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.”



Highlights from the Singapore Writers Festival from Contributing Editor Alexandra Touchaud


4 November – FRIDAY

Somewhat unexpectedly for a festival of the written word, the opening ceremony for the 2016 Singapore Writer’s Festival (SWF) kicked off with a bang, and a roll, and a thump, thump, thump. The cross-genre event featured music, poetry and theatre – a sampler of the activities planned over the coming ten days of the SWF – in addition to the much anticipated line-up of 310 world-class writers, poets and publishers.

The beat of the drums slowly died away, overtaken by applause for the members of the SA(仨) Singaporean musical collective; next on stage was well known local thespian Kamil Haque, giving a live-story performance (a most engaging tale of a hungry waiter stealing a Valentine’s pizza – you had to be there!).

There was a change of pace as the festival theme of ‘Sayang’ (a Malay word encapsulating the entwined concepts of love and loss) was brought to life, off the page and onto the stage, in an exquisite mixed dance and poetry piece performed by mother-daughter artistic team (Noor Hasnah Adam and Nur Aisyah Lyana). As Festival Director, Yeow Kai Chai, said, ‘With its dual meaning, ‘sayang’ aptly represents how the stories which speak the most deeply to us – whether written, spoken, danced or sung – are centred on love and loss.’ The tender performance of this SWF-commissioned piece, ‘Genggaman Sayang’ or ‘Love’s Grasp’, certainly painted a hauntingly beautiful scene, exploring familiar emotions between parents and children.

6 November, 4–5 November, 8:00PM–9:30PM

Covering an encyclopedic breadth of Singapore’s history of English language literature, this play managed to cram in, in just 90 minutes, the highs and lows, key writers and events that have shaped the literary scene here in the last 50 years.

The sold-out crowd laughed, giggled and groaned in recognition of familiar stories and events presented in this two-woman show (featuring actresses Serene Chen and Jean Ng), written by playwright and director, Chong Tze Chien. It felt like a whirlwind tour – at times the blistering pace of the projected slides outlining key dates, quotes and pictures whirling overhead the stage seemed overwhelming, but the audience was swept along with the momentum and energy of it all.

What a show – what a story! Taking the audience on a journey from a time when Lee Kuan Yew said in 1968 ‘Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford,’ through to the literary giants of Arthur Yap, Goh Poh Seng and Edwin Thumboo, and on to more recent writers. It attempted to provide various perspectives as the actresses read aloud extracts from book reviews, news reports and books themselves. There was much laughter at recognition of the old Bookworm Club, sighs at memories of afternoons spent rummaging through Sunny Bookshop, and a collective smile at images of couples snuggling in the comfortable couches of Borders Books. How attitudes have changed, since earlier days when poetry and books were a luxury, to ‘it doesn’t matter what they are reading, as long as they are reading’, and by 1997 when the Straits Times declared that ‘to be a nation of writers, we must first be a nation of readers’.

Serene Chen and Jean Ng flitted from one fascinating topic to another: why Singaporeans don’t support Singapore literature more, the treatment of Bonny Hicks, why schools stopped backing English Lit, the issues around state control of the arts and its funding (including when the true story of two male penguins hatching an egg was withdrawn from libraries, and Sonny Liew’s grant was withdrawn for The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye). All this was done in a playful and often tongue-in-cheek fashion, with the actresses donning hats and glasses to impersonate well-known figures (amongst others Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary for the Minister of Culture, snapping selfies, and Kenny Leck, owner of Books Actually and huge supporter of local writers, with his big hair and feline fancy).

The journey through this compacted chronology literally swept the audience along, right up to 2016 – a time when many now agree that Singapore Literature has indeed come of age.

The future is a blank page of an open book.
5 November – SATURDAY

Master class WRITING FOR CHILDREN Jacqueline Harvey
Nov 5th 10:00AM–1:00PM TICKETED

Mention the name Jacqueline Harvey to a classroom of 5-12 year olds and you’ll no doubt have a screaming mass of delighted children discussing two of their favourite characters, Alice-Miranda and Clementine-Rose. The lucky writers who managed to secure places to Jacqueline’s sold-out master class ‘Writing for Children’ shared much the same enthusiasm.

