Wednesday 17 September 2014

A Day In The Life Of...Pete Spurrier, publisher at Blacksmith Books

A Day In the Life Of...invites people involved in book selling and the publishing industry in Asia to describe a working day.

Based in Hong Kong, but selling into all the major English language markets, Blacksmith Books publishes China-related non-fiction: biography; business; culture; current affairs; photography; travel. Founder Pete Spurrier is the company's publisher.

One of the best things about working for yourself is that you can set your own schedule. I started Blacksmith Books 10 years ago, and two years ago I moved apartments from Sai Ying Pun, an old district in the city centre of Hong Kong, to a rural village in the New Territories. The office remains in Central though, so after getting up, checking messages and dealing with anything urgent, I walk down the hill from the village and catch an express bus into town, avoiding rush hour. The journey takes 40 minutes and ends by taking a raised highway around the edges of Victoria Harbour, a good start to the day.

The Blacksmith office is on the top floor of an old walk-up building on Hollywood Road in Central, which is a great location, very convenient for meeting people. As an older building it has large windows, high ceilings and more natural light than newer ones. We do have decent tea and coffee but if people would rather not walk up the five flights of stairs (it is hot and humid Hong Kong after all) I’ll go and meet them in a nearby coffee shop.

New authors in particular often want to come up and see our office, which is a good idea from their point of view, and our printer will sometimes drop in with blueprints or proofs for checking.

We publish about 12 books a year, at any given time each book is at a different stage of editing, design, production, launch, distribution or promotion, so there is always a lot to do. During the course of the day I’ll be talking to authors, editors, translators and designers on one side of the publishing process, and bookshops, shipping companies, distributors and journalists on the other.

Emails come in at a frightening rate, including manuscripts which I move to a separate folder for reading later and then completely forget about.

If I have time, I’ll write a blog post or put something on the Facebook page, but I still find that traditional media usually works best for promoting books. Sometimes I’ll accompany a writer to a radio interview, or go on air myself, and I’ll come back to the office to find that orders have come in just because of that.

One of our new titles is the Yunnan Cookbook, and this was a particular challenge to bring to completion, as it involved two authors, two sets of photographers, an illustrator, a designer and an editor – and because production went on for so long, everyone involved was living or travelling in a different country by the final stages. Of course email helps, but at the point when we were choosing photos and finalising layout, one of the authors was incommunicado in the mountains of Yunnan, buying cattle in an ethnic minority village. Then, when she came back to the nearest town with internet access, she found that her email provider had been blocked in China. We got it all sorted in the end.

Our niche subject is Asia but it’s been good to find that readers around the world are interested in it. As our distribution has widened – we have just started selling into Australia this year, for instance – I find I’m spending more time co-ordinating shipments of books overseas. Once or twice a week I’ll go to our warehouse, on the western side of Hong Kong Island, to organise boxes of books to be collected by a freight forwarder or sent to the Kwai Chung container port. If the quantities are larger, pallets will be sent to the port directly from the printer.

Our biggest overseas market is the US, and books take five weeks to sail across the Pacific from Hong Kong, through the Panama Canal and up to New York. Our American distributor needs all details of new books eight months before their launch, which is often quite difficult to supply. I have to work backwards, taking shipping and printing time into account, and always keeping this production schedule in mind. I also have to keep track of how quickly books in print are selling, and order reprints at the right time, while watching cash flow to make sure it’s not too early to do so.

Another equation I have to juggle is deciding how many books to print each time: trying to balance the number of pre-orders from bookshops in each market with how many books I can keep in store in the warehouse, while still getting a decent unit price for printing a high enough volume. The printer helps out by keeping some in the factory until they can be shipped elsewhere, but not for too long. I am envious of other cities where space is cheaper to rent.

Before leaving the warehouse I’ll also fill a bag with books to be posted out later to mail-order customers. Because it’s so hard to sell books in mainland China, we don’t charge postage to anyone who lives there, so a steady stream of mail orders come in.

Back in the office, if it’s Friday, I’ll try to devote a couple of hours to getting the accounts up to date. Long ago, before Blacksmith started, I was a partner in a previous publishing business that went bust, and that was an expensive but valuable lesson. Now I try to make sure that I’m always up to speed with which clients are paying on time, which aren’t paying at all, which books are making money and so on. I used to think accounts must be boring, but when it’s your own venture, they become strangely engrossing.

