Art in Black & White on Temenggong Road


Living Tropics at Home for the Arts

by Ken Hickson

It is always a pleasure to see art in appropriate surroundings. And there is nowhere better than in the glorious black and white houses on Singapore. Isn’t it great that so many of these distinctive colonial “homes” have been conserved and put to such good use.

In Temenggong Road, five of them have become “home to the arts”, thanks to the Temenggong Arts in Residence – a not for profit arts charity – and the work of Henri Chen KeZhan who  started it and keeps it going.

That’s where you can see the latest exhibition by one of its resident artists – Dang Xuan Hoa from Vietnam. His “Living Tropics” exhibition is there until 4 June. Be quick as its not often art lovers can visit this fabulous green setting on Mount Faber and see art and architecture at its best.

At the exhibition opening on Saturday 27 May, NUS Museum Curator Chang Yueh Siang gave a very meaningful and insightful introduction to the work of Hoa and the artist-in residence-programme and location.

Chang Yueh Siang – Living Tropics Opening Intro

For more, get a copy of the programme – where most the art exhibited is also shown.

On hand to officially open the show was Parliamentary Secretary  in the Ministry of Youth and Culture Mr Baey – a former PR man – pictured above at at right, with the artist Dang Xuan Hoa, the centre of attention and Ms Chan on the left, delivering her welcome address.

You can support the work of Henri and co at the Temenggong Artists in residence programme by going to this site.


A Feast of Film: 11 Days in May

A Feast of Film: 11 Days in May

By Ken Hickson

The European Union Film Festival  represented a visual feast – 27 films from 27 countries – while a 28th film slipped in, making it two from Germany.
When launching the event, Mr Michael Pulch, EU Ambassador to Singapore, had this to say: “This is especially significant as we mark the 60th anniversary of the European Union this year. With the 27th edition of the EUFF, we celebrate the diversity and pluralism of Europe and continue to reinforce the cultural cooperation and collaboration between Europe and Singapore.”
The festival certainly demonstrated “Europe’s contemporary creativity, its diversity of cultural expressions and multifaceted artistic vision”. This was reflected in the selection, ranging from dramas to thrillers, comedies to animation.                                                                                               With films hailing from across Europe, it offered audiences in Singapore an opportunity to access a variety of films that rarely receive commercial screenings outside Europe thus becoming a cultural bridge between Europe and Singapore.
Thanks to the organisers – Deepika Shetty in particular – we were invited to see five films: The Murmuring Coast (from Portugal), Problemski Hotel (Belguim), Soul at Peace (Solvakia), Ivy (Turkey) and Young Sophie Bell (Sweden).
The first and the last for us were stand outs.
“The Murmuring Coast” gave us some unexpected insight in the past colonial mistakes in the 1960s of Portugal in Africa. It was honestly and convincingly acted and filmed.                                                              “Young Sophie Bell” was the star attraction for us. Beautifully filmed and portraying some excellent acting, most notably by Felice Jankell, who won the Guldbagge Best Actress Award (Sweden’s Oscar equivalent) for playing Sophie.
The National Gallery provided a fitting venue for the film screenings but you would think in this technological age, there would be a way to manage the climate in its small but well designed “cinema”.
We know Singaporeans and visitors continue to freeze in the super cooled public cinemas in the city, but such a select cultural institution like the National Gallery – which involved the superb architectural transformation of two colonial gems (the old Supreme Court and City Hall) – could have made sure the air conditioning was managed so patrons didn’t need to come armed with coats and scarves. Maybe it was on purpose to create a European atmosphere to go with the films!
Other than that, the Festival was a big success and it was such a welcome touch when various embassies – and Ambassadors as well – fronted up and offered appropriate drinks and snacks to festival goers prior to screenings. Thanks to Portugal and Sweden in particular! All adding to the festival atmosphere. More films from Europe please. – Ken Hickson