The classroom fell silent as she spoke, explaining her approach to writing, insights on character development, plotting (and how to make a ‘satisfying ending’), tips on dialogue, as well as tricks in seeking agents and publishing deals.

She really is a manifestation of her own personal mantra – ‘live with passion, grace and gratitude’. The audience was clearly both surprised and delighted at the generosity with which she shared her knowledge and insights gleaned from a long career as a bestselling author (of more than 30 children’s books), teacher and educator at writing classes and festivals worldwide.

The three hours drew to an end all too soon, and participants floated off on small, wafty clouds of inspiration – hoping that a little of Jacqueline’s success would have rubbed off on each of them.

Time 1:00PM–2:00PM Venue The Arts House, Gallery II FREE

A delightful children’s book series exploring friendship and family relationships. A magic crystal allows two girls to time travel back to the 1980’s, where they must overcome their differences if they are to successfully fight against the evil Midnight Warriors. New local literary talent Low Ying Ping, launched her book series published by Epigram books, to the applause of family, friends and a growing audience of those interested in supporting home-grown Singaporean talent.
‘It is hard to get the exposure and numbers’, admitted Ying Ping, ‘but hopefully these books will take off.’ And judging by the way my children and their friends have enjoyed them I think that’s a very distinct possibility.

Nov 5th 2:30PM–3:30PM Venue Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium, FEST PASS,

To see a hardened news reporter, who has witnessed countless atrocities reporting on the wars in Afghanistan and Syria, choked with emotion and gulping back tears, one appreciates the true horror of the refugee situation.

It was a powerful moment. On stage, Atia Abawi, international news correspondent and writer, turned away from her presentation slides – images of the tiny, lifeless body of Alan Kurdi on the beach and the wide eyes of dust-covered, shell-shocked children – she looked out into the audience, battling to regain her composure before continuing.

Abawi shared her experiences, telling stories of the people behind the headlines and statistics of Europe’s migrant crisis. Abawi’s own background as a child of Afghan refugees who were fortunate enough to have been given asylum in America, where they have integrated and thrived, makes her sympathetic to the plight of the millions currently fleeing strife and war.

‘But sympathy is not enough, it takes empathy,’ she tells the audience. ‘We need to understand that these people are just like we are; many having lived stable and prosperous lives before war came, now forced to escape a situation so unbearable and dangerous that they have no choice but to flee.’

She read from Warsan Shire’s haunting poem ‘Home’: ‘No one leaves home, unless home is the mouth of a shark.’ And so her rallying cry to people and governments around the world is to ‘Act!’, to encourage and support the relocation of refugees to safe countries. She also points out that with so many talented refugees, countries have the opportunity to actually cherry pick those with the best fit of skills and professions.

The timing of this message at such a decisive moment in history (with the embittered campaigns around the US election) was clear – this is everyone’s problem, it is not going to be ‘fixed’ anytime soon, so now is the time for individuals and countries to help find long term solutions.

As Abawi’s mother used to tell her in times of crisis – ‘look for the helpers, there are always helpers to be found’. Now is the hour – the time when we must individually and collectively become ‘the helper’.
LIVING THROUGH ADVERSITY, Moderated by Alice Clark-Platts
5 November, 4:00PM–5:00PM, Asian Civilisations Museum, Ngee Ann Auditorium FEST PASS

Three writers from vastly different backgrounds joined a panel to discuss how they have each coped with ‘living through adversity’ and how it has affected their work. One story built on another and it become clear how much art has proved therapeutic to them – helping the artist to heal (and often helping their audience too).

Deborah Emmanuel, Singaporean spoken-word artist, painted a picture of the hellish twist her life took when she was incarcerated for drug use at just 19years old. Life in prison, especially the long period in solitary confinement, had huge long-term ramifications for her as she struggled to get her life together and find her artist’s voice upon release. Writing about her experiences proved a cathartic experience – as she was finally able to let go of so much of the anger and pain.

