You worked with the writers from the Singapore side of this collaboration on the story each of them submitted, but working with us, and with Ethos, two independent publishers, has meant that you have been involved in small and large ways across the whole publication. Tell us a bit about your role as Editor for In This Desert, There Were Seeds.
As the Singaporean editor I drafted the open call and clarified the themes for the Singapore writers. We were looking for stories that gave hope in this increasingly changing, anxious and despairing world. I read over ninety-five stories to determine a final list of ten for the collection.
I had hoped for a story about a quokka and mouse-deer hybrid paddling with steampunk dolphins at Monkey Mia. I was disappointed but very pleased with the quality and creativity of the final ten Singapore stories selected.
Initially I had two concerns about the editorial process: first, that the collection would be too bleak and nihilistic. Thankfully, we were fortunate to find many stories where the writers addressed the themes of change, courage and hope in provocative and stimulating ways. The editorial approach in Singapore was very much a team effort with lots of conversations about stories with Suning Kum and her team from Ethos Books.
My second initial fear was that the stories from Western Australia and Singapore would lack the necessary coherence for a good anthology. Thanks also to Elizabeth Tan and the Margaret River Press team, we were all surprised how well the stories—although diverse in style and language—resonated and spoke to each other.
As editor, I also had the pleasure to work with Elizabeth on the order of the stories and the introduction. Elizabeth was a pleasure to work with and generously led the way.
What are the difficulties of editing another writer’s work? What makes the work worthwhile?
I think the challenge is to try and bring out the best in each story without imposing your own ideas. It’s therefore important to discern the writer’s intention with their text and be aware of one’s own unconscious biases and preferences. It’s ideal to engage in a dialogue to be clear about the reasons for suggested changes and revisions. Every text benefits from a good editor and writer relationship.
What makes the work worthwhile are the stories.
What have you learned from the 20 stories featured in this collection?
Good fiction surprises you. I am constantly reminded of the power of stories to build meaning and connection amidst chaos and incoherence.
What have you noticed come out of this collaboration—out of the specifics of a Western Australian publisher and a Singaporean Publisher working together? What might it indicate about international collaborations?
Everything depends on the competence, spirit and attitude of the teams and individuals involved. We were blessed with all these and outstanding writers on In This Desert, There Were Seeds.
I think this collaboration shows huge potential for more anthologies on the big global cultural issues of identity, trans-national and trans-cultural diversity. This collaboration shows the best prose is specific and local, but also speaks—almost effortlessly in effect—to higher human values transcending and resolving boundaries.
Finally, what would you share with prospective readers of this collection?
The world is increasingly splintering between those who want to protect a false purity and simplicity of identity—nativists who want to police borders and marginalise ‘others’—and those who understand there is power and joy in the mix.
I am very thankful to play a small part in In This Desert, There Were Seeds—an anthology of light in not a little darkness.
To learn more about In This Desert, There Were Seeds read 5 Questions with Elizabeth Tan—Jon’s co-editor.
Jon Gresham is a writer and photographer. He has lived in Singapore and Thailand for the last 20 years. Jon’s debut collection of short stories, We Rose Up Slowly, was published by Math Paper Press in 2015. Jon is a co-founder of the Singaporean literary community, Sing Lit Station. He leads the Writing the City Creative Writing Workshops at Toa Payoh Library. His writing has appeared in various anthologies and literary journals