Inaugural Cities of Love Award (COLA) launched to honour sustainability efforts

Inaugural Cities of Love Award (COLA) launched to honour sustainability

Singapore, May 22, 2017 – A new award – called the Cities of Love Award (COLA) – to recognise and honour the sustainability efforts of ordinary individuals, businesses and communities has just been launched in Singapore.
The brainchild of Mr Tai Lee Siang and his wife Ms Valerie Ang – joint authors of the book Cities of Love – both directors of Inception Pte Ltd, a creative consultancy, focused on developing unique creative projects that benefit individual, communities, and cities.
On the COLA objectives, Mr Tai said, “Awards for sustainability are often given to prominent figures such as government or business leaders who have helped to implement large-scale transformational projects. While this has made important impact on cities, we must not ignore the contributions of the individuals or the smaller organisations. The Cities of Love Award or COLA is therefore an award to recognise the efforts made by the ordinary person or enterprises – especially those that have shown much innovation, care, and love for the communities they live in. For us, no project is too small or insignificant. So, if your actions have made positive impact in any way, we welcome you to take part in the award as we believe that every positive effort should be given a chance to be appreciated and recognised.”
Mr Tai is also the current Chairman of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC), Honorary Advisor of the Singapore Green Building Council (SGBC) and a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission of the Design Business Chamber of Singapore (DBCS).
The inaugural Cities of Love Awards 2017 builds on the sustainable roadmap laid out by Mr Tai’s recently-launched book, Cities of Love.
The award is also open to all entries from small homegrown projects to large-scale corporate developments, and comprises three categories: Social Sustainability, Economic Sustainability, and Environmental Sustainability.
Social Sustainability aims to highlight initiatives, actions or organisations that will sustain their social group or community in the long-term. The criteria that these awards will be judged on include: Administration, Communications, Community Bonding, Community Care, Education, Family Support, Finance & Financing Operations, Parental Assistance, Social Services, and Others.
Economic Sustainability highlights business models or actions that balanced growth with contributions to the local economy and the welfare of the workforce who helped achieve it. The judging criteria include: Administration, Communications, CSR, Finance & Financing, Human Resource, Marketing, Operations, Organisation, Products, Services, and Others.
Environmental Sustainability highlights actions that create a sustainable and friendly environment, or help to protect or maintain existing environments. The criteria for judging include: Building, Construction, Design, Gardens, Landscape, Maintenance, Materials, Operations, Products, Services, and Others.
The Award is in support of SG Cares, a national movement dedicated to support the goodwill of Singaporeans and guide them to help those in need. The supporting partners include Green Living, Reed Exhibitions, Design Business Chamber of Singapore (DBCS), Raffles Design Institute, World Scientific: Connecting Great Minds, Waste Management and Recycling Association of Singapore, Institute of Parks & Recreation Singapore, Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA) and Media partners such as Green in Future, ABC Carbon Express, The Avenue for Creative Arts and Fifth Avenue Media & Editorial Services.
The awards are open to all residency in Singapore. Corporate entities must be registered in Singapore to qualify for the business application.
The entry fee for the awards are S$100 for individuals, S$300 for community groups and S$300 for businesses, and is now open for submission at The closing date is on 31 July, 2017.
Ms Valerie Ang said: “Amidst trying times and an uncertain economic climate, we need heroes – people we can look up to as examples of inspiration. They are people with insight and foresight who look beyond the confines of the norm to set a new and better benchmark of quality living. These are significant changers. The awards are our way of providing a platform for new heroes to lead by example towards a green and sustainable future.”
The Cities of Love Awards 2017 Ceremony will be held at Marina Bay Sands on 22 September 2017. Winning entries will also be displayed at the 2017 Green Living exhibition at Marina Bay Sands in September. For more information, please visit

