While criss-crossing from one side of this small island to the other, there’s a building I often see which has a single word emblazoned on its side in giant illuminated letters: CREATE*.
This is a snapshot of Singapore. Ever since Sir Stamford Raffles peered up the Singapore river in 1819 and thought, “Hmm, free trade? That could catch on!”, the city-state has been a boom town.
While the drive to create has long been focused on business and science, a recent concern with fostering creative thinking has led to a boom in the arts. As always, Singapore puts its money where its mouth is: this year’s inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize paid out S$20,000 (USD15,000) to winning Singaporean author O Thiam Chin, the Singapore Writers Festival has positioned the country as a regional literary hub, and the National Arts Council supports projects that would otherwise prove uncommercial in Singapore’s relatively small domestic market.
While SWAG may not have an invitation to this financial banquet, the morsels tumbling from the table put the fire in our bellies to start a magazine: all this zeal for the arts means there are so many literary events going on in Singapore—workshops, book launches, critique groups—how can a writer keep across it all?
My lightbulb moment: an online events calendar that incorporates all the disparate venues and groups would benefit the writing community. A quarterly magazine would allow me to potter about and speak to interesting people. I could even dust off my old BBC microphone and podcast my interviews.
My colleagues at the Singapore Writers Group (900+ members and counting) were supportive and funded the new website. The name SWAG came to mind, partly as a grateful nod to SWG, and also because I like the idea of literary loot; the magazine is a curious collection of our begged, stolen and borrowed riches.
I also reached out to Jill and Libby (The Woolf’s co-founders), having followed The Woolf’s tracks long after leaving Zürich. Their enthusiasm was energising and, perhaps more importantly, their practical advice made the project feel achievable. Like The Woolf, SWAG will be quarterly, themed, rangy.
Image courtesy Swag Literary Journal
The first edition is about BEGINNINGS. As well as interviews with two very different Singapore-focused writers, we have an in-depth feature on three ways to get started in publishing. We look at Late Starters – writers who bloom after 50. And Singapore’s publishing houses also forecast the literary weather for 2016.
And we’re running new fiction: submissions are open to all, though we prioritise pieces that have some connection (however oblique) to Singapore. I’m also open to being told what to do—events or editorial—all contributions are welcome.
* CREATE is really the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise at the National University of Singapore, in case you were wondering.