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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Of which there were plenty.

I don't know if you heard them all, but I sure heard a lot. So, in the honour of the critic here goes:

Q : Why was there no publicity?

Really? Over, the past couple of years, I've amassed a contact list of over 300 names, many of whom profess to love books. I emailed every one of them. Out of that long list, I could count the numbers who showed up at my sessions. It doesn't go beyond three fingertips. But that's just me.

There were plenty of blog posts, on this blog alone. Apart from that, Off The Shelf (the television show) had been highlighting authors and events since the first week of November.

The National Arts Council and The Arts House had been actively networking with like minded groups way before that. On a weekend, if you did a reading, you could count on Michelle, Yi Lyn and Phang Ming Yen to show up, record their appreciation and show their support. Several meetings were held in the run-up to the festival (I was part of some of them) and a diversity of views is what Crossings set out to accomplish and in my view it did.

In addition to that, there were the pre-event pressers, pre-event stories, information on the net. I spotted the shocking pink copy of Crossings at several coffee places including my favourite McDonalds at West Coast Park. Yes, the news may not have been everywhere but is being everywhere always possible?

Q : Where were the people?
There were over 70 people at the Professional Symposium 'The Business of Books' seminar, The Chamber filled up when Jung Chang spoke. Entrance into The Blue Room was next to impossible when Chinese poet Bei Dao's session was on. Elmo Jayawardena's book launch was packed too. Considering it was on a Saturday evening, it went to show people were interested. While Rainbows in Braille was being launched A Samad Said and Az Samad were 'Tuning Into Test' and a literary dinner with Jung Chang was on at the restaurant 1827. Literary festivals are always about tough choices and if at some sessions it seemed there were too few in attendance, its often because the audience is:
a) taking a break
b) deciding to attend the next one
c) flitting between sessions (I'm guilty of that. Always want to fit in as much as I can and it isn't always possible)
I'm sure official figures will be out soon though on the whole I'd say the festival was well attended.

Weren't the organisers too ambitious?

Would you like it any other way? A diversity of voices was what it hoped to present and it did that. Over the course of 9 days I'd gone from hearing writers like Tan Twan Eng, Gail Simone, Philip Jeyaretnam, Goh Poh Seng, Daren Shiau, David Davidar, Kunal Basu, Madhur Jaffrey, met a host of bloggers, learnt so much more about publishing and am still wishing there was time for more.

Yes, there will always be room for improvement. And I can assure that if you wrote in, your voice will be counted. But, please just for a moment, do acknowledge the effort that has gone in to make the Singapore Writers Festival a success.

I say this not because I was a part of it, I say it because I run a little reading group and I can tell you from experience that even putting together one author reading takes a lot. But when the people show up and leave the room with a smile on their face, you know you'll put yourself through it once more.

Having said that, one always knows there is room for improvement. Over the three years, that I've been actively involved in literary festivals, I've learnt from many of my mistakes. I have been helped along the way by great writers, great readers and people who simply walk up to me and offer advice. I always have my little note pad, I write it down and I always listen.

After spending time with the organisers of the Singapore Writers Festival, I know they will too. Here goes:
1) I'd like to see it as an annual festival to sustain the momentum. I'm sure some writers have left unhappy, but an equal number would have left happy. It is to those one needs to turn to, in a bid to grow the numbers of readers, writers and listeners.
2) More Partnerships: While this has been done rather well in the Singapore context, the festival now needs to look at forging deeper partnerships in the region and beyond. For instance, the Ubud Writers Festival benefits greatly from Janet de Neefe's presence in the Australian Literary Festival scene. It is such partnerships that the SWF needs to look at as it grows into the next level.
3) Official Media: Greater use of the official media. More pre-event stories, more coverage during the festival and after that too.
4) New Media: It's there, it's for all to use and imagination is all that's needed to ride on it.
5) The Website: No fancy features, just a simple and easy to navigate website would do. The Galle Literary Festival has a slick site and can provide some online ideas.

With that, I shall rest my case and look forward to being a part of the next festival, whenever it happens.