Saturday, December 01, 2012

The next intake for the Silverfish Writing Programme will be on Jan 19, 2012, and run for 10 consecutive weeks (except for holidays) from 10.30am to 12.30pm, and will be opened for registration on Dec 1, 2012. The past few programmes have been extremely popular and we have had to turn away many late inquiries, because the maximum number of participants we can accommodate is 10(ten). We have to date received 30 inquiries already. So we encourage those who are interested to register early, and avoid a last minute rush. (Please, tell your friends who are interested, too.) The registration fee will be RM1000.00 per participant for the full ten week programme, but an early bird discount of 10% will apply until (and including) Jan 1, 2012.

The world is full of stories. Humans are the only story telling animals on the planet. We may miss meals (ask your teenager buried in a book or your aunt or mum hooked on a television soap) but not our stories. Even in famine stricken zones, while people wait for the food trucks to arrive, they tell one another stories to keep alive. In war zones, where life is in danger every single minute, people cannot resist telling stories. All religions have tons of stories that are constantly repeated. Stories are part of our very being, our claim to be human.

We are surrounded by stories every waking minute of the day. When we turn on our radio or television to listen to the news, or to watch a drama or sitcom or even a cooking show, when we open our newspapers or surf the net for news, when we go to the movies, to a dance, listen to a song, or look at a painting, when we go to the office, pitch a proposal to our boss, our clients, meet our co-workers when we relax over tea and gossip, or tell them about our day, or listen to their stories. When we read books, we read stories. And stories will make us laugh or cry or angry, and dozens of other things. We will love characters or we hate them. Good stories never leave us indifferent. We have a desperate need to tell stories in whatever form. That’s why some of us want to become writers: to tell our stories. But what do publisher's want?

That's what the Silverfish Writing Programme is all about: what publishers are looking for.


The Retail Superpower

Booksellers Resisting Amazon’s Disruption says a report by David Streitfeld in The New York Times. “Amazon inspires anxiety just about everywhere, but its publishing arm is getting pushback from all sorts of booksellers, who are scorning the imprint’s most prominent title, Timothy Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Chef."

It is indeed rich that Amazon requires brick-and-mortar bookshops to display its titles so customers can browse through the books before buying it online from them. Why would bookshops want to do that? Has book selling come a full circle then? Barnes & Noble will not carry Amazon’s books. Other large physical and digital stores, too. “Many independents ... will do nothing to help ... a company they feel is hellbent on their destruction.” Touché.

On another front, Walmart and Target have stopped selling the Kindle, worried that it’s a Trojan horse. So, why are these two retail giants nervous?

Trojan horse

In the book world there is one superpower. (The Penguin-Random House merger potentially creates another, but that’s left to be seen.) It’s amazing that after all these years Amazon is still said in the same breath as books, although Amazon has been selling more than books for so many years now. It started as a bookshop in 1995 and didn’t make money for 5 years, until the investors got nervous, and it diversified. It’s current catalogue includes DVDs, CDs, MP3 downloads, software, video games, electronics, apparel, furniture, food, toys, and jewellery. Amazon is a departmental store, and has been one for a decade.

There is a rumour that Amazon wants to get into the wine business. After that what? Cheese and crackers? Well, anything really. In the sixties, before the days of the supermarket, mother would draw up her monthly grocery list, telephone the store, and have the orders delivered or readied for pick-up. Is it inconceivable that Amazon has not seen that opportunity? A market of 300 million, all to themselves? You don’t think Amazon could be that unscrupulous?

The future is digital; it’s time brick-and-mortar stores get used to that. So what are they to do? If the likes of Walmart and Target are smart, they’d produce their own stripped down version of the Kindle, dedicated for shopping at their stores, and give them away to their customers. Alternatively, they could develop shopping apps for Android and iOS.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Penguin Random House

The biggest publishing industry news going around is the merger between Penguin and Random House. One is a grand old dame, a queen of the industry, old money, and the other a brash young united states of ‘once known but now anonymous’ publishers – think Fifty Shades. (Interestingly, Rupert Murdock apparently offered to buy Penguin for GBP 1 billion, but was rebuffed. The queen was not willing to stoop that low?) Fittingly, the new entity is called Penguin Random House, so the monarch gets to keep her name, even if not the power. Various sources say that it could take up to a year (earliest mid-2013) for final approval and that, in the meantime, it’s business as usual.

Still, the aftershocks running through the industry will take a while to settle, if at all. Together, the new group will control 25% of the market, which might be scary, but is not; they controlled it anyway. "From the perspective of a reader, author or agent there won't be very much change in the day-to-day operations of the companies," says John Makinson, the current CEO of Penguin and the future chairman of the new company. The CEO of the new company will be Markus Dohle , currently chief executive of Random House.
That this is a reaction to new realities in the book industry is a no brainer. But which reality, specifically? It is easier to understand what Random House would want from Penguin; their back list and classics are to die for. Besides, they also do their own distribution. In Malaysia, distribution of Penguin books used to be handled by STP (later by Times, later still by Pansing) before the parent company set up their own warehouse and operations here. (Pearson also distributes Faber.) It’s unclear if distribution will be an expertise Penguin will bring to the merger.

What does Penguin get from the merger? Protection? Penguin US was one of the two publishers (the other being Macmillan) that declined to settle the civil antitrust case brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ). (Random House was not named in the action.) Apple has been quoted as saying that Amazon is playing the DOJ like a violin. So will one and one make three?

Despite all the usual platitudes following the merger, one wonders if something more serious is afoot?  The merger will make Penguin Random House the largest book publisher in the world.  Large enough to take on Amazon?  Large enough not to have to live in terror of Amazon’s control over that ‘buy’ button?  Large enough to set up a distribution network to fight Tyrannosaurus Rex on its own turf?

It will certainly be good for the industry if that first beast is kept under control, but having two predatory beasts roaming the earth is not very comforting either. It's like Jurassic Park? I’m not sure if it's scary or comforting. I prefer a world with no superpowers, but who’s listening?

