By Sarah Odedina, Managing Director, Hot Key Books
It is wonderful to be invited to take part in conventions and conferences, and perhaps not more so than when those events are being hosted in exciting places like Singapore. I was asked to attend the Asian Festival of Children’s Content to talk about editing, publishing and children’s books in general, as well as to run a day-long workshop on writing, co-hosted with Alvina Ling of Little, Brown Books for Young Readers from New York.
The workshops and seminars were attended by many incredibly well-informed, enthusiastic and positive children’s book professionals. This was the third year of what will become an annual event. The website outlines the packed schedule of seminars and workshops as well as giving some background to the prizes that are awarded during the festival.
Singapore always been an important export market for UK-based publishers, and while I was in the country I wanted to visit some bookshops to get a sense of what is selling and how the bookshops are faring in this ever-changing retail world.
It seems that people in Singapore like to shop. They enjoy the physical shopping experience rather than the digital one, and while all over the rest of the world supermarkets and chains dominate our high streets, in Singapore it is all about the wet markets, and local shops.
Bookshops work well in this environment. People here like to look, touch and feel before they buy and this applies to books as much as anything else. There are many fabulous, focused and wonderfully managed bookshops in the city, like the awe-inspiring Kinokuniya (one of the large chain of Japanese stores), run by Kenny Chan, a man with a vast range of experience and a passionate belief in bookselling. With its extensive stock, informed and helpful booksellers and bright easy-to-browse approach to layout, it is the kind of shop to while away many hours and leave with an exciting range of books by previously unknown authors. For me it was finding out about local authors like Adeline Foo, creator of the best-selling series The Diary of Amos Lee, published by Edmund Wee of Epigram Books. Epigram Books is described as being a publisher of award-winning literature and exquisitely designed books, and Amos Lee qualifies on both counts.
Bookaburra is in many ways the perfect balance for a larger shop like Kinokuniya. It is a children’s independent specialist bookseller with two outlets and a warehouse from which they stock their school book fairs. It is an example of a bookseller really reaching out to readers and forming a community of shoppers and readers. The branch I visited, which is located in a mall that specialised in all things for children, had several spinners with a wonderful selection of picture books from the very commercial to the most arty. A completely delightful shop for anyone with under-fives as well as their older siblings, as the fiction selection was equally impressive. I met Cheryle Hum, Managing Director of Bookaburra, at the festival, and having the opportunity to talk to her about children’s books, as well as selling children’s books, was a refreshingly positive experience.
I was only in Singapore for four days but it was long enough to meet lots of people and find out about this important market, a market that is robust and independent. A market that features all the world’s bestsellers, from Suzanne Collins to Jeff Kinney and Lauren Oliver as well as wonderful local authors like the aforementioned Adeline Foo and James Lee, author of the hugely successful Mr Midnight series. It is a market that is open to writing for young readers from many different perspectives and viewpoints and a market that involves buyers going into bookshops to select and buy. It was wonderful to be able to talk to so many children’s book professionals as well as to meet aspirant writers who hope to see their books in the bookshops of Singapore and the world soon. The Hot Key Books writing prize, being open to writers writing in English from anywhere in the world, was of great interest to many participants of the festival and we look forward to reading their submissions along with the many others over the coming weeks and months.