Thursday 24 November 2022

Khairat Kita: Interview with Fauzy Ismail and Zakaria Zainal

collection of interviews, photographs, essays and personal reflections, Khairat Kita is a project documenting the last few remaining Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations (MMBOs) providing aid and charity to their deceased members' families. Known as badan khairat kematian, they are volunteer, community-led initiatives based on a centuries-old tradition of mutual aid. 

Khairat kematian organisations are social anchors in the community and custodians of intangible cultural heritage in Singapore’s Malay/Muslim community. 

With around 20 such organisations left, declining membership and ageing committee members, the future looks uncertain for these MMBOs.

Courtesy of Ethos Books

About the Authors:

FAUZY ISMAIL researches Singapore’s architecture and urban heritage. He completed his masters in architecture at the National University of Singapore, investigating heritage and thirdspaces in architecture, and dealt with gazetted buildings as a government conservation architect. He was an artist-in- residence at The Substation from 2018 to 2019, and was also a fashion designer in Paris.

Tuesday 22 November 2022

The Fringe and the Fabulous: (Personal) Highlights from the Singapore Writers Festival

Poet Ng Yi Sheng (front row) snaps a photo as Claudia Rankine and Nate Marshall share a lighthearted moment during their dialogue at the National Gallery

For the first time this November, the Singapore Writers Festival served up a three-weekend extravaganza of readings, workshops, launches and discussions that seemed even longer for being the first (almost) fully in-person edition since 2019. 

The Festival has always been special to me – a time of friendships minted and renewed in the snaking queue for a Jeanette Winterson panel, of ideas seeded and watered on the grass outside The Arts House – and I've written elsewhere about how my first taste of this in 2009 turned out to be one of the formative experiences of my writing life. This year, even as I joined the ranks of seasoned festivalgoers pacing ourselves through the initial excitement (all the better to muster up energy for last night's closing party), the Festival made good on what it does best: making room both on- and off-stage for new voices, daring and more than deserving to be heard. 

Wednesday 16 November 2022

Bridging two cultures. Nicky Harman interviews London-based, Beijing-born Alicia Liu of SingingGrass


NH: Can you tell me briefly where you come from and how long you've been in the UK?

Alicia Liu: I was born in Beijing and moved to the UK to study in 2003. Although I considered myself a Beijinger, my family was a mixture of northerners and southerners from China. My dad was born in Inner Mongolia and my mum was born in Shanghai and grew up in Beijing. My grandmother was originally from Guangzhou and grew up in Hong Kong in the 1920s. I have fond memories of hearing her speaking a mixture of Cantonese and Mandarin while growing up. Since moving to London as a teenager, I've managed to spend an equal amount of my life in the East and the West.

NH: What is your company SingingGrass? (where did the name come from?) and what are its main activities

AL: My company name was inspired by the book The Grass is Singing by the British author Doris Lessing. My grandfather, a renowned literary critic and translator in China, had written the preface to the book when it was first translated and introduced to China in the 1950s. One of my favourite quotes in the book is "he knew how to get on with natives; dealing with them was a sometimes amusing, sometimes annoying game in which both sides followed certain unwritten rules."

I set up Singing Grass Communications in 2013 with the aim of guiding our clients in their engagement with China through arts, culture and lifestyle. We provide in-depth market research and insight, advise on business strategy and local partnerships for content brands such as the LEGO Group and international publishers such as Hachette Children's Group to maximise their potential in China. We also support international PR for important trade fairs such as Beijing International Book Fair and Shanghai International Children's Book Fair. (

Monday 14 November 2022

Indie Spotlight: Returning East - from life to a story

Indie Spotlight is a column by WWII historical fiction author Alexa Kang. The column regularly features hot new releases and noteworthy indie-published books, and indie authors who have found success in the creative world of independent publishing.

As someone who had lived overseas and traveled in many different countries, I know first hand one can fall on love with places we visit to the point of wanting to become part of that world. When we are fortunate enough to have a chance to actually do that, the experience is a deep and transformative one that we wish to share with the world. In her debut novel Returning East, author Lauca took her experience of living abroad in China, used it as her inspiration, and created a historical fiction story that follows a young man's journey to the East. Today, she tells us in her own words her own journey in turning life into a story. 

Sunday 13 November 2022

Dinner at the Cathay, a Memoir of Old Shanghai, guest post by Lara de la Harpe

Dinner at the Cathay, a Memoir of Old Shanghai,
draws together the diverse threads of the author’s family history. Shanghai-born Maureen de la Harpe was eight months old when, in 1937,  as part of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the city was attacked by Japanese forces and two thousand people lost their lives. At the age of seven, her family and close relatives were interned in a Japanese concentration camp (Lunghua) where they were held until the end of WW2. The family left China a year later.

Sunday 6 November 2022

IF you fancy going to the Singapore Writers Festival, read this!

Singapore Writers Festival 2022 (SWF) opened on November 4, and continues until November 20th.  Here, Pooja Nansi, poet, educator and, since 2019, Festival Director, talks to Asian Books Blog 

Q: The theme for this years’ Festival is “IF”. Why was this chosen? How and why is it relevant to writing now? 

A: As the Festival celebrates its 25th edition this year, we are entering a time where the world is emerging from a pandemic, and we’re dealing with plenty of conflict, change and uncertainty globally. Things feel a little fragile at this moment. The Festival’s 25th edition also leads us to a kind of "quarter-life crisis" in that we’re reflecting on the Festival’s legacy, thinking about what could have been, and what lies in its future. We were inspired by local poet Cyril Wong’s poem If…Else. “If” is an interesting word that holds space for both regret and possibility, and allows for retrospection and ideation. Through this year’s programmes, we invite Festival-goers to join us in imagining and reimagining possibilities, with the literary arts as a starting point. The act of writing itself is a creation of possibilities. It is one of the safest ways of exploring different scenarios and taking risks. You can rewrite the past, change the present and imagine futures. We hope that the theme of “IF” reminds us all of how through literature, we create fictional worlds through our interactions with books, play with text, dream up scenarios, imagine the unfolding of narratives, indulge in fantasies, and transcend the boundaries of time, space and geography. 

Sunday 30 October 2022

Guest post from Victory Witherkeigh, Filipinx author of The Girl

Filipinx Victory Witherkeigh is an established writer of short stories, and a debut novelist. She is currently living Las Vegas.

The Girl is a young adult novel that subverts expectations to explore the idea that a girl's true self is more important than what she's been told. Breaking through good girl, virginal heroine stereotypes and inspired by mythology and gods, the novel asks the reader to think about what is good and what is evil.

The Girl follows a nameless main character. She’s been told since a very young age that she was a mistake, a demon who shouldn’t have been born. Shunned by her parents, she’s shuffled between theirs and her grandparents’ homes until her eighteenth birthday. The Girl is baffled by her ordinary life in Los Angeles. For all intents and purposes, she’s just like everyone else. That is, until the Demon comes to claim her.

Victory refers to her Filipinx / Pacific Islander heritage throughout The Girl.  She combines pre-colonial myths of gods and demons with a modern setting, to create a coming-of-age story of a first generation-born American. To coincide with the close of Filipino American Heritage Month in the USA, she here talks about using Filipino mythology in her writing.

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are known in America as AAPI, and the term Filipinx has there been adopted to refer to people of Philippine origin or descent; it is used to indicate gender-neutrality in place of Filipino or Filipina. Now we know this, over to Victory...