The book industry is adapting

A new report in The Atlantic by Peter Osnos entitled Ignore the Doomsayers: The Book Industry Is Actually Adapting Well says that,  “Numbers show that the publishing industry is handling the rise of e-readers better than what folk knowledge might suggest,” and that, “For all the complexities that publishing faces, the notion that books are somehow less of a factor in the cultural or information ecosystem of our time doesn't hold up to the evidence.”

According to Publishers Weekly in a story titled A Solid Six Months for Trade Sales, “Sales of adult and children’s trade titles rose 13.8% (in the US) in the first six months of 2012, according to statistics released last week by the Association of American Publishers as part of its StatShot program. Total industry sales rose 4.4%, to $5.79 billion, at the 1,186 publishers that report revenue to AAP.”

Back to the first story, there’s this interesting bit vis-a-vis Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, “Instead of the competition among traditional booksellers for the attention of readers that was for so long the way books were sold, publishers now must confront the immense power and reach of tech giants and adapt to their influence. These companies are so much larger than even the biggest of publishers that accommodating their demands on price and promotion is a formidable task and is the reason why it looks (and often feels) that publishers are on the defensive.”

Could this be one of the reasons for the Penguin-Random House merger? (See story above.)

Faulkner’s estate sues Sony pictures

(From The case: that Sony infringed copyright when actor Owen Wilson used (misquoted) a line from Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun in the movie, Midnight in Paris. Wilson’s character, Pender, says, "The past is not dead! Actually, it's not even past. You know who said that? Faulkner. And he was right. And I met him, too. I ran into him at a dinner party."

Faulkner’s original: "The past is never dead. It's not even past."

Faulkner died in 1962, and we are talking of eight (8) words! This is crazy.

The copyright regime is quite complicated, with each country having its own version of the Berne Convention (either voluntarily or as a result of arm twisting by the ‘big’ boys). In Malaysia, copyright lasts for fifty years after the death of the author; in the US, Europe and some other countries, this has been extended to 70 years. (In Europe there is a proposal on the table to extend copyright of sound recordings to 95 years after the death of the ‘author’). Then, there is the ‘fair use” clause, which is what Sony will surely argue.

Copyright laws are primarily about protecting the rights of economic exploitation of an author’s work. It sounds fair in most cases when the author is still alive, but becomes absurd when applied to cover all works for 50-70 years after his/her death. In Malaysia, alone, there are hundreds of important and wonderful books that are no longer in print and cannot be reprinted due to copyright laws, even if the author is dead, the original publishers no longer exist, or even if they are no longer interested in republishing it. But, will not let others to do it, either. (The laws are, also, deliberately vague in this respect.) This dog-in-the-manger attitude has killed, and is killing, an entire history and culture. Think of its impact worldwide.

Then, in the case of ‘big’ authors there are entire estates and bands of lawyers that live off the works parasitically for 70 years after his death. Am I the only one who finds this ridiculous and obscene? The author belongs to the people. To them, the author is not dead; he continues to live. Imagine a world where the works of Shakespeare, Kalidasa and Confucius continue to be exploited by their estate and no quote or idea can be used without permission. We will surely end up going back to cave-dwelling.

(There is an amazing story I'd like to share. There was a extremely eminent composer in South Indian Carnatic music called Tyagaraja, whose works are still played hundreds (maybe thousands) of times daily. Interestingly, there is also songs attributed to him but he did not write. Apparently, in those days, one of the better ways of getting one's songs performed was to pretend they were his, and many of the apocryphal ones still survive today! Looks like civilisation has had other alternatives to the present copyright regime. Perhaps it is time to re-look at some of them. After all, culture is more important than ownership, exploitation and greed.)

Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun was published in 1950 and the words “The past is never dead" entered the English language vocabulary years ago, and is used freely and frequently, and in many forms. It, like many other terms, has become an inseparable part of a culture. That is the nature of good literature; it grows culture; it grows language; it’s never forgotten or ignored. Roland Barthe said in his 1967 essay, The Death of the Author, that a literary work is separated from its creator the moment it leaves his desk.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Ibn Khaldun International Conference of 2012

(Sorry for this late blog, but you still have two days left to register for this conference.)


It is our utmost pleasure to extend our invitation to all researchers, and in particular postgraduate students, who have an interest in attending the Ibn Khaldun International Conference of 2012 being held at University Malaya. This is a highly specialized conference where few scholars will present papers; others will deliver workshops revolving around research on Ibn Khaldun. If you are interested in attending the conference to learn from prominent speakers and further receive a certificate of participation, kindly register at the Department of Islamic History and Civilization prior to the 3rd of October in order that we may reserve your place; as seats are very limited.

Contact our registration committee: Tel. No: 603 7967 6008(Main Office)

The fee structure is as follows: 50 RM for University Malaya Students; 100 RM for other participants and students from outside University Malaya

Certificates will be mailed to the participants a few days following the conference. Participants will be required to sign attendance for the two days of the conference to be eligible for a certificate.
Food and refreshments will be provided throughout the two days of the conference.

This conference is jointly organised by

    The Department of Islamic History and Civilization, University of Malaya;
    The International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS);
    The Department of Malay Studies, National University of Singapore; and
    The International Ibn Khaldun Society.

We look forward to seeing you there.

UM English department one-day colloquim

The Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, will be hosting a one-day colloquium. Details are as follows:


A colloquium organized by the Department of English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur

This one-day colloquium aims to stimulate interdisciplinary debate and discussion on cities and their increasing rise, evolution and influence in today’s world. The Financial Times of New York estimates that by 2030, city dwellers on the planet will number more than five billion, and that this urban explosion will create tremendous challenges on all fronts: social, environmental, cultural, political and economic. Apart from the material pressures that this demographic trend exerts on matters such as infrastructure, healthcare, employment, food, water, energy and the land as a whole, the demand for human development and community building in fields such as the arts, culture and education is also paramount. Abstracts of around two hundred words for a twenty-minute presentation are invited on any of the following:

Cities, concrete and imaginary
Cities as geological spaces/cities as built and natural environments
The city state and its citizens
Sex(ualities) and the city
Religion and the city
Theorizing the city/ the place of cities
Postmodern cities
Virtual cities
The ecosystem of cities
The city and cultural production
The city and popular culture
Postcolonial cities
Social and environmental justice issues (urban poor, toxic cities, etc.) in the city
Re-conceptualising urban spaces
Urban ecocriticism (the wilderness and the urban, the city and the bioregion, urban animals, etc.)
Urban fiction, poetry, drama, memoir, essays, nature writing, film, journalism, etc.
Migration into and out of cities
Ethical cities
Cities past, present and future
The language of and about the city
Cosmopolitanism and the city
Multicultural and global cities
Date      :            December 4, 2012
Time     :             8.30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Venue  :              Rumah Universiti, University of Malaya
Fee        :            RM 50 (academic staff and non-academic visitors) RM 25 (postgraduate students)
Lunch and tea will be provided.

