Personal tales in print

Personal tales in print
Participants at a memoir-writing session held at The Arts House.

From Ram Puneet Tiwary's sensational account of his trial for murder and eventual acquittal to celebrity fashion director Daniel Boey's upcoming autobiography, a wide variety of Singaporeans are putting their life stories into print.

Three of the five books in the Singapore Literature Prize's inaugural English non- fiction category this year are not political or academic texts but memoirs.

They are Kampong Boy by controversial lawyer M. Ravi; Gotong Royong by full-time writer Josephine Chia, which chronicles her childhood in Potong Pasir; and The Mango Tree by heritage and research consultant Hidayah Amin, which is also a picture book for children. The winner in the category will be announced next month.

Local publishers have brought out at least a dozen autobiographies this year with another lot slated for Singapore's 50th birthday next year.

While publishers often have to coax celebrities to tell all in print, the average person on the street is apparently racing to set down his or her story.

Memoir-writing workshops are popular - 293 people attended the two-day Auto/Biography forum at The Arts House in August with a dozen aged 40 to 82 signing up for a further eight-week intensive course on how to pen their life stories.

Publisher Peter Schoppert of NUS Press says he receives about 15 proposals a year from writers of memoirs or biographies.

He publishes those of historical or academic interest, ranging from a reprint of a 17th-century memoir from a Flemish gem trader who spent time in what is now Singapore (The Memoirs And Memorials Of Jacques De Coutre, 2014) to noise engineer Tan Kok Yang's memoir of growing up in Queenstown (From The Blue Windows, 2013, Chinese translation out next year from Equatorial Wind Publishing House).

Mr Schoppert says: "It's the first draft of history, good raw material for academics."

Publisher Violet Phoon of Marshall Cavendish says: "People who reach a certain stage in their lives or career want to tell their story."

The publishing house is bringing out a bumper crop of Singapore stories this quarter, including Catherine Lim's just-launched Roll Out The Champagne, Singapore!, the novelist's memories of life in Singapore after she moved here from Kedah 46 years ago; as well as the books of Boey, magician Ning Cai - better known as Magic Babe Ning - and primary school teacher Ravindran Kanna.

Boey's The Book Of Daniel, to be launched on Nov 1 at the Singapore Writers Festival, is more a record of big names and agencies in the local fashion scene, spiced with a few personal nuggets. "I didn't want it to be just about me, but also about the industry that shaped me," says Boey, 49.

Readers learn why people call him a "diva" - he has thrown a headset at someone in fury and his signature phrase is "take your bag and f*** off" - and that he battled a terrible skin rash while his face was beamed live to thousands as a judge on reality TV show Asia's Next Top Model.

It was also the fashion industry which gave birth to Singapore's first best- selling celebrity tell-all: Bonny Hicks' Excuse Me, Are You A Model? in 1990. The first print run of 12,000 sold out in three days, as readers tutted over her forthright talk about romances with men and one woman, photographer Pat Chan.

Sales rose again after Hicks' tragic death in the 1997 SilkAir crash. Publisher Alex Chacko says the book has sold 50,000 copies in its lifetime, which is outstanding for a local adult non-fiction title not featuring Lee Kuan Yew.

Books written by or about the statesman sell in the tens of thousands, but for all other titles, 2,000 copies count as bestsellers, say Singapore distributors.

Celebrity tell-alls remain rare - the last was perhaps radio host Vernetta Lopez's Memoirs Of A DJ (2012, Marshall Cavendish), which gave details of the break-up of her marriage to fellow DJ Mark Richmond. The book was on The Straits Times bestseller list for two full months after its release, but books about the seamier side of life are a perennial draw.

Tiwary's 99 Months, his account of the 2003 murders of his two housemates in Sydney, and his own subsequent conviction, re-trial and acquittal, has been on The Straits Times bestseller list since it was released late last month.

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