always proud to have new writing - the short stories, flash fiction and travel pieces that are original to Swag. The idea that writers have shared their work - which must have taken many hours to write and hone to a high standard - is humbling. The theme of issue #2 is Sensitive Souls and for this I asked many writers to dig into their sometimes negative emotions, which is confronting but I hope resulted in a strong edition. We touched on rejection, frustration and distraction, shame, criticism, turmoil over body image, a parent’s desire to help their child. Big issues! Edition #1 had a different feel, as it was all about beginnings and featured lots of writers who were enjoying success - just published, just agented, or launching new projects. It was quite heady and embraced that “new energy” feeling at the start of the year!