Please email your abstract to or by Wednesday, October 31, 2012.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

New Silverfish Facebook page

NEWS: Silverfish Books -- new facebook page

Silverfish Books has a new Facebook page dedicated to news about books, writing and publishing. Friends of Silverfish Books (including suppliers) may post items about their own book projects or news about their industry. The posts, however, will be moderated for, while we encourage you to share everything pertaining to books, we will not be so interested in what anyone had for breakfast, or how a date went, or other such things. Hope you'd understand. The other thing is that we will be biased towards books from Malaysia and Singapore, whether they are self-published, small runs, POD, or e-book; that is we'd love to hear from you about books from or about these two countries, preferably by writers from these two countries, but we are more flexible about that. We prefer book events too (reading, book launches and any other such event) from these two countries, but for news, it could be anything interesting (pertaining to this subject) from around the world.

The Ikan Perak page will continue as it is for the time being, for stories of the more personal nature. I set up Ikan Perak in 2009, and though I am hardly a ludite (I can write code in PHP and know enough to design, launch and maintain the Silverfish website, online store and marketplace), I froze when confronted with the Facebook page, or maybe I was simply too darn lazy to work on it, or even invite friends. Fortunately, Jamilah has no such problems, and has designed the entire new page for us. In fact, she has agreed to continue managing the Silverfish Books Facebook page when she returns to college.

Asia publishing and Childrens' writing prizes

1. There is now a new website dedicated to publishing news from the publishing industry in Asia: So here's a chance to get your news out. The Asian Publishing Network aims to build a network of people in the publishing industry, those related to it, and readers.  Send your news to You may also submit articles and book reviews. Published submissions will not be paid (at least not now) but all submissions will be duly attributed and linked to relevant sites.

2. Children's book writers and illustrators, please note the following three ongoing competitions.The Calistro Prize is organised by the Society of Children's Book Writer & Illustrator (Malaysia) with the sponsorship of Calistro Consultants, a UK-based Consultancy firm. The winner will get RM10,000.00 and publication. Two runner-ups will be guided towards publication. For further information, visit

3.  The Eye Level Children's Literature Award is a global award organised by Daekyo, World Youth & Culture Foudation, South Korea. Now in its thirtieth year, the award is being held in Malaysia for the first time. The two categories in the award are 1) children's story and 2)illustrated story book. The prize money is USD2,000 for the first prize winner, and USD1,000 for the second prize winner for each category, at the national level. Winning entries will be submitted for the international round and will compete with entries from USA, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. The winning prize at the international level is USD10,000 for each category, together with free tickets for two to Korea.  The deadline for submission is 30th September.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

An obituary: Gore Vidal (1925-2012)

I was writing my op-ed piece on The Literary Fiction Debate when I heard on BBC 3 that Gore Vidal has died. He was my boyhood hero. I loved reading Gore Vidal when I was a teenager. Compared to him, Norman Mailer was a bore. (They didn't like one another either. He rubbed many people the wrong way, and he loved it.)

The story in the New York Times says, "Gore Vidal, the elegant, acerbic all-around man of letters who presided with a certain relish over what he declared to be the end of American civilization, died on Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles, where he moved in 2003, after years of living in Ravello, Italy. He was 86."

His works were primarily non-fiction, but the book I remember him most by is the one called Kalki, a work of fiction, albeit not one of his most popular. But I loved his storytelling. When Kalki comes riding his white horse, says the Hindu mythology, the world will come to an end. In Gore Vidal's book, Kalki comes in the form of a Vietnam War veteran, who comes riding a white horse (in a Hollywood-style extravaganza) to end the world,which he intends to re-populate by himself, ala Adam and Eve. It is hugely tongue in cheek, but when he did end the world, I was left gob-smacked. I like this writer, I decided. He was audacious as hell. And, the twist at the end was hilarious.

“Gore is a man without an unconscious,” his friend the Italian writer Italo Calvino once said. Mr. Vidal said of himself: “I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.”

My first Gore Vidal book was Messiah (1954) about a reluctant religious 'teacher' who is forced to commit suicide by his followers to fulfil his destiny, and to become their messiah. Julian (1964), about the Roman philosopher emperor, Julian (also known as Julian the Apostate)(331-363AD), the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman empire, was my first non-fiction book by the author. Creation (1981) was a journey through the ancient lands of Persia, China and India that was part philosophy, part history and part fantasy (of the author). Lincoln was history like I had never read before until then. That warm fuzzy President of the United States who, we had been told in school, originated from the log cabins was no more; replaced by a ruthless political animal, a quasi tyrant with a mad wife to boot. In other words, a real person.

History never remained the same for me.

Gore Vidal was an important influence in my teenage and early years. While his are not exactly books I'm likely to revisit frequently, he did point out important directions; some of which I ended up taking.

Sleep well, you crochety old man.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Video: Future of print

"EPILOGUE is a lyrical student documentary about the future of books by Hannah Ryu Chung, featuring a number of interviews with independent bookstore owners, magazine art directors, printers, bookbinders, letterpress artists, and other champions of bibliophilia." This is  a beautiful video with some stunning images. Here are some quotes from it:

  • a book is a sensory experience ...
  • it's an incredible aesthetic intellectual experience to read a book ... to read through a book ...
  • ... can you even buy floppy disks .. yet, you know, there are books from the fifth and sixth century (that can still be read)
Yes, it is that kind of video. It is for those who love the printed book, though it does not completely rule out the e-book. This 24 minute video is a must watch. Some of the visuals are quite a sight to behold.