Likewise, Sabata-mpho Mokae, post-Apartheid writer and academic, found solace in writing about the horrors of the past. Whilst laws may have changed, life for the black population today remains enormously challenging and disadvantaged; Sabata-mpho Mokae uses his literature as a vehicle for discussion and to help shine a light on the situation.

Ryoichi Wago, dazzled the audience with a dramatic reading of his poem about Fukushima. Presenting in Japanese, most of the audience could not understand the words, but the force of emotion and the power of the story was clear. As the booming tidal wave of his voice died away, the audience erupted in applause (one could only pity the poor translator who had to follow, trying to do justice with her English rendition). Like the other panelists, Ryoichi Wagu poured his trauma into his words; his Fukushima poetry, often written in 140 character tweets, has helped many Japanese process and deal with their pain.

PANEL AMERICANS IN THE PACIFIC Featuring Atia Abawi, Nisid Hajari Moderated by Elvin Lim
Time 10:00AM–11:00AM Venue The Arts House, Play Den FEST PASS

Two high profile American journalists and writers on stage to discuss America’s role in the Pacific proved a real draw card and packed out the venue at The Arts House. Atia Abawi and Nisid Hajari spoke from the perspective of Americans living abroad, who have reported extensively from this region.

There was broad agreement on the importance of America’s historical role in the region (often discussed as ‘the American century’ and ‘ the American Pacific’) as well as its future role, given mounting tensions as power shifts between nations.

There were interesting discussions around the significant levels of awareness and interest amongst Asian populations and Asian-based media for insight into America’s domestic affairs: and how this is not always being mirrored, with some saying that a significant proportion of American people and media attention is less interested and knowledgeable with what is going on outside of the country, in areas such as Asia-Pacific.

Atia Abawi talked with particular insight into the Afghanistan situation, explaining how her recently released book, ‘The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Love in Afghanistan’, brought to life the history and politics through a fictionalized story. Nisid Hajari spoke of his 2015 best seller, ‘Midnight’s Furies: The Deadly Legacy of India’s Partition.
DHEEPAN 3:00PM–6:00PM Venue The Projector, Redrum NC-16 • 114 minutes
Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Three Tamil refugees who fled to France to escape the atrocities of war-ravaged Sri Lanka. FEST PASS

Surely one of the festival highlights, a special showing of Dheepan, winner of the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, was followed by a discussion with lead actor Antonythasan Jesuthasan.

On the losing side of the civil war in Sri Lanka, a Tamil soldier (Antonythasan) escapes by pretending to be the husband and father of two other refugees. The ‘family’ arrives in France, and tries to reconstruct a life in the Parisian banlieu – only to be dragged into more violence between displaced communities there.

The film is a powerful depiction of the immigrant experience – made all the more real as Antonythasan is himself a former Tamil Tiger child soldier, and a refugee who ended up in France, where he has lived for the last 20years (tragically he remains in exile and essentially stateless, without the right to return to his home in Sri Lanka, and without permanent status in France).

The pain and scars of his early life experience have helped shape him into a powerful artist: a convincing actor and also a highly regarded Tamil writer who has found writing books and plays cathartic. He is a powerful advocate for refugees, ‘there are hundreds of thousands of other ‘Dheepans’ living in Europe right now and millions of other refugees,’ Antonythasan reminds countries that most have blood on their hands from their involvement in other countries over the years, and to be compassionate to refugees as ‘so many of the weapons used in these wars are produced in the West, and therefore countries need to take some responsibility for the consequences of war.’

He was engaging and extremely funny – joking with the audience and translator in a mix of Tamil and English. It is hard to recognise the broken man in the film – testimony to the power and resilience of the human spirit.

