John McKenzie (Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, NZ) interviews R. Ramachandran, Executive Director of the National Book Council of Singapore about the Asian Festival of Children’s Content 2014. John has attended and contributed to this festival for the last four years.

It is clear that you are passionate about books, story in an Asian context. What drives this passion? How did you begin your journey with books?

It all began when we were developing libraries in Singapore and the region. We were looking for books that would reflect Asian background, culture and tradition- materials that were set in Asia. To our disappointment we found very few of them and these few were difficult to acquire. We had to resort to American and British titles to stock our libraries. This is fine but if you want to promote and sustain reading and learning children should be exposed to material that is meaningful and relevant to their background. Hence, we started an Asian Writers and Illustrators Conference in 2000. After numerous editions of this conference we found that the number of books that was written was not increasing. We then decided to revamp the whole conference into a Festival and added the consumers – parents and teachers as well as the publishers and distributors. We brought the entire community along the content chain to the Festival. Changes took place. Then creators got together with the producers and new materials began to emerge.


What has been the high point for you in the last four years in organising AFCC? What story can you tell that really tells you that AFCC is so important and so rewarding for people who come?

AFCC is growing. Each year more and more people are attending it. The participants have a great time learning, sharing as well as discovering new titles and authors they have never known before. Besides AFCC provides a platform for talented writers and illustrators from different countries to cooperate and write books. Last year for instance, a story written by an Indian writer who is a resident in Singapore and an African illustrator who attended the AFCC in 2012, was launched. The rights of a Singapore children`s books were sold to an Indian publisher. Such examples are inspiring and indicate that AFCC does result in new content relevant to Asian children. This does not take into account the number of new manuscripts that are submitted for the awards held and increasing number of books launched during the ceremony. 


The focus country. Who are some of the keynote speakers from India that we can expect to hear from? What are some books produced in India so you think all people within Asia/Pacific should know about?

The Focus country for AFCC 2014 is India. India is such a large power in Asia and yet books by her authors are not readily available, beyond the subcontinent itself. There are two reasons for this. Indian publishers do not widely export their books and the readers beyond India are either not keen or are not exposed to Indian publications This is a chicken and egg question. Indian publishers do not promote and the quality of their content and wide range of good Indian authors are not made known to the rest of the world. AFCC through its focus on specific countries ( in 2012 and 2013 the focus were on Philippines and Malaysia respectively) hopes to introduce the authors and their books of specific countries to the rest of the Asians. The full list of writers, illustrators, editors and publishers from India has not been finalised but the following have confirmed their attendance:

1.Malavicka – Bilingual author from Chenai

2.Payal Dhar - Author

3.Sayoni Basu – Publisher and Editor

4.Sandhya, Prabhat – Author

5.Sampurna Chattarj – author

6.Tina Narang – Publisher

7. Ruskin Bond -Author

8. Arup Kumar Dutta - Author

9. Subir Shukla - Author

10. Atanu Roy - Ilustrator

11. Manjula Padmanabhan – illustrator

12. Radhika Meganathan - writer


India`s famous children`s writer Ruskin Bond and equally well known illustrator Atanu Roy are coming . We are expecting several more from India. Besides we have also invited the Indian Diaspora authors.. They are:


Mitali Perkins - author USA

Rina Singh – author - Canada

Mahtab Narsimhan – author - Canada

Kamini Ramachandran - Storyteller - Singapore

Pooja Makhijani – author – USA

Saad Chinoy – It expert - Singapore


Hence, the representation from India this year would be strong.One of the main objectives of AFCC is for Asian publishers and writers to become familiar with each other. We hope through this meeting that they will be buying rights from each other. Currently the Asian publishers go to Book Fairs in the West to buy rights from them. Very few Westerners buy rights from Asia. At AFCC we facilitate the intra - Asian book trade that is sadly lacking. The AFCC manages the Media Mart and Book Fair as well as the Rights Exchange where such businesses are transacted.


How important is it for people to attend and contribute to the different strands of the festival? Would parents or artists find the teacher strand helpful?

Participants should attend the entire Festival as each track is relevant. A writer must know what the teacher and parents are looking for and the teacher needs to know what is being written and by whom so that they can use them at school and at home. Both the teacher and the parent is introduced to a vast array of materials available and how they can be introduced to the child. Illustrators show how important visual communication is for children. In addition the last day of AFCC IS devoted to publishers and producers who are looking for content. Anyone with a manuscript would be able to meet a supportive and appreciative publisher who might offer a deal to the writer with an interesting manuscript.


How important is AFCC for professional people who work across different media? What comments or feedback have been made by past contributors who are specialists in film, television and technology?

AFCC is for everyone dealing with children`s content. As children are media-savy print content must appear in different platforms and different media to reach them. A story must migrate and AFCC brings together people with stories and those with expertise, technology and funds. Such a gathering of experts would help to bring material from one media to the other. Adeline Foo`s book “Diary of Amos Lee” was adapted into a ten part television series. Sometimes a story leapfrogs print to appear in films or online on new media before it is made into a book A good example is the Raymond Tan`s movie “Wa Is For Wayang” which is now being published as a book.


How important is AFCC for teachers who work within different national educational systems? What nationality would you really like to see come and contribute?

Teachers are key and in many ways they are most often ignorant of what is being published. AFCC, therefore, exposes them to the newer material as they are published. The standard of development of countries is irrelevant as AFCC focuses on print as well as the electronic media. At whatever stage of development the country is in, her teachers and writers would find AFCC relevant. It is because we provide for a wide spectrum of delegates coming from different countries who have different interests and concerns that we have a maximum of 5 concurrent session spread out over four days. All in, we would have 40 sessions conducted by 80 different experts. The AFCC is nationality blind. We are interested in Asian Content. Anyone who is able to develop Asian content is welcome to share their experience and expertise with us.


Your vision for the future. If you could wave a magic wand, what would AFCC look like in 5 years’ time?

A Festival that embraces and inspires children, young adults and those developing Asian content for them to come together for four days with the sole purpose of learning and sharing their interest in Asian Content and discovering ways to make them readily and easily available. To help the Asian Content spread and multiply faster we would like to establish a translation forum as part of AFCC. In five year`s time I hope to see Asian books dominating the libraries, the bookshops and the reading lists of children and young people in Asia. 


What are you personally most looking forward to in AFCC 2014?

I would like to see AFCC self - supporting in 2014. To do so AFCC must develop a model that brings in revenues. I am not in favour of sponsorships and donations with strings attached as they will compromise the objectives of the Festival. At this point one quarter of the funding is derived from registration. The rest is from grants and assistance from different institutions and people. We need to raise the number of delegates registering for AFCC to contribute half of the funds required to manage AFCC. The other half of the funds could come from Media Mart and Book Fair, The Rights Exchange, advertisements and merchandising. These three aspects of the Festival that is in its infancy would be developed to its full potential. We hope to begin this process from AFCC 2014 onwards and this will set the stage for the Festival to develop into the Bologna of the East. 

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