Inception launched the COLA Awards 2017 to recognise ordinary people who do extraordinary things that contribute to sustainable issues. Besides prominent figures such as government or business leaders who have helped to implement large-scale change, Inception aims to show that no project is too small, no step is too insignificant – if actions have made a positive impact in some way, they should not be discounted.
Inception was formed in Singapore in August 2010, by Valerie Ang and Tai Lee Siang, out of a passion to transform lives, environments, and societies. It believes that everyone has the capability to bring change. Inception hopes to be a vehicle of change through holistic creations that promote sustainable living. Its long-term vision is to develop a basket of diverse creative projects that could include products, publications, multi-media productions and even gastronomic experiences. By introducing new innovations and perspectives that are sustainable and economically feasible, it hopes to contribute to harmonious and peaceful living on this Earth we call home.

South Asian International Film Festival

Singapore to stage the first
South Asian International Film Festival
in September

By Ken Hickson

Singapore is scheduled to host the first South Asia International Film Festival in September this year.
According to the organisers, Singapore South Asian International Film Festival (SG.SAIFF) will be devoted to garnering greater appreciation of South Asian cinema and culture.
It will do this by showcasing films, supporting emerging filmmakers through competitions and awards, as well as promoting the diverse cultural and media perspectives of the South Asian diaspora.
Singapore, being a significant gateway to Asia – north, south, east and west – was selected as the location as it enhances the potential of the festival to emerge as melting pot of diverse cultures, using cinema as a medium.
The festival will be held from 1 to 9 September at various venues.
“Anywhere in the world where there is a significant South Asian diaspora, there is a dedicated South Asian film festival. Singapore lacks one so far and we think that this festival will serve as a unique opportunity for a cultural interaction between Singapore and South Asia”, says Abhayanand Singh, the Chef Executive Officer of Muvizz (, who has taken the initiative to stage this festival for the first time in Singapore.
The festival will showcase a combination of features, short films and documentaries under two separate sections. One will be Competition, where titles from South Asia countries will compete for an award.
In the Showcase section, the best of world cinema will be screened during the festival period, with most films being shown for the first time Singapore.
Additionally, the festival will also offer Singaporeans and visitors from neighbouring countries a unique opportunity to learn about acting, film making and screen writing from South Asian film industry experts and personalities.
Knowledge sessions, like panel discussions, master classes and business networking events, will be included in the nine days of the festival.
On the opening night of the festival – Friday 1 September – will be a red carpet affair featuring distinguished film industry personalities from eight participating South Asian countries and a world film premiere.
The first star to be named as a participant in the Singapore event is Manoj Bajpayee, who has also agreed to play the role of “Mentor” for the festival, Mr Singh confirmed.
Having recently won the Asia Pacific Screen Award for Best Actor held in Australia (APSA), the well-known Indian actor — who also uses the name as Manoj Bajpai – has soared to cinematic heights with distinctive performances in ‘Satya’, ‘Pinjar’, ‘Raajneeti’, ‘Aks’, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’, ‘Chakravyuh’ and ‘Special 26’. Quite recently, as the start in ‘Budhia Singh Born to Run’ and ‘Aligarh’ he won two National Awards and three Filmfare Awards.
“As an artist, I have been very supportive of content-driven cinema and have been part of many such films in my career. Being associated with a film festival like SGSAIFF gives me an opportunity to interact with talents from all over the Southeast Asia and admirers from all over the world. I look forward to watching a lot of films from South Asia during the festival and be part of an event which bridges the gap between South Asia and South East Asia. This is my way of giving back to the medium of cinema,” said Manoj Bajpayee.
He has also given outstanding performances in his short films ‘Taandav’ and ‘Kriti’ and for the former he received the Best Actor Male Award in the Filmfare Short Film Competition. Both the shorts were proudly produced by
The first weekend of the festival (2 and 3 September) will incorporate movie screenings for children, workshops on acting, writing and filmmaking, networking and masterclasses. There will also be what’s billed as a “Bollywood Nite”.
Every evening during the week – from Monday 4 September to Friday 8 September – there will be screenings of two or three films. The venues and the films will be announced closer to the time.
As the festival will conclude on Saturday 9 September with a spectacular Cultural Programme at 5000-seat Star Theatre, incorporating exciting stage performances, music, dance as well as presentations of film awards, this festival is poised to become the largest event ever staged to celebrate South Asian cinema in Singapore.
Website –
Facebook –
ABOUT Muvizz
Muvizz is an Over The Top (OTT) or Video On Demand (VOD) platform offering cult, classic and independent films to cinema lovers around the world. Based in Singapore, it offers only a curated list of titles ranging from short films to documentaries to feature films in various languages to its users so that they don’t have to go through thousands of titles to decide which one to watch. It is creating a social community of cinephiles where movies are used as a medium for discussion and debates on its platform. The company is working towards having an exclusive content on its website which includes creating its own content, like short films, documentaries and web series. Noted film personalities like Vishal Bharadwaj, Anurag Kashyap, Shabana Azmi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Ketan Mehta, Sudhir Mishra, Hansal Mehta, Tigmanshu Dhulia, Rajkumar Rao have all supported this endeavour, so that independent films and film makers can use technology to have a wider reach. Muvizz was started by Mr Abhayanand Singh and Mr Piiyush Singh. Abhay has more than a decade of experience across various industries including banking, finance, pharma, art, furniture, software and media. Piiyush, on the other hand, comes from media where he has been involved in television production for more than 10 years.

