The world’s largest trade publisher, Penguin Random House, will be entering South-East Asia with a bang this year by putting out close to 100 titles.

Its new South-East Asian publishing arm, headquartered in Singapore, launched on Feb 15 its inaugural catalogue of 93 titles, which features writers from 10 countries in the genres of fiction, non-fiction, children’s and learning.

These include books by Singapore-based authors, among them an otherworldly urban murder mystery by Krishna Udayasankar, a short story collection on diaspora by Elaine Chiew and a light-hearted comic novel on Bishan beauty parlours by journalist Akshita Nanda.

From elsewhere in the region, there are titles by best-selling Indonesian novelist Laksmi Pamuntjak; Indian writer Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, who won the British Betty Trask Award for debut novels; and Filipino journalist Rene Acosta, who has written about the war on terror in the Philippines.

Penguin Random House India and South-East Asia (SEA) chief executive Gaurav Shrinagesh, 48, said that Singapore was chosen as the venture’s headquarters because geographically, it is “perfectly placed to access the region”.

Other draws, he added, include its evolved book market and infrastructure, such as the National Arts Council’s Singapore Writers Festival, awards such as the Singapore Literature Prize and even the fledgling #BuySingLit movement, which supports Singaporean writing.

Over the next few years, Penguin Random House SEA aims to build a catalogue of about 500 titles. While the titles it is publishing so far are in English, it is also looking at translating works into other languages.

“We want to provide authors a platform to engage with a larger readership within the Asian community and potentially look at how to give them voices internationally,” he said.

The Singapore office is fronted by executive editor Nora Nazerene Abu Bakar, 41, who has 13 years of publishing experience with publishers such as Marshall Cavendish Education.

She said she receives between three and six manuscripts a week and looks in particular for stories with a South-East Asian context.

Some prominent themes in the works she has selected include war and diaspora, as well as cause-driven stories for children.

Singaporean children’s author Don Bosco, 47, who will be publishing interactive thriller series Last Kid Running with Penguin Random House SEA, said: “It seriously feels like a giant alien spaceship has suddenly appeared, zapped me up and inserted me into an unbelievable new reality.

“Last year, I was making up stories for Singapore readers. This year, I’m making up stories for readers across South-East Asia and the world.”

Among the debut writers picked was Singapore-based South Korean Sun Jung, 46, whose novel Bukit Brown was inspired by the stories of the immigrants buried in Bukit Brown cemetery.

In her novel, a Korean woman in cosmopolitan Singapore travels back in time to 19th-century British Malaya.

She said: “I hope a wider group of readers beyond the region will acknowledge and appreciate the hard lives of early – and indeed current – migrant workers in this region and further afield.” — The Straits Times/Asia News Network