Monday 23 June 2014

Q & A: Wendy Wong on eBooks In Asia

Tusitala's logo is a kitsune, a fox with 9 tails,
which features in Japanese, Korean and
Chinese folklore
Wendy Wong is Studio Manager / Creative Director of TusitalaThe name is Samoan for storyteller, or a teller of tales – fitting, since Tusitala is a digital publisher of indie authors. The company is based in Singapore, and is a huge fan of Asian content and Asian writers.  

I spoke to Wendy about eBooks in Asia generally.

Are eBooks as popular in Asia as in the west?
Not yet, since there are issues around availability and accessibility.

Can you expand on that?
One of the biggest barriers to eReading in Singapore and in Asia generally is that the larger providers of eBooks – Amazon and Apple iBooks – don’t allow for potential readers in Asia to buy eBooks directly. To make an eBook purchase on your Kindle, for example, you’d need an American address and credit card. If you’re especially dedicated, you’d find a backdoor entry, and the locally available service Kindle Concierge can purchase eBooks on your behalf, so you can bypass all the off-putting red tape, but most local eBook enthusiasts end up with libraries of pirated eBooks.

Google Play Books has recently entered Asia, and at Tusitala we hope that Amazon and Apple will follow Google’s example by expanding into the largely untapped Asian market, thus making eReading more commonplace.

Aren’t there any local eBook retailers?
In Singapore, local eBook stores come and go. Amongst those that survived are Booktique and M1 Learning Center, yet little is done to publicize their services to the general public. (Note, in Hong Kong, eBooks are readily available through Paddyfield.)

Given the problems of availability, how aware of eBooks are readers in Asia?
I think readers may be aware of eBooks, but local authors are often unaware of how easy it is to publish digitally and to access worldwide markets. At Tusitala, as digital publishers, we do our part to celebrate Asian content and to get Asian authors to try ePublishing. It isn’t always easy, but we believe that it is a necessary process that will end with a more vibrant and locally relevant eBooks scene, certainly in Singapore, and then more generally in the rest of Asia.

Do you think libraries have a role in helping raise awareness of eBooks?
Yes. In Singapore, National Arts Council data shows that eRetrievals at libraries across the island have recently seen a spike; in response the National Library has expanded and diversified its collection of eBooks to include more languages and titles. The National Library Board has also been quite vocal lately about their eBook borrowing campaign, and we hope that this encourages people to consider eReading as the convenient and hassle-free experience that it is.

What about the language issue?  Are eBooks available in languages other than in English?
Sure. In Singapore, local content in Chinese, Malay and Tamil is abundant. But while there is no dearth of quality Asian-language content, people here primarily read in English. I expect this aspect of eBook publishing in Asia varies market by market.

I see the main advantage of eBooks as giving me access to content that wouldn’t otherwise be available to me in Asia.  What do you see as the advantages?
Reading habits have adapted to the fast-paced lifestyles of developed Asia – increasingly, people consume news or articles on their phones. By comparison, reading books seems to be a choice that needs to be made (do I lug a novel through my commute?), not an option that is readily available on readers’ gadgets (let me scroll to my e-reader app), and eBooks can help level the field between surfing for information, and reading for pleasure. 

I sometimes find eBooks frustrating, for example, in non-fiction titles, flipping to illustrations, or trying to follow footnotes.  Do you think the format has any disadvantages?
This is not a disadvantage of eBooks per se, but in Asia I think the ecology of reading is such that academic reading is encouraged in young people, rendering reading a habit that doesn’t generally integrate with everyday life - there is a tendency to associate reading with passing exams, rather than reading for pleasure. 

What are your thoughts on the future of eBooks in Asia?
The eBook scene has potential for huge growth, and eBooks are surely set to become more popular, but, as I mentioned already, it’s a matter of availability.  At Tusitala we hope Google Play Books’ entry into Asia marks the beginning of burgeoning accessibility to eBooks in the region. We hope this encourages local writers in Asia to start telling their stories to an ever-expanding audience.

All in all, we are optimistic about the future of eBooks in Asia. When accessibility and awareness align, we hope that eBooks can change the perceptions towards reading for pleasure, and thus foster a more inclusive and pervasive reading culture that everyone can be a part of.