Why are typos so hard to catch?

After reading this piece in Optical Illusions, I don't feel so stupid any more. According to Esther Inglis-Arkell, "It turns out, this is partly a matter of the way your brain processes text — and partly something that's specific to English and a few other languages."

Have you heard of the Stroop Effect? I hadn't either, but when I read the explanation I realised that I had read it somewhere before. "The Stroop Effect happens when the words for one color are printed in ink of another color ... If the word 'GREEN' is printed in blue ink, even though their eyes see blue, their brain thinks 'green'. It takes people a while to sort it out."

I am not a speed reader; I like language too much. Speed reading is good for those who like to know the ending. (Of course, you could peek at the last page.) I am one of those who hates a good book to end; its like parting after a long meaningful relationship with a good friend. One could revisit, certainly, but it will not be the same. There will no longer be the same serendipitous quality about it. So I read good books slowly, and bad ones quickly to get it over with.

But, coming back to proof reading, I am still dreadful at it. One problem is the familiarity of the text. Researchers at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit found that "... It's possible to scramble those letters around while keeping them near where they would be, if the word were in its correct order ..." without losing comprehension. Apparently, this is possible only with a few languages including German. (They failed when they tried it with Hebrew.)

Read the whole story here.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Are profits the only consideration for the (printed) newspaper?

We have been hearing about the impending death of the newspaper for almost a decade now. We have considered it as inevitable. With the e-book and the iPad, we are even more sure that conventional newspapers are doomed. I was too, until I read this article in the Fortune magazine, Profits are not the only consideration for newspapers. It starts:

"One of the challenges of discussing the besieged newspaper business is that it's not like just any business, or it shouldn't be. There is a public-service component to newspapering that is often at odds with the pursuit of maximum profits. That, in fact, is the industry's core problem as readership and revenue continue to dwindle: Many of the nation's newspapers are owned by corporations that are concerned primarily or solely with profits, which often isn't good for journalism. The only way to maintain profits in the short-term is to cut costs."

Recently, The New Orleans Times-Picayune, announced that it would cut production from daily to three days a week. The paper reportedly is profitable -- but not profitable enough for its owners, who want to squeeze out as much as they can in as short a time as possible. People can always read it online, one could say. Fact is, "... more than a third of New Orleans' population has no internet access."

If one third of a major city in the US has no internet access, what about Malaysia? I was asked recently, in a survey conducted on behalf of the Ministry of Culture, why I considered it important for local publishers and authors to have more support from the print media (namely, newspapers) in this country. Isn't social media good enough?

The latest audited reports for July to Dec 2011, by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, indicate that a little over 2.5 million print newspapers are sold in the peninsula in all languages every day (not including Sundays). If we assume a readership of 5 persons per newspaper, we are looking at 12.5 million eyeballs! Granted, local authors are not as glamorous as Lady Gaga, but to quote Harry Shearer of the Columbia Journalism Review: do the owners 'owe a little something back'? And '... at what point does the pursuit of profit begin to do serious harm to the communities served by newspapers?'

This is not to say that local newspapers are raking in the money, but they do get into an unwritten social contract the moment they decide to publish one, as opposed to, say, setting up a char kweh teow stall. Do print newspapers have a social responsibility more than any other industry? And which country's cultural landscape do local newspapers consider themselves to be part of?

Interior design with books

It has been the private joke amongst booksellers for the longest time -- a customer comes into the shop and buys hardbacks by the yard (or metre) to decorate a room in his house. We once had two women customers who wanted us to order several dozen copies of books by Jane Austen which they were going to cut up and roll into beads to make a 'literary' bead curtain. Wired Magazine reported recently: 'What happens when product designer Philippe Starck needs 1,500 books?all with white spines?to fill out the shelves in a posh new Miami hotel? He calls on Thatcher Wine (that's a name, not a varietal) to curate the collection. Now Wine isn't a book designer, but he does design with books.'

The story has it that Wine started by browsing thrift store and Ebay to fulfil special orders by customers. But this ended in him looking for books to outfit entire rooms in building. Wine, who owns  Juniper Books, fills his shelves with custom of classic works and curated selections of current works.

I was shocked by the ladies who wanted to cut up the books for beads, but this I can take. Anything to sell books!

Silverfish Books Marketplace

It is not uncommon for us to receive phone calls or emails from people looking to dispose of books (both text and general) that they no longer want. On one hand, we understand their needs. But on the other, we don't want to become a dumping ground for old books and a paper-lama merchant. So we at Silverfish have come up with the next best idea: free classifieds. Yes, you read that right: FREE classifieds. Silverfish will not charge for these classifieds, nor be involved in the transactions, and will not take a percentage of the proceeds, either. It's all yours. Call it community service. Here are the rules:

Terms of use:This service is provided by Silverfish Books Sdn Bhd on an 'as is' basis, free-of-charge, without any expressed or implied warranty or guaranty, in response to frequent requests to sell or give away old books. Silverfish Books Sdn Bhd will not be involved in any storage or transactions (whether selling or giving away) between third parties, although you are welcomed to use the book-store as a meeting place to finalise your transaction. Classified advertisements posted here will be valid for 14 days, renewable up to a maximum of three (3) times. (An email notification will be sent to the publisher three (3) days before expiry, all you'll have to do is to click on the link provided.) Expired ads, that are not renewed, will be automatically deleted after a further three days.Use this site as you wish, but please keep it clean. Offensive material will be removed without notice. (All prices in Malaysian Ringgit -- MYR -- only.)

Guidelines to posting. 1. Only registered users can post. 2. After registration, login and post. 3. Suggested .jpg image size is 30 to 50 kb. 4. If you cannot read the captcha image (the first time), request for a new one (click circular arrow) until you get something you can read, or click on the sound icon and listen.

