Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The story behind the book

When I joined Mark on the National Museum of Singapore project in 2006, one thing that kept hitting us, as we waded through mounds of notes, interviews, audio clips and TV archives, was how there were all these dramatic and gripping stories that didn't seem to have been given due recognition as part of Singapore history. There were intriguing personalities from Munshi Abdullah, the Jawi Peranakan scribe from Melaka who recorded his impressions of early Singapore, to Mrs Seow Peck Leng, one of Singapore's first woman Parliamentarians – yet none of these people had become household names. Singapore history still meant the 'great men of history', such as Sir Stamford Raffles and Lee Kuan Yew, who loomed large in the popular imagination, and on the shelves and covers in any Singapore section of a bookstore.

So while we were pleased with what became the Singapore History Gallery of the National Museum, we were all too aware that there were numerous pieces of Singapore history left, as it were, on the cutting room floor. What better format, then, than a book – one that could be long enough to give some heft to the Singapore story, yet also punchy enough to keep a modern reader happy? Something, Mark and I envisioned, that would bring out the drama and spirit of the stories that had excited us in the first place – a work of popular history, but most definitely not a textbook.

Thus was born the book project that became Singapore: A Biography, which the National Museum is publishing in Singapore with Editions Didier Millet. Two years of writing, rewriting, additional research and rethinking later, we think we've come up with a narrative that raises a new babble of voices alongside the ones that most people already know. Good scholarship underpins our efforts, but this is a book that packs in much more as well.

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