Do you have a message for potential authors?
If you are an author of a book with Asian content and you are looking for a digital publisher to get your existing printed edition made available as an eBook, or to publish a new title, we would be very glad to connect with you! 

Saturday 21 June 2014

Salman Rushdie awarded the 2014 PEN / Pinter Prize

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie has been awarded the 2014 PEN / Pinter Prize. The PEN / Pinter Prize was established in 2009 by English PEN, in memory of Nobel-Laureate playwright Harold Pinter. The prize is awarded annually to a British writer or writer resident in Britain of outstanding literary merit, who, in the words of Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize in Literature speech, casts an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze upon the world and shows a “fierce intellectual define the real truth of our lives and our societies’’.

Salman Rushdie was chosen by this year’s judges Michael Billington, Antonia Fraser, Simon Jenkins, Kamila Shamsie and President of English PEN and Chair of Judges, Maureen Freely.

Maureen Freely said: “This prize is English PEN’s way of thanking Salman Rushdie not just for his books and his many years of speaking out for freedom of expression, but also for his countless private acts of kindness.  When he sees writers unjustly vilified, prosecuted, or forced into exile, he takes a personal interest. I think he would be the first to say that it was Harold Pinter who set the example in this regard: the engaged writer never sleeps.”

Salman Rushdie said: "It's very moving to receive an award named after my friend Harold Pinter, whose literary genius was matched by his passion for social justice, and to follow in the distinguished footsteps of the previous recipients, Tony Harrison, Hanif Kureishi, David Hare, Carol Ann Duffy and Tom Stoppard. As a matter of fact, many years ago, I first met Harold and (his wife) Antonia through English PEN, and of course they, and PEN, were later active in my defence when I needed it. The work of PEN, both in promoting the best of world literature and in opposing abuses of freedom, continues to be vitally important, and I'm proud to have been a part of that effort in England as well as the United States."

The prize will be presented at a public event at the British Library on Thursday 9 October, at which Salman Rushdie will deliver an address. He will share the prize with an International Writer of Courage selected by him in association with English PEN’s Writers at Risk Committee.  The recipient will be a writer who has been intimidated for speaking out about their beliefs or imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of expression. The co-winner will be announced at the prize-giving ceremony, and he or she will accept his or her prize alongside Salman Rushdie. 

Friday 20 June 2014

Heads up / Byron Bay Writers Festival

Following on from yesterday’s post about #Fast, in Malaysia, here's a heads up from Edwina Johnson, Director, Byron Bay Writers Festival, that this year’s edition will include plenty of Asian interest:  

From Australia, we have brother and sister combo Benjamin and Michelle Law, the long-suffering children of an Asian Mother, appearing in various panels to discuss their latest book, Sh*t Asian Mothers Say. Meanwhile, Australian / Indian writer and human rights lawyer Rabia Siddique will be on hand to discuss her memoir Equal Justice.   

From further afield we have: Indonesian travel writer Agustinus Wibowo; Tibetan writer, poet, and activist Bhuchung Sonam; Carina Hoang, a Vietnamese refugee, and editor of Boat People, an anthology of personal stories from the Vietnamese exodus; and British-Pakistani novelist and scriptwriter Qaisra Shahraz.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a festival without food events. Visitors will be able to travel the Indian spice route with author and chef Christine Manfield at a Literary Lunch drawing on recipes from her books, which include Tasting India, and Spice.

The Byron Bay Writers Festival will run from 1 - 3 August. Click here for full details of the programme, and information about ticketing and venues.  Closer to the time the blog will carry information about how you can join in via social media. 

Thursday 19 June 2014

#FAST @ Cooler Lumpur

The Cooler Lumper Festival of ideas kicks off tomorrow, in KL.

This year, the theme, #FAST, looks to the future, and the fastest way to get there. What will the future be like? What innovations in thought will shape Malaysian society, as well as societies elsewhere? What will education mean? How will the arts develop? What are the big ideas that will most shape our lives in the coming decades?

The Literary Director, author Umapagan Ampikaipakan, here talks about selected highlights of the literature programme he and his team have put together.

