Joelyn's Book Bites

Book Bites: 5 Things I’ve Learnt from our Island of Dreams – Singapore Writers Festival 2015

Book BitseI know it’s incredibly late to have this post two weeks after the Singapore Writers’ Festival has ended, and I’m not going to make any excuses. However, instead of a review of almost every event / panel which I went to, I’m going to go general and talk about what I’ve learnt over the week’s worth of festivities.

The 5 Things I’ve Learnt from Our Island of Dreams

A good moderator makes a whole lot of difference

I cannot emphasize how important this is – moderators are not just there to fill awkward silences, or just introduce the panelists, they are there to keep the conversation going, to make sure the panelists stay on point, and to stop the crowd from getting out of hand.

Some of us have agreed that in every 10 panels we’ve been on, at least 9 will have someone spelling out his/her life story about how he/she is struggling and is obviously angry or upset that they’re not on the other side of the stage during the Q&A. A good moderator will know how to handle situations like these so others will have a fairer chance of learning from the panel, but not offend the person on the mike.

Case-in-point: Gene Tan. He is an AMAZING moderator. I’ve been to a couple of panels moderated by him over the last couple of years, and he has an incredibly unique way of introducing his panelists. Instead of just reciting the panelist’s CV, he introduces them by way of their work – usually reading a paragraph of what they’ve written.

At the same time, he handles questions incredibly well – ensuring clarity for the panelists, encouraging people (especially people not in the industry) to ask questions, and giving ample time so that good questions get asked. In “Bright Lights, Dark Cities”, he engaged Fuminori Nakamura, Nicholas Hogg, Amir Muhammad, and Troy Chin incredibly well, and I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Reading comes in many forms – you hardly have any excuse

The reason I get from many people who say they “wish they could read more” is that they have no time, or get lost quickly in long novels. While attending Indie Publishing Heroes, we learnt of Mutalib Uthman’s Dubooks – which publishes Malay fiction in Malaysia in books not exceeding a certain amount of pages; Fiction on-the-go, if you will. Likewise, Math Paper Press has a large collection of Chapbooks – publications you can finish within a couple of days.

Same goes with e-Books and audiobooks as well – can’t let go of your phone? Activate that novel you’ve been trying to finish. Need to listen to something? Audio-fiction is widely available now.

We may not like to admit it, but in all honesty, we have no excuse anymore.

Bookstores / Booksellers contribute to the nation’s reading habits too

Cultural cringe continues to be a problem in our area of the world, and while we all have a part to play, I got an interesting point from Kenny (Books Actually) during Indie Publishing Heroes. Just as we, in the creative community, have a part to play in supporting local talent and encouraging others to do so by setting an example, bookstores have a role to play as well.

Managing that balance between only displaying and selling bestsellers and supporting your local talents well is a fine line, and with bookstores and businesses more concerned with profits sometimes, cultural cringe can perpetuate when

Remember your supporters and backers

This is a constant lesson in the creative industry, in writing, and in life, but I do feel it bears reminding.

Most business won’t be able to sustain themselves without any clients – likewise, writers, remember your supporters and backers in your journey. Writers thanked their readers and supporters in almost every panel I went to, and that’s when you also understand that the process of getting a book from manuscript to print is not an easy one.

There are no shortcuts

This is the four-word summary of Shamini Flint’s advice during Things Not to Ask a Writer. Having skill and discipline was one thing, but one of the most important values to have, not just as a writer but as a person, is empathy. In order to write well, you need to have consideration for others, step into their shoes, and understand what it’s like.

That applies to contacting people (who don’t know you and/or vice versa) for advice, requests, or information as well.

And with so many people wanting shortcuts for everything, I’d say this is the closest you’re going to have to a shortcut – cultivate empathy, and then you can start talking.

We still have a long way to go in establishing our reading culture, but I’d say we’re getting there. I had a great time during this year’s Singapore Writers’ Festival – in fact, a better, more enriching experience than I had previous ones. Good job to the organizing committee and the volunteers for putting this all together, and here’s to more great festivals for our writers and our readers!

For more information on SWF, click here.

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