When all the columns add up, I punch the air in victory – everyone else will have gone home by then. And then I lock up the office and go out for drinks.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Singapore Literature Prize

The Singapore Literature Prizes, awarded biennially, are open to Singaporean and Singapore-based writers whose works of fiction (novels or short stories), poetry, and non-fiction have been published in any of Singapore’s four official languages: English; Chinese; Malay; Tamil.

The shortlists for most of the twelve 2014 prizes have just been announced.  They are:

English Fiction

The Inlet by Claire Tham
Love, or Something Like Love by O Thiam Chin
As the Heart Bones Break by Audrey Chin
Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe

Chinese Fiction

《丁香》流 Lai Yong Taw
《林高微型小说》林高(Lim Hung Chang aka Lin Gao
《金色的袋鼠》尤今(Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin
《双城之恋》李选楼(Lee Xuan Lou

Malay Fiction

Suzan by Abdul Manaf bin Abdul Kadir
Tenggelamnya Kapal  Prince of Wales by Anuar bin Othman
Selamat Malam Caesar by Hassan Hasaa'ree Ali
Kumpulan Cerpen Armageddon by Yazid bin Hussein
Cahaya by Yazid bin Hussein
Seking by Mohd Pitchay Gani bin Mohd Abdul Aziz

Tamil Fiction

Muga Puthagamum Sila Agappakkangalum by Jayanthi Sankar
Naan by Suriya Rethnna
Vergal by Noorjehan binte Ahmadsha
Maaya by Packinisamy Panneerselvam
Oru Kodi Dollargal by Krishnamurthi Mathangi
Moontraavatu Kai by Mohamed Kassim Shanavas

English Poetry

Cordelia by Grace Chia
The Viewing Party by Yong Shu Hoong
Circle Line by Theophilus Kwek
Tender Delirium by Tania De Rozario
Sonnets from the Singlish by Joshua Ip
The Pillow Book by Koh Jee Leong

Chinese Poetry

《你和我的故事》周德成 Chow Teck Seng
阅读蚯蚓的秘密》周粲(Chew Kok Chiang aka Zhou Can
《原始笔记》陈志锐(Tan Chee Lay
《夜未央》华英(Wang Mun Kiat aka Hua Ying
《心闲牵风》华萍(Hua Ping

Malay Poetry

Genta Cinta by Peter Augustine Goh
Aisberg Kesimpulan by Ahmad Md Tahir
Pasar Diri by Johar Buang
Suara Dalam by Hamed bin Ismail
nota (buat wangsa dan buanaku) by Yazid bin Hussein

Tamil Poetry

Malaigalin Parathal by Krishnamurthi Mathangi
Kaanaamal Pona Kavithaikal by Samuvel Nepolian Devakumar
Thagam by Chinnadurai Arumugam 
Thoorikai Sirpangal by Pichinikkadu Elango
Urakkach Cholvaen by Swaminathan Amirthalingam 

English Non-Fiction

The shortlist will be announced in October.

Chinese Non-Fiction

《医生读史笔记》何乃强 Dr Ho Nai Kiong
释放快乐》尤今(Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin
《父亲平藩的一生》何乃强(Dr Ho Nai Kiong
《心也飞翔》尤今(Tham Yew Chin aka You Jin

Malay Non-Fiction

No shortlist.  The winner to be declared at the award ceremony.

Tamil Non-Fiction

The shortlist will be announced in October.

The winning title in each category will be eligible for a cash prize of up to Sing$ 10,000. The award ceremony will take place in November.

This week in the Asian Review of Books

Asian Books Blog is not a review site.  If you want reviews, see the Asian Review of Books.  Here is a list of its newest reviews:

Saturday 13 September 2014

Shakespeare in China

Macbeth (simplified Chinese)
The UK government has just announced a package of measures to boost business and cultural links with China. These include paying for both a complete translation of all Shakespeare’s works into Mandarin, and for the translation of a number of classic Chinese dramatic works into English.

UK Culture Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Creating stronger links with China is a top priority for the Government, and sharing the very best of our respective cultures is a brilliant way to make this happen. This funding means Western and Eastern cultures can learn from and be enriched by one another and what better way than using the works of Shakespeare.”

The translation of Shakespeare’s works will be undertaken by the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC), which has also secured funding for a tour of China in 2016 to help commemorate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death. Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director, said: “I profoundly believe that we foster deeper understanding between cultures by sharing and telling each other our stories. Therefore, I am hugely excited by the ambitions of our Chinese cultural partners and their interest in working with the Royal Shakespeare Company on these new collaborations. China has a rich dramatic heritage that mirrors the epic scale, complexity and universality of Shakespeare’s work and a national curriculum which requires young people to study his plays. Our plans to translate Shakespeare into Mandarin, to see translation and performance of more Chinese classics in the UK and to tour RSC productions to China will celebrate the arts and culture of both nations.”