7th November – MONDAY

READING BETWEEN THE LINES, Featuring Chong Tze Chien, Kirpal Singh, Ong Sor Fern, O Thiam Chin How did the SG Lit Scene take shape? 8:30PM–9:30PM Venue The Arts House, Chamber FEST PASS

Following the success of the three performances of Rant and Rave II, this panel discussion brought together the show’s Director, Chong Tze Chien, with leading personalities from the Singapore literary scene: Kirpal Singh (poet, literary and cultural critic), Ong Sor Fern (The Straits Times art and literary critic), O Thiam Chin (writer and winner of the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize for his first novel, ‘Now That It’s Over’).

There was a lively discussion between these old friends as they debated key moments in the history of the Singapore Literary scene. Whilst the general feeling seems to be that there is a real ‘coming of age’ for Singapore writers and poets, there is still a slight reticence and sometimes an almost apologetic tone to discussions; Ken Hickson, founder of The Avenue, Singapore’s most important arts newsletter, suggested that now is the time to shake off these attitudes and proudly claim the excellent work and talent that was being developed here. There was such audience applause to this suggestion – the public mood is certainly confident that Sing Lit is heading in the right direction – up, up, up.
9th November – TUESDAY


A fascinating discussion was to be had in the Chamber of The Arts House as the panel debated the rather provocatively worded question: ‘Does Singapore need a Poet Laureate?’

Paul Tan, poet and Deputy CEO of the National Arts Council, moderated this lively conversation between poets Yong Shu Hoong, Kirpal Singh and Amanda Chong. The panel was split as to whether a poet laureate was needed or not, however, all were clearly in agreement that the promotion of poetry to the wider public should be encouraged (Kirpal Singh reminded the audience of the importance of poets, dating back to the ancient Greeks – where lyric poets, like ‘bards’, acted as the conscience and philosophers of society). There also seemed consensus that should there be a Poet Laureate it should be an honour bestowed for a relatively short period of time (similar to the US model) rather than being a life-time status (as is the case in England), and all affirmed the need to place special importance in honouring Singapore’s different communities and languages.

Many issues were discussed as to whether the poet selected for such a role would be in some way obliged to write state sanctioned poetry for national occasions, ‘how could the authentic voice of the poet’ be ensured when they were essentially being ‘commissioned’ to write, and so presumably the client (government) would hold some implied expectations or control over the poet’s works? ‘It risks becoming a sort of nationalistic propaganda,’ warned Amanda Chong, ‘there would need to be a way of clearly differentiating between national interests and political interests – so a poet laureate could write ‘without strings attached.’’

Paul Tan opened the question to the wider audience: what does the public think about the need for a Singaporean Poet Laureate? The vast majority voted ‘no, it wasn’t necessary’. But who knows, maybe the question is not whether we ‘need’ one but rather whether we ‘should’ have one – as a symbol of the maturity and importance of Singapore’s poetic and literary scene?

Ken Hickson’s Top Twenty Titles for 2015

visions 2100Ken Hickson’s Top Twenty Titles for 2015

My selection is an arbitrary one, but they are all books that I have acquired, purchased, received, read and/or reviewed in the past 12 months. A bit like what a bride should wear on her wedding day – “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”!  So they are all memorable to me and books that I feel are important enough to mention and recommend to others. In many cases, too, I met and/or engaged with the authors during the year, which is something that all writers and readers should go out of their way to do – attend writers festivals, book launches and “big reads”.  I have purposely not ranked the books in any particular order. The numbering is merely a convenience, not on merit. All are equally entering my first-time Top Twenty Titles because they have been on my reading/reviewing list for 2015. If you haven’t read some of them, why not s do so in 2016.

  1. Visions 2100

By John O’Brien,

Launched in Paris on the side-lines of the Climate Change Conference. With 80 contributors from around the world, including “New World Order”, a visionary piece written in the name of Emily May Chandra-Hickson.

Published 2015 by Vivid Publishing (Australia).  Read all about it: and

  1. Doing Good Great

By Willie Cheng, Sharifah Mohamed and Cheryl Tang

Launched at the 2015 Singapore Writers Festival and featured by Cheong Suk-Wai in Straits Times Life Books: The Big Read in December 2015 with the headline “Heroes with ‘gritty’ stories”.

