Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Ng Kah Gay
By Yeow Kai Chai
For two decades, Ethos Books is among a handful of Singaporean publishers credited for nurturing homegrown writers and cultivating a nascent but certainly growing literary scene.
In the past couple of years, Ng Kah Gay has taken over day-to-day operations of the publishing house from founder-publisher Fong Hoe Fang. A graduate from the University of Leeds studying English Language and Literature, Ng did a two-month stint at farming collective Bollywood Veggies before Ethos Books and after Victoria Junior College where he taught General Paper, English literature, and Language Arts for a total of eight years.
As associate publisher at Ethos, Ng is steering a young and dynamic crew, streamlining production and focusing their energies on new initiatives. Their efforts are paying off: This year, five of their titles are in the shortlist for the biennial Singapore Literature Prize: namely, three poetry collections, Phedra by Euginia Tan; Bitter Punch by Loh Guan Liang; and Giving Ground by Theophilus Kwek; and two creative non-fiction books, 17A Keong Saik Road by Charmaine Leung; and The Magic Circle by Charmaine Chan.
Top of its 2018 agenda is the launch of orbit, a new series as part of Ethos's 21st anniversary celebration. Labelled 'orbit by ethos books', it aims to launch fresh and different works of any genre that may not meet the conventions of a full-length work in breadth, but whose concerns orbit the heart of being and can stand as they are. Packaged in a handy, physical format, the books in this series seek to travel, and are read in the span of a train ride.
Together with Fong, Ng is also working on ahope, a publishing platform for independent authors and publishers. They envision the publication of a bestseller by ahope in the year 2020.
1) What are you reading right now?
2) If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, what would you be and why?
3) What is the greatest misconception about you?
4) Name one living writer and one dead writer you most identify with, and tell us why.
I first encountered Anonymous in Touched with Fire, a poetry anthology with wild poems like "Cold in the earth" by Emily Brontλ. But there was something about Anonymous prolific, irrecoverable and extant that exerted an elusory hold.
5) Name one classic novel in either the Western or Asian literary canon you wish you had published and tell us why.
6) Name one contemporary Singaporean title you wish you had published and tell us why.
7) What qualities do you most admire in a writer?
8) What is one trait you most deplore in writing or writers?
9) If you could only give a piece of advice to an aspiring writer, what would it be?
10) Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I...
11) At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy or an action thriller to watch, which would you go for?
12) If (or when) you write a book, what would it be?
13) What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
14) What is the one thing you would like to change most about the Singaporean literary scene?
15) As a publisher, you must be faced with a pile of manuscripts every day. What makes a manuscript appeal to you? What are the do's and don'ts when it comes to submissions?
Do's and don'ts? Have a look at this
16) If you have a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
17) What would you write on your own tombstone?