Online Access to Arts and Culture Attractions

Mobile App Draws Tourists from Ten Countries
To Book Singapore Attractions

By Ken Hickson

Making it easier for tourists in Singapore to see more attractions and attend more events – and save money at the same time – is the objective of a new mobile App (application) called TravelEase, a local start up with its tech savvy eyes on regional expansion.
With close to 5000 registered users in ten countries, including India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia, the TravelEase App which started in September 2016, is going through an expansion phase this month, adding more categories and attractions for Singapore, as well as moving into Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Up until now, TravelEase has offered 45 attractions and events in different categories, the most popular being Gardens by the Bay and Universal Studios, but this month sees five new categories, with another 20 places and activities to book in Singapore.
Arts and Culture, along with food and drinks, are expected to be the new categories to attract the most interest, says TravelEase General Manager Arvinder Singh.
The other three new categories are: tours and sightseeing, attractions and shows, and fun and activities.
“With our focus on providing a hassle free travel experience and competitive prices, means tourists can actually see and do more while in Singapore. By being able to search, select and pay in advance online, before they even arrive in Singapore, bookings are automatically stored in their own online itinerary and they can add more activities as they go along”, Arvinder explains.
As all TravelEase tickets are paperless, all the user has to do when arriving at an attraction or activity is show or scan the booking kept on his or her mobile phone. Reminders and directions are incorporated in the App to it make it even more convenient for the independent traveller who might be on a first Singapore visit.
TravelEase was conceived and developed by four well-travelled Singapore-based entrepreneurs who could see that the digital economy was putting control, access and payment into the hands of individual travellers, armed with their mobile phones.
“What we’ve shown in a relatively short time is that there is definite market demand for our mobile App in Singapore and regionally,” Arvinder says. “Our users are happy and we’re getting more and more local businesses on board with attractive offerings.”
So it’s a growing business that’s good for the tourist, the travel industry and the economy. So much so that TravelEase is already eyeing even bigger markets after Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Tokyo and Taipei are next in line.

