Friday, 31 October 2014

Singapore Writers Festival 2014: The Proletariat Poetry Factory

Asian Books Blog is based in Singapore, where the annual Writers Festival (SWF) has just kicked-off, with a knees-up much enlivened by the presence of The Proletariat Poetry Factory. This wonderful literary initiative consists of 25 or so Singaporean poets who write poems for the masses.  The poets sit behind old-fashioned typewriters, and the clicking of the keys as they tap out their words makes a distinctive soundtrack to their work.  They dress in bright red jumpsuits, each stitched with a label reading Servile Poet.  They write, or perform, at factories and flea markets, as well as at events such as the launch of SWF. 

Those wishing to receive a poem from The Proletariat Poetry Factory suggest a kernel word, and hey presto some time later - usually about 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the poets' workload – they pick up the poem sprouted from it in the mind of one of the servile poets.  In return for their poem, they are asked to make a donation, the amount is up to them, and the money raised is used to pay The Proletariat Poetry Factory’s expenses.

Tonight, people wanting poems had suggested kernel words as various as ginger, nutmeg, Manila, love, peace….According to one of the servile poets the worst words for inspiring poems are Happy Birthday

One woman I talked to had given the poets the made-up kernel word Numnums.  This was her pet name for her husband.  She was delighted with her poem: “I love it!” She said.  But she seemed less sure what her husband would make of it: “I have no idea what he will think – but the poem is sweet and endearing.”

Naturally, Asian Books Blog asked The Proletariat Poetry Factory for a poem.  I left the kernel word words, and here is the resulting poem:

So do you have any words to say to me?
I looked outside, the sun
Set with a tired pallor,
A beautiful glow to it.
I’d learned how to avert gazes
All my life, I thought,
As I navigated the rough
Liminal spaces, forgotten identities
And timid hopeful smiles.

In what must have been an hour to you
I looked out of the window
To find these words: forgive me
For I do not know what I want:
What I need or what I have.

Not bad, huh?  I especially like the image of the sun setting with a tired pallor.

The Proletariat Poetry Factory writes only in English.  Its workshop will be open for creating poems at SWF from noon on Sunday 2 Nov, and again on Sunday 9 Nov.  

Happy Halloween! 500 Words From Andrew Lee

500 Words a series of guest posts from authors, in which they talk about their newly-published books.  Here, for Halloween, Andrew Lee explains the background behind his Asian Spine Chillers series. The four volumes bring together macabre stories from Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong, as well as letters to Andrew from terrified readers sharing their supernatural experiences. In addition, with the use of innovative augmented reality technology, readers can bring their print books to virtual life, by using their smartphones, or tablets, to watch a bonus hidden story, The Devil’s Blade, told in twelve episodes.

So, over to Andrew…

“Greetings from the Dark Side!

Asian Spine Chillers was in a great part prompted by my childhood reading. From a very early age I was attracted to the macabre. I forwent the childish tales most kids my age enjoyed. While my classmates were reading Enid Blyton, I read Poe and Edgar Wallace, along with many other authors of tales of horror and the supernatural. Throughout my childhood I sought out and found books, and later videos and films, of the sort that most parents would consign to the rubbish heap, or to a locked cupboard, if they ever found them. However, my parents were not like most. My mother had significant clairvoyant skills, and my father was an atheist who suffered severe depression, or what today would be called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The Second World War had scarred him deeply and the images, sounds and memories of that war never left him. He was a deeply unhappy man and, lost in his own darkness, he didn’t see or care what I chose to read or watch. Both parents are now long in their graves.  My father bequeathed to me a degree of blackness, and from my mother I have inherited The Sight – it is not as powerful in me as it was in her, but at times it provides me with great insight.

And so I grew up with a love of the unusual, and the supernatural. Then, in my teenage years I met and lived with a genuine Romany gypsy princess who had incredible psychic powers. She further fuelled my interest in the supernatural. I began writing down the tales that came to mind from this point.

I have lived at various times in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Singapore and Bangkok. In each place I spent time talking to local people, particularly country folk and those from out of the way corners where life is a little less plastic and regimented than in the cities. They told me tales passed down from generation to generation, and I became like a sponge, absorbing their stories. Sitting with a coffee, tea or beer and talking to these people, the stories, real or imagined, grew and kept on growing.

Sometimes not a person, but a place suggested a story. One of my favourite places for inspiration is Pulau Ubin, a tiny island off Singapore where life is still mostly rural. When I visit Singapore from my current home in New Zealand, I go to Pulau Ubin and spend the day walking, thinking, and soaking up the atmosphere, letting my imagination run free. Also in Singapore, the abandoned Second World War fort on Sentosa, another island off the mainland, likewise holds magic for me. I will go there, find a quiet corner and spend hours, notebook in hand catching the thoughts that come. Hong Kong has its magic corners for me too, as does every city and country I have visited.