Opening Keynote: “F*** Censorship” by Miguel Syjuco
Friday, 20 June 2014
8.30 pm - 9.30 pm
Black Box, MAP @ Publika

I’m particularly excited about the opening keynote. First of all, I am a huge fan of Miguel’s work as a writer. His debut novel, Illustrado, was symbolic of what I felt to be a new literary voice in Asia. Confident. Self-deprecating. Unflinchingly honest. Furthermore, the topic of censorship has never been more relevant, not just to Malaysian society, but to all of us in the developing world. And one can never overstate the necessity (and difficulty) of speaking truth to power - especially through literature and art - in all those places where censorship is rife.

The Modern Malay Tongue
Saturday, 21 June 2014
12.30 pm - 1.30 pm
Black Box, MAP @ Publika

There is very little discourse with regards to the evolution of the national language in Malaysia. Given how institutionalised Bahasa Malaysia is, I wanted to have a discussion involving three generations of Malay language authors and speak to them about how they see the language progressing. 

Lost and Found in Translation
Sunday, 22 June 2014
11.00 am - 12.00 pm
Upstairs @ Ben's

I had this random notion that translation could be a key to national unity and community building. That the biggest hurdle we face as a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious society is that constant quest for understanding between one another. That’s where translation comes in. How better to understand your brother than to delve into his mind and soul? And what easier way to do that than through his words and through his art? So what role does translation play in helping us better understand ourselves and those around us?

Nay Phone Latt in conversation with Sharaad Kuttan
Sunday, 22 June 2014
4.30 pm - 5.30 pm
Upstairs @ Ben's

What is more current than a one-on-one with Burmese blogger, political activist, and prisoner of conscience Nay Phone Latt? His situation parallels many across the developing world and it will be fascinating to hear his views on what it means now that Burma has come out the other side.

WORKSHOP: So, You Wanna Be A Storyteller? by Kamini Ramachandran
Saturday, 21 June 2014
11.00 am - 2.00 pm
Interpr8 Art Space, Publika

I believe that the benefits of storytelling skills extend beyond mere entertainment value. I think a good storyteller makes for a better doctor, a better lawyer, heck, a better accountant. I think that the ability to tell a good story, the ability to communicate an idea with prowess, is something every Malaysian could be better at. And what’s more, it is a skill that can be taught, and one that can be learned.

#FAST Junior

Our literary programme for the young ones is also something we’re proud of.  Inculcating a reading culture must start from a young age. Parents need to read to their children. They need to expose them to stories. They need to encourage their kids to develop a love for literature and the vast world of ideas contained within them. Start them young. Get them hooked. And you’ll breed a new generation of thinkers.

If you can’t make it to KL to join in the Festival in person, follow along on the Facebook page: click here. Full information about the programme, venues, and ticketing is available at the Festival website: click here.

#FAST is co-hosted by creative media shop PopDigital and the British Council, Malaysia. 

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Alice on Self-publishing: Philip Chatting / Harbour Views

Alice Clark-Platts writes our monthly column on self-publishing. Here she talks to Philip Chatting, the author of Harbour Views, a witty and scathing comedy set amidst the glamour and chaos of Hong Kong. The city is now Philip's home, although he has lived in various places across the globe – in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. 

Philip published his first novel through Book Guild Publishing, an independent publishing house which has been publishing an eclectic mix of quality books for the last thirty years.

Harbour Views was published using their system of Partnership Publishing – a full publishing package closely allied to conventional publishing, except authors contribute towards the costs and retain both creative control and a high level of involvement. This system of publishing offers the author a higher royalty rate than industry standards – 30% of the full retail price of the book with each one sold. Mainstream publishing offers anywhere between 7-10%. Book Guild will also represent their authors for two full years after publication ensuring loyalty and relationship between author and publishing house.

Philip is hugely complimentary about the service he received from Book Guild, feeling that there were fewer hoops to jump through than he’d anticipated. He says the schedule Book Guild created was simple and, on the whole, everything worked like clockwork. He adds any issues he suffered came from elsewhere – for example, trying to trace copyright and get permission to reproduce lines from a pop song through a succession of New York lawyers – not the easiest job in the world! As a first time author, Philip feels he got all the support he needed. Perhaps an anomaly in the usually cutthroat world of publishing….