Although the site is meant primarily for transactions involving books, we have provided facilities to post items in other categories too. Please observe, your address is not a compulsory field. We have done this with privacy considerations in mind. We suggest you use the email for initial contacts and take it further only when you are more comfortable. Enjoy! Some samples have been posted as a guide. (They are real!)

Thursday, May 31, 2012

July 2012 intake for Silverfish Writing Programme

The next intake for the Silverfish Writing Programme will be on 14 July 2012, and run for 10 Saturdays from 10.30am to 12.30pm, and will be opened for registration in early June 2012. The past few programmes have been extremely popular and we have had to turn away many late inquiries, because the maximum number of participants we can accommodate is 10(ten). So we encourage those who are interested to register early, and avoid a last minute rush. (Please, also, tell your friends who are interested.) The registration fee will be RM1000.00 per participant for the full ten week programme, but an early bird discount of 10% will apply until (and including) June 30, 2012.

The world is full of stories. Humans are the strangest of all animals. We may miss meals (ask your teenager buried in a book or your aunt or mum hooked on a television soap) but not our stories. Even in famine stricken zones, while people wait for the food trucks to arrive, they tell one another stories to keep alive. In war zones, where life is in danger every single minute, people cannot resist telling stories. All religions have tons of stories that are constantly repeated. Stories are part of our very being, our claim to be human.

We are surrounded by stories every waking minute of the day. When we turn on our radio or television to listen to the news, or to watch a drama or sitcom or even a cooking show, when we open our newspapers or surf the net for news, when we go to the movies, to a dance, listen to a song, or look at a painting, when we go to the office, pitch a proposal to our boss, our clients, meet our co-workers when we relax over tea and gossip, or tell them about our day, or listen to their stories. When we read books, we read stories. And stories will make us laugh or cry or angry, and dozens of other things. We will love characters or we hate them. Good stories never leave us indifferent. We have a desperate need to tell stories in whatever form. That’s why some of us want to become writers: to tell our stories. But what do publisher's want?

That's what the Silverfish Writing Programme is all about: what publishers are looking for.


AFCC: Malaysia as Country of Focus next year

Mr Ramachandran, Executive Director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore, announced on Monday, 28 May 2012 that Malaysia will be the 'Country of Focus' at next year's Asian Festival of Children's Content (AFCC). Now in its fourth year, the AFCC is held annually in Singapore to promote Asian content for children. More than 80 sessions were organised during the Festival covering topics on writing, illustrating, editing, translating, apps for children and critique sessions. Book launches and author signings added to the buzz and there was also an inaugural rights fair. An estimate of more than 700 people attended over 80 sessions held over the four days while total attendance from the public at various events were estimated at 3000. Sixteen countries from Asia, South Africa, UK and US were represented at the AFCC. This year's country of focus was the Philippines which made a strong showing with 10 speakers, a stand showcasing books from the Philippines accompanied by musical performances. Norhayati Razali, officer at the Kota Buku, a body set up to promote the Malaysian book industry, said the Kota Buku is pleased to play a leading role for Malaysia's participation at AFCC 2013 which will be held from 25-28 May 2013.

Picture shows Malaysian artist Yusof Gajah and his wife, Zakiah with Norhayati with Mr. Ramachandran. Yusof Gajah was an invited guest at the AFCC, and conducted his popular picture-book workshop in Malay, as he did last year.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Why is Apple settling in Europe but not in the US?

The latest news is that Apple has offered to settle its e-book price fixing charge in Europe, but vows to fight a a similar battle in America because the charges against it by the Department of Justice are "simply not true". reports, Apple Offers E-Book Settlement: But Only in Europe, "The technology company was initially tight-lipped about the US case but last week broke its silence to declare itself innocent and paint itself as a hero for breaking Amazon’s “monopolistic grip”. It said the iPad’s bookstore “fostered innovation and competition ... However, it has taken an altogether different approach in Brussels. Joaquín Almunia, the European Union competition commissioner, said he has received settlement offers from Apple and all the publishers other than Penguin."

One speculation (by contributor, Tim Worstall) is, "As to why the settlement in Europe I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because of the size of the potential fines," implying that Apple might be trying to stave out a potential hefty fine. Maybe. But I am inclined to think that Apple is gambling on Europe being more sympathetic towards it because it genuinely thinks it is promoting competition, and saving the world from the likes of Amazon.

It is in Europe's DNA to side with the underdog, to protect workers and small businesses (known, derisively, as socialism in America), especially in an industry it gets very emotional about and regards as a cultural heritage. When Amazon implemented free shipping in France, it was found to be in violation of a law that disallowed unfair discounting of books. Amazon already has a reputation for being the bad guy in Europe. Apple might genuinely think that it would get a fairer deal across the pond.

In the US, Amazon's practices are seen (by some) as morally wrong but not illegal. Scorched earth business practices are legal in America; as long as consumers 'benefit', jobs can be bangalored, and small businesses shuttered. The stated goal of antitrust laws is "consumer protection", which critics say does everything but.

All that might be changing, though. Wendy Milling says in another story in, The DOJ's Mugging Of Apple Reminds Us That Antitrust Is Theft, "The absurdity of the Department of Justice’s latest antitrust charges against Apple has prompted a long overdue re-evaluation of the validity of antitrust doctrine." She adds, "If an e-book seller (Amazon) charges a price so low it takes a loss on its e-books to gain market share, no charges are filed. If publishers (HarperCollins, Penguin, etc.) agree to an agency model that decreases their total revenue on e-books, charges are filed."

Will Apple be instrumental in changing the world yet again?

Monday, April 30, 2012

South East Asian publishing perspectives

Reading the story by Vinutha Mallya in Publishing Perspectives, As KL Book Fair Opens, Publishers Eye Booming Southeast Asia, it is easy to get intoxicated in the euphorias of self congratulations. Publishing in Malaysia (and South-East Asia) is, certainly, not what it was 10 years ago, but much remains to be done. The Trade and Copyright Centre (TCC) is an interesting move, but what is it? What is its USP? Soon, every country in ASEAN will organises? Some are already planning. How many are we going to attend? How many are visitors going to attend? Will it all simply die off like the Merdeka Cup?