As an author, it is wonderful when you find a place where magic lies in wait, ready for you to unleash it and capture it on the page. It is even better that now, with augmented reality technology, you can unleash it in sound and pictures as well.  My publishers, Monsoon, have made available a free augmented reality app so readers can access The Devil’s Blade, I hope they will be captivated by what awaits…

The readers’ letters that are becoming such a feature of the Spine Chillers started purely as a writer’s device. However, since word about the series started to spread, Monsoon has been finding more and more letters arriving in their mail as people share their unearthly experiences. I am writing further volumes and I encourage anyone with a tale of the macabre and the supernatural to email it to me at:”

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Indie Spotlight: Timothy Brennan

Indie Spotlight is our monthly column on self-publishing. This month, Raelee Chapman talks to Timothy Brennan, whose eBook Lucky Rice won the 2014 eLit Award for Best Multimedia Produced eBook.

Lucky Rice: My Story is Your Story is a fictional philosophical conversation about nature between the book’s main character Mr. Tim, and a Balinese rice farmer. The eBook is interspersed with stunning photography of rice paddies and beautiful digital sketches, hence its inclusion in the multimedia category of the eLit Awards.

Tim was inspired to write Lucky Rice to relay some of the philosophical answers he had found to life’s big questions to his five adult children. He chose fiction as his form as it enabled greater freedom of expression than non-fiction.

I asked Tim why he chose ePublishing, and how he would describe the process from start to finished product.

“I felt the traditional path to publishing is too congested, but ePublishing sidesteps this problem. Right from the start I chose to write Lucky Rice in Apple Corp's iBook Author. It's the only authoring software tool that allowed me to integrate word, audio, images, video and digital drawing. Looking ahead I see the reading experience in 2020 will be with iPads and smart phones. In the next few years special headsets such as Google Glass will heighten the reading experience. This is the marketplace I want Lucky Rice to be in.”

Tim’s editor recommended he compete in the multimedia category of the eLit Book Awards, 2014. Tim reacted to winning with modesty: “I was surprised Lucky Rice won because it's a global competition and there were so many other great books involved. Receiving professional recognition has been a great boost.”

Perhaps because of this recognition, Lucky Rice was this year accepted as the first eBook ever to be launched at the Ubud Writer's Festival.

I asked Tim how well the book went down in Ubud: “Lucky Rice was really well received. Everyone seemed to like the book and the multimedia format. For someone like me, launching my first book at the Writers Festival was a lot of fun. Being thrown into the literary world was a new experience.”

Tim’s next goal for Lucky Rice is to have it translated into some of Asia’s regional languages.  Currently it is being translated into Indonesian.

Tim jokes: “Someone along the way once told me there is only one thing more challenging than finishing your first book - wrestling a crocodile! I would agree!” However, he is already working on the sequel to Lucky Rice. This will see the main characters reconvening after twenty years.

Lucky Rice is available on Amazon and iBooks. For more information see:

If you would like your book to be featured in Indie Spotlight, please e-mail Raelee Chapman at  

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Introducing Raelee Chapman

Raelee Chapman is Asian Books Blog’s new correspondent for e-books, self-publishing, book groups and writing groups. She is to take over our monthly Indie Spotlight, which covers all aspects of self-publishing, and she will also write occasional posts on the other areas under her remit. Here she introduces herself.

“I am an Australian freelance writer living in Singapore, and a member of the Singapore Writers Group. My fiction, non-fiction and book reviews have been published in Australia and overseas, most recently in Singapore-American Newspaper and Singapore Review of Books.

I formed the Singapore Ladies Asian Literary Book Group through earlier this year. It started as a ladies night out - if enough bookworms of the opposite sex join we can definitely change the name! The group was not initially focused on books with Asian interest. But, to my surprise, though wide and varied, the book choices members put forward each month inevitably had Asian authors, or were set in Asia. As a group, we realised we all just clicked with this theme and decided that these are the kind of books we want to continue exploring. We started with Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire, and then progressed to Singaporean author Ovidia Yu’s Aunty Lee’s Delights - Ovidia was kind enough to attend our meeting. Since then we have progressed to read a WWII drama set in Singapore, a comedy regarding a love-match marriage in India, a Khaled Hosseini novel and now we are reading Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. New members are welcome to sign up and join through the meetup site:

My first Indie Spotlight, later this week, will find me in conversation with Tim Brennan, author of Lucky Rice, winner of an eLit Award for e-books (multi-media production).”