About TravelEase
TravelEase was launched in Singapore in September 2016 as a mobile App (application) for tourists to search, book, pay, store and redeem e-tickets for visits to attractions and leisure activities. Started by an enterprising group of Singaporeans and foreigners who have travelled widely, TravelEase leverages technology to disseminate information and make transactions, enabling 5000 subscribers in 10 countries (as at 1 May 2017) to have bookings automatically stored in their own online itinerary. The user, who joins for free, is also able to securely store their travel document details and any other planned events/meetings, get reminders of bookings, including syncing with their Google calendars. TravelEase users receive attractive discounts at attractions, along with a paperless record of their bookings and payments, all on their mobile phone. Starting with Singapore, TravelEase is now adding other Asian destinations, with Hong Kong and Bangkok coming online this month (May 2017), followed by Tokyo and Taipei in June 2017. More info:

Ken Hickson, Managing Editor of The Avenue for Creative Arts and ABC Carbon Express, writes about TravelEase and has agreed to spread the word through Fifth Avenue Media and Editorial Services, the Arts and Education publishing and communications division of Sustain Ability Showcase Asia (SASA).


Giselle is here. Singapore steps into dance in a big way

Steps to Dance Leadership. Besides the wonderful ballet “Giselle”, which is coming all the way from the most ancient opera house in the world, Teatro Di San Carlo, Naples, Italy, this month, Singapore is securing its place as the Asian regional hub for the diverse dance practices from the East and the West. There’s much afoot from Stephanie Burridge, with books, talks and teaching, which we learned all about at the recent NAC research forum and from Helen Musa in Canberra, plus the excellent dance tradition being fostered at LASALLE College of the Arts – seen in the brightest of foot-lights in the latest “Chorus Line” production. We also caught up recently with former NAC leading light Chin Choy Liew, who’s now the Company Manager for Frontier Danceland, telling us all about its monumental May production. See Top Notes and Epilogue for more.

latest news in the avenue for creative arts

Art Scene & Heard in Asia
Ageless Attraction Unheard of in Asia until January this year, when she appeared for the first time at the Singapore Contemporary, Russian born, Australian-based Anna Rubin is turning heads. Not just because of how she looks but how her paintings come across, harking back to a bygone era. She meticulously produces still life in oils using age-old techniques, clearly representative of the 400 year old Flemish Masters Realism school, based on the over 700 year old Byzantium technique of oil painting in layers. Anna’s collections have been sell-outs in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne galleries, also achieving extraordinary results in art auctions and the secondary market. She’s attending the Asia Contemporary Art Show in Hong Kong – for the first time – from 17 to 20 March. Read More

A very modern artist mastering the timeless Flemish Realism style

Art News      27 February 2017

Australia-based Russian Anna Rubin in Hong Kong for Asia Contemporary

A very modern artist mastering the

timeless Flemish Realism style

When the Asia Contemporary Art Show opens at the Conrad Hong King on 17 March, look out for the artist Anna Rubin who turns the exhibition name on its head.

Her paintings are clearly representative of the 400 year old Flemish Masters Realism school and based on the Byzantium technique of oil painting in layers, dating back more than 700 years.

Hardly contemporary, even though the artist herself is a relatively recent proponent of a seemingly ageless artistic tradition.

But Anna Rubin is no copyist. She’s an award winning, highly recognised artist from Australia who meticulously produces still life in oils using age-old techniques that require up-to 500 layers with each painting taking her eight weeks or longer to finish.

Living in Australia since 2002, Anna’s collections have been successfully sold-out in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne galleries. Her artwork has achieved extraordinary results in art auctions.

Numbers matter to this Russian-born MBA graduate from Germany’s Düsseldorf University whose paintings are now being resold on the secondary market.

It was reported in the Courier Mail (Brisbane, Australia) that her very first painting “Iris”, exhibited and sold for A$16,500 in 2006, was a year later valued for insurance purposes at A$28,000. The same newspaper report in May 2008 noted that one of her works was snapped up by an influential patron for A$35,000 then sold through an auction house for A$88,000.

She first came to the attention of well-known Sydney gallery owner Richard Martin, who invited her to exhibit in July 2006. One of her paintings – inspired by the fish she had remembered seeing at the markets in Moscow as a child – proved the signature work in the show, selling for A$38,500.

She sees herself as a contemporary extension of European realism tradition as perfected by Flemish-Dutch masters. But what is remarkable to many is that Anna Rubin the artist emerged out of “a creative chrysalis” a mere 11 years ago with her first solo exhibition on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia early in 2006.

It was a sell-out, as was her next few exhibitions, including her first in Sydney’s Richard Martin gallery. She was back at the well-regarded Sydney gallery two years later with a solo show – “Les Objets d’Amour” – from 16 – 27 February 2008. Another case of all in her collection selling out.

Here’s how Richard Martin describes her work at the time:

“Rather than compromise tradition and artistic integrity for commercial opportunism, Anna has steadfastly remained true to the style, persisting in the creation of artwork that accurately reflects her European roots, interpreted with breath-taking 21st century realism.

“In doing so, she labours over each painting for up to eight weeks to achieve a result not replicable by modern methods of mass production. Since her first solo show in February 2006, Anna’s work is now found in numerous private collections throughout Australia.”

After celebrating the 10th year anniversary of her art with another sold out exhibition in 2016 at Palazzo Versace, on the Gold Coast of Australia, Anna started looking at expanding overseas. The first step was her participation at the Singapore Contemporary Show in January 2017.

Encouraged by the reception she received – albeit amidst an exhibition of very different art styles to her own – with some promising sales to local buyers, so she decided to dive further into the Asian art market.

“Les Objets de Beauté de l’Abondance” by Anna Rubin

Even though the bigger show in Hong Kong represents even more competition, Anna is undeterred as she’s hoping that there might be added interest in what she calls her “Chinoiserie” works.  The miniature, elegant collection she is offering in Hong Kong is her own “Golden Age” – the Alchemy of Renaissance and Belle Époque.

As someone who spent many years working in interior design, she fully understands the very decorative style, influenced largely by the French that incorporates the use of Chinese motifs and techniques.

Before she came to Australia in 2002, she says her “artistic aspirations continued to smoulder” while she created a business in restoring and renovating European heritage manors, based from Germany.

Anna’s work extended to architectural and interior design for period properties throughout Europe, while extensive travel during this period afforded her the opportunity to also explore and study art collections across the European continent.

Now she’s seeing owners of grand homes and apartments in Europe and Australia positioning her distinctive paintings in prominent places.

“Even though my paintings have shown quite remarkable increases in value since first sold, I really don’t want to hear they are being safely stored out of sight somewhere. I want them to be seen and enjoyed,” Anna Rubin says from Australia in advance of her first Hong Kong showing.

She will make sure she shows a selection of her more recent original still-life paintings for sale and as well as her limited edition prints of previously sold works, especially released for this exhibition.

For a preview of what Anna Rubin will have on show in Hong Kong, go to the official artist page at Asian Contemporary website:

About Anna Rubin, the artist

The artistic integrity of this period of classical Realism endures in Anna’s meticulous works, as she draws from her personal history, multicultural experiences and reflections to capture real life subjects in the Flemish-Dutch School manner.

A fourth generation Muscovite, Anna was born in Moscow, Russia. Her mother was a writer of children’s educational programmes. Her father, an engineer, died in a car accident when Anna was small. In his absence, her grandfather provided the foundations for a lifetime passion for fine art by taking Anna to visit many museums and exhibitions in Moscow from the age of five.  He also introduced Anna to drawing and the method of Aquarelle, watercolour painting in transparent washes.

Art is in Anna’s genes.  Her great grandfather was Sava Nikitin – a 19th century monk in the Novodevitchev Monastery, a restaurateur and a painter of Russian orthodox icons and wall paintings.   Call it “genetic inspiration”.

For Anna Rubin’s full biography, go to

About Anna Rubin Prints

“Les Objets de Beauté”, 68cm x 58cm (Limited Edition Print)

Special Hong Kong Limited Edition of 10 Fine Prints on Canvas

The extremely positive feedback and high demand for these artworks inspired the release of the first Limited Edition Prints. It is kept very exclusive and collectable as the number of prints is limited to only 10 of each painting.

A high-quality method called Giclée was applied to reproduce these artworks into limited edition prints, on canvas (pronounced gee-clay). Giclée is French and translates as meaning “sprayed ink”. Giclée prints are museum quality reproductions of original art from traditional media, by means of a high quality printer using advanced pigment ink technology.

Limited edition prints are priced at US$1,600.

For more on the artist and to see high resolution images of her prints, go to this website:


Issued on behalf of Anna Rubin for the Asia Contemporary Art Show, Hong Kong 17-20 March 2017

by Ken Hickson

Managing Editor, The Avenue for CreatIve Arts

Fifth Avenue Media and Editorial Services, Singapore


Mobile: +65 8139747



Singapore as Art’s Treasure Island

Is this Treasure Island? Our way of introducing the art treasures of the world on show in Singapore for Art Week.

Here’s our first issue of the avenue for creative arts for 2017

A feast for the arts in Singapore this month and a lot of news from everywhere else. Lots to see and do.

See also Books Recommended for our Top Twenty for 2016. 

Our Christmas Message with our special issue in December 2016:

If you think you don’t have time to read this in your busy pre-Christmas rush around, think again! There is likely to be something in this issue that you mustn’t miss. A gift buying idea for the person who has everything? We have books to buy or recommend. Or an event you can treat yourself too. Even on Christmas Day. At the end of our second year, the avenue for creative arts celebrates with you the wonderful gift that the arts brings to us all. We are now more than a newsletter telling you about arts events in Singapore, the Asia Pacific and further afield. We are now an integral part of the CrowdHub Art platform – providing more than content for a community of arts lovers and people in the creative industries. We can help you – whether you are involved in a large or small arts group – to co-create arts events and reach out to a bigger audience. See for yourself: CrowdHub Art. Join in. Its free. It’s our gift to you this Christmas. Good news for everyone. Christmas Cheers! – Ken Hickson

Go to the Special Christmas issue of the avenue for more stories including book giving recommendations.



Mr Edmund Wee, founder of publisher Epigram Books, is putting his money where his mouth is.

In 2013, he declared his ambitions to get a Singapore book on the longlist of the renowned Man Booker Prize within five years.

But a book must be published in the United Kingdom to be eligible for the prize, which is open to English-language novels.

So on his visits to London to attend the annual London Book Fair, Mr Wee, 64, asked smaller publishers if they wanted to co-publish Epigram’s titles, but none were keen. Instead of throwing in the towel, he set up a London arm of Epigram Books last month.

“I thought maybe the only way to do this was to set up my own company, then I don’t have to rely on someone else,” he says. The small outfit consists of three people – an associate publisher, a marketing and sales staff and a publicist.

He had not planned to set it up so soon. His decision was hastened with the news in April that Singapore writer Balli Kaur Jaswal, 33, had snagged a two-book deal with international publisher HarperCollins.

Epigram published Jaswal’s earlier books, Inheritance (2016) and Sugarbread (2016). Her forthcoming third book, Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows, will be published by HarperCollins in the UK in March.

He says: “I was thinking, why don’t I ride on the coat-tails of that? The timing would be quite good.”

Inheritance, about a Punjabi family in Singapore, will be published by Epigram in London in May. The Gatekeeper, the debut novel of Nuraliah Norasid, this year’s winner of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, is also part of the eight to 10 planned titles for the London market.

Mr Wee put in a six-figure sum into the London operations and plans to keep it going for at least two years “before we run out of money”.

“If within those two years, we see some success with a few books and some money comes in, then, of course, we will keep going.”

Epigram’s latest expansion in London is part of his larger goal of producing more quality Singapore novels. He set up the Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year to encourage writers to submit their unpublished manuscripts.

He says: “I think it is critical for countries to have a national novel that people can rally around. You need stories to bind people.”