Since Frankfurt, Trade and Copyright Centres have become the new buzzword; the new me-too fix for all that ails publishing. Everybody now wants to sell rights. But the operative word in TCC is 'trade', and that involves both buying and selling. And, now we have one tacked to the KLIBF as well.

I am not against KLIBF's TCCs, but I have a strong aversion to failure and history is not on our side. Is there no hope, then? Actually, there is, and it is called ASEAN; unfortunately, it is also an organisation that falls into the category of 'satu sen tada guna' in the minds of most. After 45 years of ASEAN, Malaysians don't know anything about literature from Singapore, nor are we interested, and vice versa (except when books are banned on one side of the causeway or the other). Don't even think of looking for books from Burma or Vietnam or Cambodia or The Philippines .... you get the drift ... in any country outside the home nation. Why? Are Malaysians worried of being flooded by books from Indonesia? That's strange, considering how our markets are already flooded with books from the US and the UK, and with some absolutely dreadful ones at that. Language difficulty has been cited as one problem against creating a regional market, but one suspects there is some other more fundamental factors at work here; sibling rivalry and petty jealousy. (Seldom does the intellectual level of our intra-regional debate rise above recipes for chili-crab.)

I was one of the invited speakers at a forum in Singapore four years ago (as part of the Singapore Writers Festival), and one of the main laments of all the panellists (and audience) was the lack of access to book markets within ASEAN. It was almost unanimously agreed by participants (who were writers, publishers, agents, and others) that something had to be done about this bizarre situation. The idea we came up with was a unique ASEAN marketplace for books; where books from every country in the region, in every language and translation is available either in traditional or virtual form; where publishing professionals from the region can regularly meet, talk and trade; where publishing professionals from other parts of the world come for any publishing information from the region. An ASEAN book clearing house, so to speak. I was talking to a suited senior Singaporean bureaucratic type from the National Art Council at the farewell cocktail after the forum, and I mentioned this to him. His immediate reaction was, "We must not just think about ASEAN, we must think of the whole world." Enough said.

Get real. The Anglo-American publishing industry is not interested in anything not invented there, so we can forget about them. Besides they only want to sell, not buy. Ask Frankfurt. (When  asked about the London Book Fair, a local publishing professional quipped, "It's like Hall 8 in Frankfurt, lah.) The Europeans might be more adventurous, but how do we can get them interested enough to come here to KL (as opposed to other cities in ASEAN)? Karipap and luke warm teh tarik, or air bandung, is not going to cut it, even with halfway talented dancing girls thrown in. Bali has got its beaches and boys, Bangkok has Patpong, Singapore has shops and Sharjah paid business class airfares and provided full five-star board and lodging for over a hundred publishing professionals from around the world in November last year, besides providing translation grants.

Anyway, why are we even thinking about world markets, when we have half a billion people living right here in our neighbourhood? Make that, almost two billion if we include China, Japan and Korea? If we (the countries of SEA) work together, we can do it. Otherwise, we can watch others do it. This is a G-to-G job. Now, if only we can persuade ASEAN bureaucrats to roll up the sleeves of their pretty shirts and do some real work.

When Silverfish New Writing was released in 12 years, there was euphoria on the streets like we had just invented sliced bread. (Some are still dancing.) I could only watch in amusement. Since then we have scaled many more heights, but we are not going to get carried away. There's much work still to be done.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Children's writing in Singapore

Asian Content for the World’s Children 2012 @ The Arts House, Singapore

The National Book Development Council of Singapore and The Arts House present ASIAN FESTIVAL OF CHILDREN’S CONTENT 2012 from May 26 to 29.

This year’s festivalbrings together writers, illustrators, content makers, publishers, distributors and retailers, international buyers and other professionals related to children’s content in a plethora of formats such as comics, books, e-books, graphic novels, videos, films, educational games, etc.

Four days of events include:

•    Celebrating Our Stars, Pre Festival Event (25th May 2012)
•    Primary and Preschool Teachers Congress (26th May 2012)
•    Parents’ Forum (27th May 2012)
•    Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Congress (28th & 29th May 2012)
•    Media Summit (29th May 2012)
•    Specialised Workshops (26th & 27th May 2012)
•    Masterclasses (30th May 2012)
•    Media Mart and Rights Fair (26th – 29th May 2012)
•    Book Illustrators’ Gallery (26th – 29th May 2012)

Mr R Ramachandran, Festival Director of AFCC says, “Our objective is to develop children’s materials with Asian content for information, education and entertainment. Through this festival, we hope to continue to be a catalyst to the creation, production, publication and distribution of children’s materials with Asian content to children worldwide.

70 speakers and experts, including writers, illustrators, digital artists, producers and designers, from around the world will engage, educate and empower the audience at this Asia’s gateway to the international children’s content market.

For more information, please visit

Nottingham Uni hiring locals?

Associate/Assistant Professor in Cultural Studies/Mass Communications and Media (for one post, a specialism in Film and/or Television Studies)

Contract Status:  These full-time posts are available from 1 January 2012
Location: University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, Semenyih, Malaysia.
Responsible to: Director of Studies
Job Outline:  Associate/Assistant Professor in Cultural Studies/Mass Communications and Media, with administrative and teaching duties. The person appointed is expected to be research active.

Main duties & responsibilities
    Teaching, research and administration.
    To teach and contribute to core modules in Cultural Studies/Mass Communications and Media Studies, (for one post, specifically in Film and Television Studies), and to supervise undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations.
    Examining, invigilating at examinations, and generally assisting with the work of the School
    Original research is regarded as an essential part of the person appointed. Time, duties and facilities are provided for this purpose.
    To undertake a two-day Introductory Course on effective teaching and the PGCHE (Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education), if appropriate.
    Any other duties appropriate to the grade and role of the person appointed.

    This job description may be subject to revision following discussion with the person appointed and forms part of the contract of employment.