Book Guild are based in England, so they have been responsible for marketing and publicising the novel over there whilst Philip himself has taken on the same in Hong Kong.  At age 70, he appears to have the energetic thrust of a sprinter. He maintains a full-time job whilst at the same time handling the sales and marketing of the novel. 

Writing is by definition a solitary pursuit but Philip has a supportive family and he says this has given him the freedom to take his time: “When the mood is on me I can get up at dawn and work until late at night without eating or showering. The act of composition is all consuming as long as I have Wagner playing in the background and tea on the desk beside me.”

Carrying on from last month’s post on the Hong Kong Writers Circle, I wondered to what extent Philip engages with the vibrant writing community in Hong Kong? Whilst he has indeed made contacts amongst Hong Kong writers, he says that these are more social relationships than practical ones as it is the self-sufficient nature of writing that appeals to him.

Philip’s next project is a book of short stories. Added to which, he has two chapters of a second novel on his computer.  Perhaps Harbour Views will prove to be the first in a series of comedies set against the backdrop of the bright lights of Hong Kong?

Harbour Views is published by Book Guild Publishing and is available here

Alice on self-publishing will take a break over the summer; the next column will be in September.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival partners with DSC Prize

Ubud Writers & Readers Festival 2014 is to partner with the world’s leading literary award for South Asian writing, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. The partnership will see each year’s winner brought to Ubud, Bali.

In 2014 the Festival will welcome from India acclaimed author Cyrus Mistry, who won the DSC Prize 2014 for Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, a moving account of a tragic love affair involving the near invisible community of Parsi corpse bearers whose job it is to carry bodies of the deceased to the Towers of Silence.

Mr Manhad Narula, one of the founder members of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, said: “We are delighted that the DSC Prize is associating itself with the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival. Being one of the leading literary festivals in the region with its focus on South Asia we see a lot of positive synergy in this partnership going forward. The DSC Prize is committed to encouraging conversations on South Asian writing and already conducts an annual DSC Prize Winner’s Tour, has associations with literary festivals, educational institutions and cultural centres and has an active college program. I look forward to this new partnership with Ubud Writers & Readers Festival which I feel will be beneficial for both parties, and most importantly lead to sessions which would be of immense interest for the literary enthusiasts who attend the Festival.”

Janet DeNeefe, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival Founder & Director, said: “I am thrilled about this partnership which I trust will be a long and fruitful one, further strengthening the literary bonds in the region.”

The Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

Held annually in Ubud, Bali’s artistic and cultural heartland, the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival has become Southeast Asia’s largest and most renowned cultural and literary event.

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

The US$50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is one of the most prestigious international literary awards specifically focused on South Asian writing. It celebrates the rich and varied literature of the South Asian region and showcases and rewards the best talent writing about this region. The vision of the DSC Prize is to bring South Asian writing to a larger global audience through a celebration of the achievements of South Asian writers, and thereby raise awareness of South Asian culture around the world.

The DSC Prize is open to authors of any ethnicity or nationality but the writing must be about South Asia and its people. It also encourages writing in regional languages and translations; the prize money is shared equally between the author and the translator if a translated entry wins.

The prize is now in its 5th edition, and the last four years have had winners from three different countries in South Asia – HM Naqvi from Pakistan (Homeboy, Harper Collins, India), Shehan Karunatilaka from Sri Lanka (Chinaman, Random House, India), Jeet Thayil from India (Narcopolis, Faber & Faber, London) and Cyrus Mistry from India (Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, Aleph India). Thanks to the DSC Prize each of these winners has reached a larger global audience than would otherwise have been the case.  

Cyrus Mistry

Cyrus Mistry began his writing career as a playwright, freelance journalist, and short story writer. His play Doongaji House, written in 1977 when he was 21, has acquired classic status in contemporary Indian theatre in English. One of his short stories was made into a Gujarati feature film. His plays and screenplays have won several awards. He followed up his first novel, The Radiance of Ashes, with the prize-winning Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer.

Saturday 14 June 2014

M Literary Residency Programme - Deadline Extended

Click here for the post of May 29, giving information on the M Literary Residency Programme. The deadline for submissions has now been extended until Friday July 4.