Published by Epigram Books (Singapore) in 2015. Read all about it: or

  1. The Secret Chord

By Geraldine Brooks

Described as a unique and vivid novel that retells the story of King David’s extraordinary rise to power and fall from grace, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, The Secret Chord is Geraldine Brooks at her best. To me, she shows how her journalistic skills – research, reporting, interviewing and writing – can come to the fore in her mastery of the historical novel.

Published 2015 by Hachette Australia. Read all about it: and

  1. The Luminaries

By Eleanor Catton

The youngest author ever to win Man Booker prize, Eleanor Catton was 28 when in in October 2013 when her novel “The Luminaries,” – an immersive tale set in 19th-century New Zealand that explores identity, greed and human frailty – collected the prestigious international award. She was born in Canada and raised in Christchurch, New Zealand. While the book is two years old, it wasn’t until 2015 that I took to the tome and appreciated the author’s true talents.

Published by Little, Brown and Company (US)

Read all about it:

  1. Common Ground

By Rob Cowen

Meeting the author at the Singapore Writers Festival 2015 where he gave great insight into the process of writing and the book’s content, I couldn’t resist reading this work which is described as “blurring the boundaries of memoir, natural history and novel”. Another case of a journalist successfully straying into uncharted waters and surviving to tell a wonderful tale.

Published 2015 by Penguin Random House (UK).

Read all about it:

  1. Monocle Guide to Cosy Homes

By Tyler Brule and co

I attended the Singapore launch – and met Tyler and other members of his editorial team – at the delightful little Monocle “store” in Holland Village and wrote this in my review in the issue five of the avenue: ‘I know “cosy” is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to living in Singapore, where an ever-so-slightly-above-cosy-temperature has most residents chilling out for more air conditioning than they really need. But this book has ideas galore to make your house a home, wherever you may be. Of course, we particularly relished the ideas, products and designs that emphasised sustainability, energy efficiency, along with those that maximised the close-to-nature ideal.’

Published by Gestalten, Germany (2015). Read all about it:

  1. Who the Hell is Pansy O’Hara?

By Jenny Bond & Chris Sheedy

When I was exploring the delightful little shop house store “Cluttered with Books” in Duxton Hill, I came across this gem of a book. The authors (from Australia) have succeeded in putting together in one volume an intriguing and insightful collection of biographical stories of fifty  significant books and the authors.

Published by Penguin Books (2008). Read all about it:

  1. A Bigger Prize

By Margaret Heffernan

What a refreshing insight the author gives into the world of business and the world of working –  the way it could be and should be. Collaborative and creative. What an experience to listen to the author talk – at another Big Read in Singapore – and absorb her thoughts, case studies and words of wisdom.

Published by Simon and Schuster UK (2014).  Read all about it:

  1. Mind Your Business

By Toine Knipping

This book, and the man who wrote it, goes beyond the usual “business advisory service”, to provide real insight into entrepreneurship and what drives him and his businesses. I came across his company Amicorp – which now operates in 27 countries – when I was exploring the work of not-for-profits, social enterprises and “brands for good”. His philosophy, which resonates with me and many others these days in business, is that we must achieve balance in our business and personal life and create more than profits.

Published by Balboa Press/Hay House, US (2012). Read all about it:

  1. Moral Capitalism

By Stephen Young

I met the author, who heads the Caux Round Table, when he led a fascinating forum in Singapore organised by the Institute of Directors (willie Cheng and co) to take a fresh look at the UN Development Goals and tap into the best thought leaders from business, Government and civil society. The book goes beyond “reconciling private interest with the public good”, to look at the ethical standards we should be adopting and building into business and corporate life everywhere.

Published by Berrett-Koehler, US (2003). Read all about it:

  1. The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe

By Romain Puertolas

Very unusual man and an extremely unusual book. A first novel for Romain, who I was privileged to meet at his book launch at Kinokunia in Singapore. The man and his book attracted incredible media attention and became a bestseller around the world. The long, unusual title helped, he thinks, but so did his creative mind and writing skill.