Informal enquiries may be addressed to Please note that applications sent directly to this email address will not be accepted. Applications must be sent direct to
Please quote ref. UNMC/SMLC/2011/1

The post

The Department is keen to consolidate and expand its coverage of Cultural studies, Mass Communications and Media Studies, Critical Theory, Film and Television Studies and Cultural History in ways that add to the current staff expertise so that it will be well-equipped to respond to the demands of the expanding undergraduate and postgraduate degree programmes and meet the requirements of a developing and rapidly-expanding undergraduate population.

The successful candidate will hold a PhD degree, or equivalent qualification, and be a specialist in Cultural Studies or Mass Communications and Media Studies with a proven specialism in Film and Television Studies. Candidates will be expected to take a prominent role in the teaching of the International Communications Studies degrees at undergraduate level and to contribute to the teaching and further development of the MA degrees. Candidates will be expected to liaise with the Division of International Communications at the University of Nottingham in Ningbo, China, to assist in the planning and introduction of programmes in Cultural Studies on the University’s UK campus, and to undertake, when appropriate, supervision of postgraduate students in this important area. Candidates will also be expected to be actively involved in grant applications. Candidates will also be expected to have developed a research publishing career and to have firm research projects which will help develop the Department’s cultural studies research profile.

For a full person specification, please download pdf.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Kota Buku (The Malaysian Book City)

Newly appointed General Manager (Pengurus Kanan) of Perbadanan Kota Buku, Encik Razin Abdul Rahman, insists that the function of Kota Buku is to facilitate the growth of private publishers in Malaysia and to not compete with them. Kota Buku’s aim is to oversee  and support the growth of the entire book industry in the country regardless of language. Towards this end, and as its first project,  Kota Buku will organise a monthly three-day-long, Pekan Sari Buku, the first one beginning on 23 March 2012, at Lanai Tuanku Abdul Rahman.  All publishers (traditional, fringe or self), be it in Bahasa, English, Mandarin or Tamil, are welcomed to participate. (The Kota Buku website is still under construction; so those interested in more information should contact the Kota Buku office, Tel:603-83217011, or email

Razin says, Kota Buku is looking at several other projects to support the publishing industry including the development of children’s literature, R&D of e-books for use in schools, digitisation of contemporary and classical Malaysian literature with print-on-demand (POD) and digital download possibilities, and others. Towards this end, Razin is willing to listen to all ideas and suggestions.

The idea for the Kota Buku has been up in the air for a while, and it has finally materialised as Perbadanan Kota Buku (Kota Buku) in July 2011. Its chairman is Tan Sri Dr Asiah Abu Samah (formerly DG of the Ministry of Education) and on 3 Jan 2012, Razin Abd Rahman (formerly with ITNM) was appointed as its GM. (He could be appointed the CEO, soon.)

Kota Buku will work with publishers, writers, graphic designers, illustrators and distributors to promote book-related activities.

A six-storey building on Jalan Raja Laut will become its headquarters in two to three years. The building is planned as a place for activities and research. But Razin also sees many activities happening at public venues and not necessarily inside buildings. The Kota Buku is a nationwide endeavour.

Currently, the Kota Buku office is in Cyberjaya, but will move to the Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka premises in Kuala Lumpur. Razin is currently seeking to employ multi-racial staff for his budding organisation. (Email above)

Razin’s sincerity is not in question but, as he admits, as much as he would like to be politically agnostic, he cannot ignore the minefields. It would be interesting to see how he negotiates them, what with Faisal Tehrani’s latest book being banned by Jakim, and Pa Samad becoming a poster boy for certain politically incorrect causes (as some would see it).

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Kiddy porn?

When a newspaper reporter called me yesterday to ask me for my opinion about a ‘banned’ children’s book, I initially declined comment because I didn’t know which book it was, since I don’t read ‘dead-tree’ newspapers. But, she persisted. I said I couldn’t speak for other bookshops, but I gave her my opinion on the arbitrariness of censorship in the country (depending on who’s in charge, etc) and the censorship by harassment (a favourite ploy). I still didn’t know which book she was talking about.

This morning, reading the online news on my iPad, I discovered that the book in question is Where Did I Come From by Peter Mayle, with illustrations by Arthur Robbins.  I remember that book; I (and my wife) bought it for our son when he was five because we were too squeamish to approach the subject. That was 27 years ago! I believe he still has the book somewhere. He is now 32, happily married with two lovely daughters. As far as I know he has not become a serial killer (or rapist) or any other type of criminal but, whether, he'd want to pass the book on to his girls is up to him and his spouse. (As grandparents, me and my wife will stay out of the decision.)

What is interesting is that, after least twenty seven years, after thousands of copies have been sold, after an entire generation of Malaysians have died, after a whole new one has come been born, it takes only one person to complain for the Ministry to jump.

Boy, talk about spectacular! This deserves kompang, bunga mawar and fireworks at the Lake Gardens, and a special award for the Minister. There must be a world record in there somewhere. This is the stuff of legends. Minister finds ‘dirty’ book in public after 27 years and bans it. Thre is a great message in there too: if you deal in smut, or pirated DVDs, or whatever, it will take the government 27 years to get you, but when they do you will be dead -- literally. In the meantime, do not call any government department; they will all be attending kursus.

Those who want to look at those naked pictures that got the complainant's knickers in a knot, try Google. Warning: you will be with confronted full frontal nudity and male/female genetalia as you have never seen before, all disguised as cartoons!

Another prominent book to be banned in recent times is Sebongkah Batu Di Kuala Berang by Faisal Tehrani. According to rumours the ban is from JAKIM, apparently, for daring to suggest that Islam in Malaysia was brought by Shia' clerics (but this is not confirmed)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Malaysia fails media trust barometer

I first read this story in the Malay Mail and, as an indication of how much I trust the Malaysian media, I had to look at the primary source. This is from the website: "The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer shows an overall decline in trust globally, with steep declines in the levels of trust in government and business. Government is now the least trusted institution–trailing business, media, and NGOs. Business experienced fewer and generally less severe declines in trust, but has its own hurdles to clear – notably that CEO credibility declined 38 percent, its biggest drop in Barometer history. For the fifth year in a row, NGOs are the most trusted institution."

