Friday 29 November 2019

Lion City Lit by Ken Hickson: People of the Book

Words matter. Whether it’s a climate change meeting, an international energy exhibition or the Singapore Writers’ Festival (SWF). The Lions City always has lots of people visiting and living here who are doing just that. Spreading the word.

Let me introduce you to few “People of the Book”. Or books more correctly. And thanks to famous Australian author of historical novels, Geraldine Brooks, for the loan of the title of one of her wonderful books:

Aysha Baqir – author and development consultant – who’s come up with her first book “Beyond the Fields” set in the early 1980s in Pakistan against the backdrop of martial law and social turmoil. 

It’s described by literary consultant Fran Lebowitz, as “absolutely gripping and edifying… a very important read about a very under-represented population in Western literature”.

Check her out - and her book – as she featured at the SWF where she was involved in one session on Women Economy and Power on 9 November.

She has a lovely quote on her website: “Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder. (Rumi).

Like many writers, she is involved in lots of other important things, like being an Ashok Fellow and a board member of the Kaarcan Foundation.

Then we also met Eva Wong Nava at the Writers Festival. A writer of children’s books, her first being “The Boy who talks in Bits and Bobs”. It’s all about Owen, who’s a boy like any other ordinary little boy. But speaking does not come easily to Owen. He speaks in bits and bobs.

Described by Mamta Madhavan for Readers’ Favourite thus: “Many children will be able to connect with Owen and what he is going through. This book is a perfect tool for everyone to understand that nothing is impossible where there is patience, kindness, and understanding.”

She has a delightful quote on her website and her business card: “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect”. (Anais Nin).

As I’m currently working with a father and son on a book about work life balance and the importance of positive parental involvement in children’s lives, I was particularly interested Eva’s writing.

Plus how her book is illustrated. That’s where the talented Debasmita Dasgupta comes in. Artist extraordinary – “call me Smita” – has not only visualised Owen and “bits and bobs”, but she and Eva have come up with “Picture Book Matters”. Check it out.

Increasingly how a book is illustrated – beyond the cover – is vital for young and old readers/book buyers.

So, illustrators are essential “people of the book”.

I’m also convinced that people who “spread the word” – by whatever media and means – must be factored into the book equation. 

Take Michael Switow – who I came across at the SWF a few days ago – as he “shapes top business stories” and helps authors and publishers reach out through Podcasts and other broadcasting means. 

He reminds me that nothing captures a person’s interest more than a good story. And about the inability to leave one’s car after arriving at the destination due to the riveting nature of a story on the radio.  While I’m not often in a car as driver or passenger, I still know what he means.

Podcasts can do that as well as BBC World Service interviews with authors. In a car or sitting by your home radio. Try it sometime.

One author with international and local appeal is academic and climate change commentator Winston Chow – who I’ve seen a lot of recently - as he’s used podcasts to great effect. Check out this one about sustainable urban development.

As an author of many papers for the IPCC – Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – he’s also been News Editor of Urban Climate News for many years. When not writing, reporting and editing, he lectures at Singapore Management University. 

When I noticed that Winston also wrote an important paper entitled “Cities and Settlements by the Sea”, I was reminded of another Singapore literary event and yet another candidate for “people of the book”.

Kennie Teng was speaking at the “Connected Histories, Cosmopolitan Cities” event at the National Museum the other day.

He told about his interest – and research – into the heritage of Asian port cities. Besides being Director of the Asian Civilisations Museum, which is a treasure trove of history and shipwrecks in South China Seas, he’s also author of a more sentimental journey: “The Romance of the Grand Tour – 100 years of travel in South East Asia and Singapore”.

To wrap up this once-over-lightly look at “people of the book”, I must mention Nabilah Said, one of the panellists in a Festival event around “Arts and Culture Writing”.

A very versatile communicator, Nabilah is a former Straits Times reporter, editor of Arts Equator, adjunct lecture at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and playwright in her own write! Her best known performed play is “Inside Voices”, which has also been published by Nick Hern books.

She told the SWF audience about her role as a theatre reviewer and I couldn’t help picking up on this review she wrote for Exeunt Magazine earlier this year, in the form of a letter to her Penpal:

“I have just watched Blood Knot, an anti-apartheid play by South African playwright Athol Fugard, presented at the Orange Tree Theatre 58 years after it was first staged in Johannesburg. Within and without those years there has been so much history…history that informs the play and shapes the real world that it reflects, but it is also more history than I can contain in this letter, with roots from as early as the 1400s.”

Which reminds me of another book by Geraldine Brooks called “Foreign Correspondence”. In it she tells not only of her experience in war zones as a new reporter, but of tracking down some of her pen-pals in out of the way places, providing “a dazzling range of insights that extend beyond introspection to raise questions about national identity in an increasingly global culture,” according to her reviewer, none other than fellow author Naomi Wolf.

Our “people of the book” are very local and very foreign. They see the world through well-travelled eyes. They reflect as journalists, academics, reviewers, playwrights, poets and communicators.

They value words and put an equal weight on “spreading the word”.

You don’t just come across these people at literary events like writers’ festivals. In this global city of ours, you’ll find people the book in many nooks and crannies. Big conference centres, intimate cafes and bookshops large and small.