If you would like to see your work highlighted in Indie Spotlight, or if you are a member of a writing group or a book group you would like to see featured on Asian Books Blog, then please get in touch with Raelee at

Monday, 27 October 2014

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. This week it also carries letters from Hong Kong looking at the current situation:

Friday, 24 October 2014

The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2015 Longlist Announced

The US $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, the most prestigious international literary award specifically focused on South Asian writing, is open to authors of any ethnicity or nationality as long as the writing is about South Asia and its people. It actively encourages writing in regional languages and translations - the prize money is equally shared between the author and the translator in case a translated entry wins.

The Prize is now in its fifth year and over the past half-decade it has helped present writing about the South Asian region to a global audience.  The last four years have had winners from three different countries in South Asia:  H.M. 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). Each of these winners has gone on to international success.   

Now, the longlist for the 2015 Prize has been announced in New Delhi.  The announcement was made by Keki N. Daruwalla, leading Indian writer and poet, and chair of the jury panel. Other members are: John Freeman, author, literary critic and former editor of Granta from the US; Maithree Wickramasinghe, a Professor of English at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka and at the University of Sussex, UK, and an expert on gender studies; Michael Worton, Emeritus Professor at University College London who has written extensively on modern literature and art; Razi Ahmed from Pakistan, the founding director of the Lahore Literary Festival. 

The longlist of 10 books showcases work the jury feels best represents the eclectic and vibrant voice of the South Asian region. It includes a mix of established writers and debut novelists, and spans authors from different backgrounds and geographies. It features authors originating from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, some of whom are now based in USA, UK and Canada.

Keki N. Daruwalla said: “It has been both exhausting and rewarding going through the entries. As expected the variety was considerable. Obviously there was a tremendous mix here - of themes, landscapes, styles, issues, both political and personal. The narratives ranged from eighteenth and nineteenth century history to the Naxalite era in West Bengal, and from tribal rebellions to feudal atrocities. Scene and landscape varied from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal to Afghanistan. To give an idea of the variety, in one title a schizophrenic from Bihar imagines conversations with Sylvia Plath and Blake. In another soldiers returning from the Great War of 1914—1918 find life different in the North-West Frontier Province of what was then called British India. In yet another a Sri Lankan car driver on hire explores the past.”

At the announcement of the longlist Manhad Narula of the DSC Prize Steering Committee, said: “I am delighted that the DSC Prize has been able to highlight a range of issues pertaining to the ever evolving South Asian life - its culture, its people, and their new found aspirations. Given such a strong longlist, it will be interesting to see which books make it to the shortlist from here."

Indeed it will. The shortlist will be announced on 27th November in London. The winner will be declared at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival in January 2015.

The Longlist

Bilal Tanweer: The Scatter Here is Too Great (Vintage Books / Random House, India)
Jaspreet Singh: Helium (Bloomsbury, India)
Jhumpa Lahiri: The Lowland (Vintage Books / Random House, India)
Kamila Shamsie: A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury, India)
Khaled Hosseini:  And the Mountains Echoed (Bloomsbury, India)
Meena Kandasamy: The Gypsy Goddess (Fourth Estate / Harper Collins, India)
Omar Shahid Hamid: The Prisoner (Pan Books / Pan Macmillan, India) 
Romesh Gunesekera: Noontide Toll (Hamish Hamilton / Penguin, India)      
Rukmini Bhaya Nair: Mad Girl’s Love Song (Harper Collins, India)  
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi: The Mirror of Beauty (Penguin Books, India)

Friday, 17 October 2014

A Day In the Life Of… Harrison Kelly, Managing Director of Flatcap Asia

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

Flatcap Asia is a Hong Kong based arts and literary PR agency for Asia. The company works with a range of global clients from the creative industries including BBC World News, ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, Random House UK, Harper Collins, BAFTA, the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the British Council. Harrison Kelly founded Flatcap Asia in 2010.

“I usually start my day around 7am. I have a bad habit of reading all my emails on my iPhone immediately when I wake up whilst still sat in bed. If it’s a particularly busy day this takes up valuable time as I usually have to re-read them all again in the office before I reply.

On Monday mornings I like to arrive at the office for around 8am. Flatcap is based in The Hive, a co-working space in Kennedy Town, just a short 10-minute commute from my apartment on Hollywood Road.

When I arrive at the office, I re-read all my emails and reply to most of them before 8.30am which is when Charlotte, Senior Consultant at Flatcap Asia, arrives. Charlotte and I will then discuss how the campaigns for several of our clients are going, and set out the priorities and tasks for the week ahead.