I am trying to track down comment from the Chinese government.

Monday 8 September 2014

Speculation / Nobel Prize in Literature

The announcement of the winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature is to be made shortly - the direct quote from the official website is: "The 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature has not been awarded yet. According to tradition, the Swedish Academy will set the date for its announcement later." Here, "later" probably means early to mid October, and interest appears to be hotting up in who might nab it. 

UK betting organisation Ladbrokes gives the odds here. At the time of posting Ladbrokes has Haruki Murakami as the favourite, as does another on-line betting shop, Paddy Power - see here

Meanwhile, the UK Guardian newspaper tips Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong'o as the winner, see here

Two on-line literature communities are also currently discussing the odds, World Literature Forum and The Fictional Woods.

Happy speculation! 

Thursday 4 September 2014

Nick Cave to work with Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

One of Asia's foremost literary festivals, Ubud Writers & Readers Festival (UWRF), held annually in Bali’s cultural capital, has a reputation for leaving its mark on the authors, artists and audiences who have attended. It seems Australian musician, filmmaker and novelist Nick Cave is no exception.

After appearing at UWRF in 2012 to discuss, among other things, his best-known novel, The Death of Bunny Munro, Nick is now to become an International Festival Patron.  He is looking forward to spreading the word about Ubud. Commenting on his appointment he said: "While first and foremost a musician, I am deeply passionate about words and the worlds they open up. Literature and the arts is essential in any society; and Ubud Writers & Readers Festival does such an excellent job in nourishing this role both in Indonesia and beyond. Ubud is dear to my heart; the collision of writers and artists from all corners of the world that makes up the unique spirit of the Festival; the bottomless generosity of the Balinese; the sticky days and cooler nights." 

Festival Director Janet DeNeefe said she’s humbled to be collaborating with multi-talented, multi-faceted Nick: "There’s something about Nick that brings people from all places and walks of life together. I’m delighted to have him on board to help us continue bringing people from all over the world together to celebrate the written word in all its forms."
UWRF 2014 will run from October 1 – 5, and tickets are already selling fast. For full information click here

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Singapore International Storytelling Festival

This year’s Singapore International Storytelling Festival (SISF 2014) opens on Friday, with the theme Translations: Storytelling from the Word to the Voice. The Festival is organised by The Singapore Book Development Council (SPDC) and celebrates oral traditions and  folk tales in an age of reduced attention spans and declining appreciation for books.

Kamini Ramachandran, veteran storyteller and SISF 2014’s artistic director, said: "Through the art of storytelling, audiences experience  a revival of folklore, myths and legends that they might only have read or heard about in passing. The storyteller plays a critical role in re-imagining a well-loved or popular tale for the modern audience through the nuances of dramatic expression."

In line with this ambition of re-imagining well-loved tales, the Festival will open with the Asia premiere of Angerona, The Secret Name of Rome (Angerona). Performed by international storytellers Paola Balbi from Italy and Michael Harvey from the United Kingdom, Angerona is a retelling of the legend of Lucretia - no knowledge of the original is required to enjoy it.

Angerona tells how in a niche in the Temple of Pleasure, the Romans kept the statue of one of their most mysterious and ancient deities – the eponymous Angerona, goddess of sadness and silence. These qualities have always marked the lives of abused women; in Classical Antiquity Lucretia was the woman who broke that silence. Her story has been retold many times, including by Shakespeare in his narrative poem The Rape of Lucrece. Balbi and Harvey’s adaptation mixes contemporary words with Shakespeare’s text and promises to be a theatrical feast supported by an original soundtrack composed and performed by Davide  Bardi.

In the best tradition of modern storytelling Angerona crosses boundaries between cultures and art forms. Claire Chiang, SBDC’s chair said: “The legend of Lucretia is a strident tale. It speaks of passion, sanctity and a woman’s honour. Over the centuries, it has fascinated generations of readers and listeners. It is indeed a treat and a privilege for our audiences to be able to experience the nuances of this tale through watching and listening to Angerona.”

Since its inauguration in 2006, SISF has attracted more than 50,000 participants. Last year it was attended by close to 2,000 storytelling fans and practitioners – this year is sure to be even bigger and better!      

For the full SISF 2014 programme and tickets click here.