New tales, old hands - Nov 24, 2008 (ST)

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The Straits Times / The Business Times News On SPH

New tales, old hands

Bumper crop of children's books launches Straits Times Press, a new company staffed by veterans.

By Stephanie Yap
Nov 24, 2008
The Straits Times

What better way to launch a new publishing house than with new books by new authors?

The Straits Times Press (STPress), Singapore Press Holdings' (SPH) new book publishing business, is releasing nine children's books - its first titles since it was established in September.

These maiden releases, mostly picture books, are published under the First Time Writers And Illustrators Publishing Initiative 2008, an annual grant scheme by the Media Development Authority and National Book Development Council to nurture fresh Singapore talent.

Though the initiative is into its third year, this is the first time a single publisher has been awarded the contract to publish all the books. Previously, authors were required to find their own publishers or to self-publish.

STPress has also been appointed the publisher for next year's initiative.

Says the book council's executive director, Mr R. Ramachandran: 'The programme guides and mentors the writer and channels the manuscript through the editorial process until publication. Hence, the publisher must have a dedicated and talented editorial team.

'STPress has this as well as the capacity to distribute the published works internationally.'

Although STPress is new, four members of the six-strong editorial and design team have worked together for nearly two decades.

They are executive director Shirley Hew, publishing manager Shova Loh, creative director Tuck Loong and marketing/operations manager Clara Wong. The quartet joined STPress from SNP International Publishing (SNPIP), the book publishing arm of SNP Corporation, formerly Singapore National Printers.

SPH has also bought the now- defunct SNPIP's contracts and intellectual property rights.

This includes a backlist of more than 100 books, including the box-set Great Singapore Stories: Founding Fathers by The New Paper and history book Hua Song: Stories Of The Chinese Diaspora (2005) by Suchen Christine Lim, which has also been co-published in the United States.

Going further back, Ms Hew and her three former colleagues from SNPIP first met in the 1980s at Times Publishing, which was part of SPH until 1989, when it broke off to become a separate listed company as SPH wanted to focus on newspaper publishing.

In 2002, Ms Hew left Times Publishing to join SNP and the three others soon followed.

'We were homing to the mothership,' says Mr Loong, 53, with a laugh.

Then, more seriously, he adds: 'We are like a family. We fight but we also work well with people whom we are familiar and comfortable with.'

And things sure have got a whole lot more familiar. Says Ms Hew of returning to the SPH fold: 'It is like a homecoming of sorts. I meet people along the corridor and they say, 'Oh, Shirley, welcome home.' '

She is pleased that the children's books, which her team began working on at the start of this year while with SNPIP, are the first be published under the Straits Times Press name.

One first-time author who benefited from the STPress team's experience is Ms Linda Yew, 29, a secondary school English and literature teacher who wrote and illustrated 10 Sleepless Sheep For Woolly Nights, which features rhymes and 16 watercolour illustrations.

'They kept in touch with us all the while via e-mail. We were guided very closely,' she says.

Speaking about her book, she adds: 'It is always a joy to bring words and pictures together. I have a lot of students who don't really enjoy reading but they are very engaged once they see something colourful.'

Meanwhile, the STPress team is hard at work on next year's catalogue, which will include more children's books, biographies, business books, reference books and general lifestyle titles.

Says Ms Wong, 55: 'We all love books - that is the main thing.'