Singapore Literature has always been a shaky topic, with people wanting a firm definition and others going, “But it’s an Art, there are many forms and genres.” While on the front of creation, the latter is a totally fair principle. But when it comes to creating for a living, the big question appears:
Do we HAVE to be accepted by the “authority” or risk facing things like painfully slow publicity and low viewership?
Authors who are published would argue that the publicity and viewership is already bad to begin with. I will not argue with that. But I encountered this question of recognized Singapore Literature when I posed an issue of stigma with regards to genre in Singapore Literature.
It does seem that works that are published (without any form of funding or sponsorship from the author) seem to fall majorly into certain categories, as are winners of writing competitions in Singapore. The answer I got from a fellow audience who was on the judging panel for one of these competitions? This:
“We did get a lot of genre fiction pieces, but none of them were good. So we had no other choice but to look through the pieces that had a more serious tone.”
Fair enough. Which brings me to my next question:
WHAT IS GOOD?
During a panel with NAC’s Literary Arts Section, that question was tossed around for a bit but seemed to only focus on Singapore’s action of segregating works based on language. While language is valid, I think the main issue still remains to be seen.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED GOOD WRITING?
Or good Singapore Literature, per se. From the looks of what’s being published (only counting those where the costs absorbed by the publishing company, as it should), it does seem that certain genres are “preferred” or “supported” – that’s our issue.
My suggestion for this? I can think of two ways off the bat: Literary Agents and/or a Standardisation Panel.
Something Singapore lacks, though I understand looking at the market we have to begin with. But what about agents within the region (Asia-Pacific, Australasia etc…)? These will be the people to fight for Author’s rights, publishing contracts, and market the authors.
And while publishers are concerned about their profits, I feel that this concern should be stretched to how to generate sales instead of cutting costs or cutting off chances due to risk. Agents can help publishers achieve this through Author marketing or supporting the Author regardless of content. Of course, the Author cannot be expected to sit and do nothing as well, but neither is their publisher.
If you published it, it’s de facto that you trust it. Make it so.
Just a note: Agents are NOT supposed to collect money from Authors as well; unless it’s an external service that the Author’s paying for, like external proofing or editing or what not.
I’m sure many people appreciate the value of different genres. Literary writing and Fantasy writing are as much of a genre as the next. If you asked me, there’s no “higher” genre or “lower” genre. There’s only personal preference and understanding. I personally do not read Science Fiction or Fantasy, but that does not make the genre any “less” than Crime, which I do read and take an interest in.
Hence, this whole “genre” stigma can be curbed.
Knowing the Singaporean way of doing things, my suggestion is to have a panel – consisting of authors and enthusiasts of different genres and backgrounds. Some people are very hard on technique and execution. Some people are very anal with plot (Yours Truly). You will need a good mix to look at the merits of each piece of work.
I’m sure every piece of work has its merits, you just need to look at it at different viewpoints. A mix of people coming from different backgrounds will also mean that nothing will (or at least SHOULD) be missed out.
I mean, what’s the point of a competition when every time the winner’s announced, it’s always something about suffrage and dying tragically in the end for something and leaving your grieving family behind as the world moves on?
I would want to see books like David Hosp’s “Innocence”, Wena Poon’s “Alex y Robert”, J Damask’s “Obsidian Moon, Obsidian Eye”, Graphic Novels, or better, genre fiction works by our own local writers, being recommended and taught alongside canonical works.
People may not see it straightaway, but I think most of us will rather prefer a gripping story of a different kind with aspects of Singaporean life injected into the text by the author’s subconscious and enjoy the reading better than the constant blow to the face on how Asia is dreary and a place to break out of.
After all, this is where we come from. If it does not influence and support our writing, what else will?