The Edelman survey of 1000 participants in each country has, certainly, has come up with some strange results. That the majority in Malaysia (a newcomer to the survey) do not trust the media is not news, but I was surprised that 47% still do! What is surprising that in Singapore, 65% trust the media (an increase from 59% last year) and in Indonesia, 80% do (a decrease from 86% last year). What is even more surprising is that in China 79% trust their media, 1% less than 2011. (I guess the cynic would say that they still dare not speak the truth for fear of being reported; censorship works at all levels.) Still, Malaysia is in the red zone with Argentina, Australia, much of Europe, Japan, Korea, Russia and the USA. (We are in good company, it appears.) Canada and Italy are in the orange 'kumsi kumsa' range, while in the media in India, Brazil and Mexico are the most trusted.

The institution that is considered most untrustworthy is the Goverment. Even in that aspect, I was surprised to see that 49% of the respondents trust the Government of Malaysia to do the right thing, and only 24% do not trust them to tell the truth. In the case of businesses only 9% of Malaysians think they don't tell the truth. Boy, are we a naive bunch. We get what we deserve. Generally though, the NGOs come out looking quite good; they are trusted in most countries.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Beruas: one step closer to the Commonwealth Prize

The Beruas Prophecy "has made it through the first stage of the judging process for the Commonwealth Book Prize for best first book ..." said the email from the Commonwealth Foundation in London. The short list will be announced in May, the email said further.

The rules have changed this year. In previous years, there would be a Best Book and a Best First Book. This year there is only the Best First Book. Last year, books were shortlisted by regions and awarded the prize for the region with the winners going in for the final shortlist. We have no idea how it is going to happen this year, considering London appears to be handling all the judging this year. (In previous years, regional prizes were judged by the regional centres -- Australia in the case of the Asia-pacific zone of which Malaysia is a part of). The website does say, "There will be five winners, one from each region. The overall winner of the Commonwealth Book Prize will receive £10,000 and the remaining four regional winners £2,500." Apart from that there are few details.

Still, we are happy for Iskandar Al-Bakri. This is the third Silverfish Books title to make it to the next stage of judging for a major international award. In 2009, Ripples by Shih-Li Kow made it to the final shortlist for the Frank O'Connor Award; in 2010, 21 Immortals by Rozlan Mohd Noor was shortlisted for the Asia-Pacific Commonwealth Writer's Prize for the best first book, and in 2011, it is The Beruas Prophecy by Iskandar Al-Bakri. At Silverfish, we feel vindicated. We have always believed that Malaysians need not live overseas to become good writers. Considering the poor education system and the decades of marginlisation of English in the country, the success of these writers is outstanding. Congratulations to all of them; we know how hard they have worked. And to others aspiring to write, Silverfish will be here to assist you. All we ask is for you to be willing to work hard and take criticism. (Some talent helps, of course. But talent without effort is of no use to anyone.)

Now, let's go out and win something.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Silverfish Writing Programme

Registration for the next programme that will commence on Saturday, 4 February 2012, was opened in early December. As is usually the case, at this jucture, we are half full. There is always a last minute rush in the days before we close. The early bird discount of 10% ends on (including) 10 January 2012, so please hurry to avoid disappointment.

The world is full of stories. Humans are the strangest of all animals. We may miss meals (ask your teenager buried in a book or your aunt or mum hooked on a television soap) but not our stories. Even in famine stricken zones, while people wait for the food trucks to arrive, they tell one another stories to keep alive. In war zones, where life is in danger every single minute, people cannot resist telling stories. All religions have tons of stories that are constantly repeated. Stories are part of our very being, our claim to be human.

We are surrounded by stories every waking minute of the day. When we turn on our radio or television to listen to the news, or to watch a drama or sitcom or even a cooking show, when we open our newspapers or surf the net for news, when we go to the movies, to a dance, listen to a song, or look at a painting, when we go to the office, pitch a proposal to our boss, our clients, meet our co-workers when we relax over tea and gossip, or tell them about our day, or listen to their stories. When we read books, we read stories. And stories will make us laugh or cry or angry, and dozens of other things. We will love characters or we hate them. Good stories never leave us indifferent. We have a desperate need to tell stories in whatever form. That’s why some of us want to become writers. But what do publisher's want?


Create your own local hero

MobyLives reported recently: According to the Businessweek report: A (free downloadable barcode) app, called Price Check, allows shoppers to look up Amazon’s prices by scanning physical products at a store using their phones.

There is nothing wrong with comparative shopping, nor is there anything wrong with one store checking the price of goods in another (it happens all the time), but to pay one’s customers to spy on competition smells of sulphur. Does the app also allow information to be sent back to the mother ship? But that is Amazon, and that is America; can't see them getting away with it anywhere else in the world.

“MobyLives report found it interesting to observe that the survey in question meant brick-and-mortar bookstores were a crucial part of almost 40 percent of Amazon’s sales. We asked then what it would mean to Amazon shoppers, if those stores went out of business.” Talk about killing your golden goose. After books, what?

As a reaction to this (or it could be entirely coincidental), Publishing Perspectives had another story about an extension for Google Chrome that has been created by the owner of Marcus Bookstores, a small chain in San Francisco and Oakland, that warns customers each time they are about to shop at Amazon:

“When’s the last time Amazon brought one of your favorite writers in to read from her work — for free?

When’s the last time Amazon recommended a book based on your actual interests, not a bunch of data they’ve fashioned into a half-assed consumer profile of you? 

Sure, you might save a couple of bucks on this order, but what’s that compared to supporting local businesses, maintaining a local tax base, and buying your books from somebody who actually cares about books?”

Good luck, David. You sling shot is not going to be any good against a Goliath with nuclear bombs. Amazon is hell-bent on world domination, even if it destroys the entire planet. Books, schmooks.

If you really want to fight Goliath, read this: Indies battle Amazon — by becoming publishers. Are you up to becoming a 'creative intermediary'? That's what Silverfish Books did ten years ago. Get Amazon (and the other big boys) to sell your books and give you money. Promote your local small-town author! You'll be surprised how good some of them are.

Let 2012 be the new '1984' for the book industry.