Mon, Nov 16, 2015 - Page 12 News List

The mighty pen

The Singapore Writers Festival, which included over 300 panels led by best-selling authors from around the world, aimed to situate the Lion City as an international literary hub

By Dana Ter  /  Staff reporter

Canadian experimental poet Christian Bok speaks about his project, the Xenotext Experiment.

Photo: Dana Ter, Taipei Times

Whoever said print is dead is wrong. It was at the closing weekend of the Singapore Writers Festival, when I was making my way through a group of women in elaborate saris that I noticed something that stopped me in my tracks. People, especially children, reading. The festival bookstore was small but cozy, and the cafe next to it serving iced milos provided a relaxing spot to indulge in a good book.

The Lion City may be known more for its immaculate sidewalks free from bubblegum stains than its literature, but sometimes it takes such structure and orderliness to pull together the gargantuan feat of hosting a writers festival. Organized by the National Arts Council, this year’s festival, which ran from Oct. 30 to Nov. 8 was centered on the theme “Island of Dreams,” and aimed to promote Singapore’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, as well as inviting authors from around the world to cultivate the country’s reputation as an international literary hub.

Launched in 1986 as a biannual event, the festival has since grown to become a yearly affair housing over 300 events in and around the Arts House, a breezy, two-story colonial-style structure which served as Singapore’s first parliament building in 1826. Featured speakers included children’s book authors, cartoonists and poets, alongside a smattering of pop concerts, theatrical performances and visual arts exhibitions. Events were conducted mostly in English, but there were also panels in Chinese, Malay and Hindi.

These are lofty goals for a tiny country — goals that are hard to quantify. What the festival succeeded at doing was keeping a love for literature alive and hope that one can still eke out a living drawing cartoons or composing sonnets, both childhood dreams of mine, and apparently for some of the children at the bookstore.

FOR THE YOUNG AND YOUNG AT HEART

It was the cute illustrated cover that caught my eye. A little boy in a yellow jumpsuit marching through Shilin Night Market (士林夜市), bubble tea in one hand and fried squid pierced in a skewer in another. Behind him is the Modern Toilet restaurant and a sign selling frog eggs. Lost in Taipei is part of the new series, The Travel Diary of Amos Lee penned by Singaporean children’s book author Adeline Foo (楊惠媚). When I meet with the best-selling author outside the bookstore, she greets me with a warm smile and tells me how much she’s enjoyed her trips to Taiwan.

The book, Foo says, was inspired by her then 13-year-old son’s “cultural immersion” trip to Taipei to learn Chinese.

“His response was, ‘mom, I’m going to run away and get my teacher in trouble,’” Foo says.

In the book, the protagonist Amos and his friends break free from the Mandarin Language Center only to end up in one unfortunate situation after another, leaving them penniless and washing dishes in exchange for food.

Foo is optimistic that books aren’t dead. She admits, however, that it’s hard to get her sons interested in reading since “boys are more attracted to things that are fast.” So her decision to launch the Amos series was, in part, an attempt to introduce them to reading.

“Children enjoy topics that are taboo — like poop and farts,” she says. This was her inspiration for another one of her books, Poop Fiction.

Although Foo is glad to see her books selling well — they’re especially popular among international school students in Singapore — it’s no secret that it’s difficult to earn a living as a full-time writer. She wishes that there were more children’s book authors writing full-time as there needs to be consistency when publishing a series so that young readers won’t lose interest.

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