At the moment we are managing a title campaign in the East Asian press for Tim Clissold’s latest book Chinese Rules on behalf of Harper Collins. As the books pages in newspapers are increasingly being cut, it’s our job as a PR agency to get the book and the author out of the books pages and mentioned across other sections of the media where the author may find a new readership – in the opinion pages, or the lifestyle pages for example.

We often have to think of creative angles to get a journalist’s attention and interest in writing about a book – particularly if it is a fiction or literary fiction title, which is only published in English and isn’t set in Asia or by an Asian author.

Mid-morning, I usually have a conference call with one of our regional clients such as BBC Global News to catch up with their team and update them on the PR campaign. Although we specialise in literature, we represent clients from across the creative industries whether it’s TV, film, journalism, theatre or education.

When lunchtime arrives – often all too quickly – I tend to head into Central two or three times a week to catch up with a journalist, a sponsor or a client. Public relations really is an industry built on relationships, so it’s always good to meet up with colleagues for a good chat and a nice lunch deal – of which there are many in Hong Kong.

At 2pm, I usually have a call with the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival team in Delhi. Through Flatcap I consult as Head of PR for the Festival, which is the world’s largest free literary festival welcoming 250,000 guests, 800 media and 250 authors over five days. It really is a huge logistical feat. My role is to set strategy and direction for the traditional and social media campaign of the Festival. I’m fortunate to have a brilliant team at Edelman India, another PR agency, that work on the ground in India handling the campaign on a day-to-day basis.

The rise of literary festivals in Asia is, in many ways, down to the huge success of Jaipur, which started with a handful of authors back in 2006. I actually began my literary PR career at the Hay Festival in the UK, before working at the Edinburgh International Book Festival right before I moved to Hong Kong. There is an indescribable magic in the air at literary festivals; it’s certainly an addictive energy for those five adrenaline-fuelled days in Jaipur each January. I am looking forward to visiting the Singapore Writers’ Festival later this month – but as a punter! – and seeing Naomi Wolf and Suchen Christine Lim, as well as browsing the Festival bookstore to discover the new contemporary voices of Singaporean literature.

Mid-afternoon I catch up with Jan and Louise who also work with me at Flatcap Asia. I don’t speak any other language except English, yet the company works on a daily basis in both Traditional and Simplified Chinese and so I am very fortunate to have great staff members who can execute this non-English language media activity on behalf of our clients.

Around 4pm, London begins to wake up and so when I see The Bookseller’s Morning Briefing ping into my inbox, I tend to take half an hour out to catch up on the latest trade news from the industry as well as having a look on Twitter to see what is driving the news agenda of the day.

Many in the publishing industry are nervous about the rise of e-books and the demise of print. Regardless of age, the data shows consumers still want print books. The key challenge for the industry is maintaining a workable revenue model which accounts for the changes in delivering published work to readers. I think it’s important to learn lessons from what happened to the music industry in the early 2000’s. Thought it’s hard to predict what publishing will look like in 12 months’ time, never mind in 12 years, I do think print will always maintain its place and be consumed alongside digital.  

In many ways, for marketers, the digital challenge creates an exciting opportunity as the traditional avenues of reaching an audience for a book are suddenly been disrupted (or complemented?) by other platforms, particularly social media, which allow readers to discover books, authors or genres they may never have come across in a bricks and mortar store.

Around 5pm, emails from our clients in the UK begin to come through and so I turn my attention to that. One client we work with a lot is BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts). Since last year, BAFTA has been hosting a range of activities in Hong Kong, aiming to inspire the city’s next generation of aspiring film, TV and games professionals. It’s been great fun supporting them on the ground here in Hong Kong.

Towards the end of the day I tend to focus on more admin related activity. This can be boring things like sorting out my accounts or general business management, through to more fun stuff like pulling together coverage reports for our clients. I am working on two of these at the moment, one for StoryWorthyWeek, an annual storytelling festival in Hong Kong, and one for Susan Barker, the incredibly talented author of The Incarnations, which we recently represented. A coverage report gives the client an overview of the campaign to date as well as showing all the media coverage earned so far, as well as the reach and value of the coverage.

I usually leave the office on time at 7:30pm when I will head out for dinner with friends or head out to see a production by one of our theatre clients. There is a really strong English-language theatre scene in Hong Kong, and thanks to groups such as Liars’ League and Hong Kong Storytellers there is also a growing live literature scene too.”

Twitter: @HarrisonJKelly / @FlatcapAsia