Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Christopher MacLehose --Editor/publisher extraordinaire

I smiled when I saw Christopher MacLehose’s photograph with his Hungarian dog when I was reading the story, Christopher MacLehose: A life in publishing, in Guardian Online. That’s the way I remember him, proper in every way, a tall gangly teenager full of enthusiasm who had grown up to become a tall and gangly adult full of enthusiasm.

I met him in Sharjah during the book fair. I was in the hotel room looking through the list of other attendees to the ‘rights’ sessions when I saw his name. (I had received the list in KL earlier but I hadn’t had the time.)

MacLehose was the name I had associated with the Harvill Press (which he acquired in a management buyout in 1995), that wonderful independent publishing house that introduced me (and several other Silverfish regulars) to José Saramago, Haruki Murakami, Claudio Magris, Javier Marías, Giuseppe Lampedusa, Mikhaíl Bulgakov and Raymond Carver, amongst others (some of whom are household names, now). I would buy books by imprints in the nineties, and it was during one of my trips to India that I discovered the Harvill Press. I was fascinated by the range of authors and bought every title with a line drawing of a tiny panther on the spine.

I became fascinated with the publisher/editor and Harvill became one of the inspirations for Silverfish Books, not so much for books in translations but for books of quality; one could pick up a Harvill and not be disappointed. Harvill became my vision for Silverfish Books. And with MacLehose in Sharjah, and staying in the same hotel, I felt like a schoolgirl with a crush.

I wondered if I should talk to him. If truth be told, I find celebrity authors quite insufferable and generally avoid them -- whether they are world-class writers or not, I’m not interested in them defacing my book by signing them -- and I expected Maclehose to be the same (quite unfairly). I saw him during tea, after a session, talking to some people. (We all wore name tags, so I could identify him). Something about him made me drop my guard and approach him, and I was glad I did. It was like he was genuinely glad to meet and chat with me, and this went on for much longer than I had expected. He sounded a little bitter about the sale of Harvill to Random House -- "... it was not my idea" -- and of his life in the Random House wilderness, but was glad to have founded the MacLehose Press, and continue where he’d left off. He asked to see some of Silverfish’s books and to keep in touch. (We talked more during bus rides later.) He was totally down to earth.

Many people might know the MacLehose Press  as the one that published Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’m certainly not one who’s interested in hero-worship or vicarious living, but if anyone comes high in my esteem, it’s Maclehose, for sticking to his guns, and introducing such wonderful and exciting authors and books to the boring, mind-numbing bookshelves of Anglophone readers, and for being such a staunch independent.

I’d like us to be that with Malaysian readers one day – pick up any Silverfish Book for a guaranteed good read. Books that make you feel more intelligent after you have read them.

Silverfish Writing Programme

Limited places still available for this programme

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.


1-Day Children's writing programme

Limited places still available for this children's writing programme

Date: Saturday, 26th Jan 2013
Time: 10am-5pm (with a one-hr lunch break)
Place: Silverfish Books, 28-1 Jalan Telawi, Bangsar Baru, 59100 Kuala Lumpur
Fee: RM300 inclusive of all course materials.
Registration: Online (link) or at Silverfish books (Tel: 603-22844837, email:
Facilitator: Daphne Lee

Participants may also submit one manuscript per person for evaluation (which will be delivered via email not more than one month after the date of the course).

This 6-hr session is based on the many questions I receive from aspiring authors and illustrators who wish to create books for young readers, amongst them

    What should a children’s book be about?
    How many words are there in a children’s book?
    Should I write a picture book or storybook?
    Should I use difficult words in my story?
    Should I write in rhyme?
    Are there subjects I should avoid when writing a picture book/story book?
    What’s the difference between a picture book and illustrated book?
    What are the pictures in a children’s book for?
    What is a picture sequence and why is it important?
    Who will publish my book?

These and other questions will be answered and discussed with the aim of shedding some light on the art and science of writing and illustrating for children.

In this session, participants will also …

    Read and evaluate published and unpublished texts and picture book art.
    Learn the basics of creating good picture books/story books, including the fundamentals of planning plots, writing dialogue, creating characters, establishing a voice and deciding on Point of View.
    Be introduced to an interesting and wide range of picture books and story books.