Published by Random House, UK (2014). Read all about it:

  1. The Piano Tuner

By Daniel Mason

Not often do you pick up a discarded book at a giveaway stall, written by an author unknown to you at the time and it turns out to be a page-turner with such an engrossing story. It traverses Europe and Asia, delving into an intriguing experience of a piano tuner sent to British-colonised Burma which was engulfed in a drawn out tribal war in the late 1800s. The book first came out in 2002, when the author was a medical student in America and since then the author has produced a couple more novels which we hope to read sometime soon.

Published by Picador in UK (2002). Read all about it:


  1. Not Born In Singapore

By Tng Ying Hui

Of all the hundreds of books to come out in Singapore celebratory year (SG50), this caught my attention, probably because I was also ‘not born in Singapore’, but have lived and worked in the city state for the best years of my life. But I do know very well quite a few of the featured ladies and gentlemen, including Della Butcher, Brother Joseph McNally and Neville Watson, three who are sadly no longer with us but their legacy and achievements live on. Many others who contributed to nation-building were not “sons (or daughters) of the Singapore soil”, but “made enormous contributions, in many fields of endeavour”, says Ambassador at Large Tommy Koh.

Published by Epigram Books for the Institute of Policy Studies Singapore (2015). Read all about it:


  1. Art Hats in renaissance City

By Renee Lee

It is much more than “Reflections & Aspirations of Four Generations of Art Personalities”, but a book which provides incredible insight into the people who not only created an art scene and creative industry in Singapore but played a role in bringing about a renaissance for the arts in aa city state better known for its economic performance and nd Singapore

Edited by: Lee Renee Foong Ling (Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore)

Published by World Scientific (2015). Read all about it:


  1. Singapore Siu Dai 2

By Felix Cheong

I had the pleasure of moderating a “Twilight Tales” forum with the Felix and uncovered his style (and substance) in the process. While he appears straight-laced, even serious, his humour comes out in his words, written and spoken.

Published by Ethos Books 2014. Read all about it:

  1. Living The Singapore Story

By Cheong Suk Wai and Co

Meeting some of the notable characters in this significant book to mark the country’s 50th anniversary of independence, along with the key writers and editors from the Straits Times involved in its production, was a treat for attendees at The Big Read meet. Worth reading and well worth taking the time to pore over the generous selection of photos and cartoons.

Published by National Library Board/Straits Times Press. Read all about it:

  1. Kampong Spirit: Gotong Royong, Life In Potong Pasir 1955 to 1965

By Josephine Chia

When listening to Josephine talk about her Kampong (village) life and her writing experiences in UK and Singapore, you just must read her book(s). With a light touch and many a laugh line, she brings us into the world of her childhood in Singapore.

Published by Marshall Cavendish 2013. Read all about it:

  1. Reef

By Romesh Gunesekera

It was an experience to meet this author at a South Asia Literary Salon in Singapore mid-year and get hold of his 1994 book Reef, which was his first very first novel, winning the Yorkshire Post Book Award (Best First Work) and shortlisted for both the Booker Prize for Fiction and the Guardian Fiction Prize. The book is narrated by a young Sri Lankan boy named Triton who is sent to work for a marine biologist, Mister Salgado.

Published by Bloomsbury (1994). Read all about it:

  1. Biting the Bamboo

By Tan Lai Yong

At the Singapore Writers Festival, the author was a key contributor to a panel discussion on “Power to the people”, discussion social impact investing, philanthropy and charitable actions abroad. Mr Tan talked and wrote about his experience as a doctor running community health programmes in remote China.

Published by Epigram Books. Read all about it:

  1. Scene Gapore

By Miel

Otherwise known as Miel Prudencio Ma Rosales, this very creative internationally respected cartoonist regularly appears in the Straits Times and New York Times. His book is a delightful collection of Singapore scenes – some very much past and some closer to today’s sights – through the eyes and pen of the mobile character he has created. I’ve known and admired his work for many years, but this year had to pleasure to meet the man himself and get a signed copy of his book to enjoy over and over again. He blogs too.

Published by Epigram Books (2012). Read all about it: