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 He set up the Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year to encourage writers to submit their unpublished manuscripts.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.”