Interviews

Jessica Kusuma on designing covers that evoke emotion — Singapore Lit Prize feature July 11, 2018 17:40

This July 2018, in light of the biennial Singapore Literature Prize (SLP), we’ll be featuring our writers who’ve had their works shortlisted for the SLP 2018! Ethos is proud to have five titles on the shortlist this year—Phedra, 17A Keong Saik Road, Bitter Punch, The Magic Circle and Giving Ground—and beyond the SLP, we’re most interested to find out what went into the creative process behind these books.

A good cover catches the eye, compels you to pick up a book in a busy bookstore, and often gives a unique take on the story. Throughout this series of 'Judging a Book By Its Cover', we discover books through their cover designs.

This week, we have Jessica Kusuma, the cover designer of 17A Keong Saik Road. Read on to find out about her design inspirations and the food item that best represents her art style!

"For book covers, you have one image to give people a glimpse into your story and evoke an emotion."  - Jessica Kusuma 

What is design to you and what mediums are you drawn to?

Design to me is an art of solving problems. It is not just about making things look beautiful. There should be a purpose. I like to create designs that are meaningful and have an idea behind it. It makes it much more interesting.

I’m a graphic designer so I mainly work in digital. But I always start with manual sketching. I still practice calligraphy and try to incorporate hand-drawn illustrations to my work any chance I get. I also love photography.

Describe your creative design process.

First, I listen to the clients/brief and try to understand their vision and goals. Usually, during this exercise, I will have a certain vision in my head where I think the art direction should go. I then do my research and find inspiration images to piece the vision together. I get inspired by anything around me, it could be music, movies, pictures, food, nature or even random conversation. Once I gather enough inspirations and thoughts, I start designing.

What do you do when you hit a design roadblock?

I simply take a break from the project and come back to it the next day. That helps me see things in better perspective.

If you could describe your art style with one food item what would it be and why?

Hmmm, this is a tough one but I would say chocolate lava cake. It looks appetizing from the outside alone but the burst of gooey chocolate inside is what makes the cake. The lava represents the concept & design thinking which makes the whole cake even better.

On book design, what was your main inspiration for the cover design of 17A Keong Saik Road?

For this cover, I play with the idea of looking into the past with courage. The author decided to tell a story that she had kept for years. So the action of tearing a paper is a representation of her courage. The image of Keong Saik Street on the cover was presented in a brighter and colourful way, as a symbol of her making peace with her past.

I wanted a nostalgic element but with a brighter and cheerful note. That’s why I used hand torn paper elements in the design, paired with handwritten typography for the title.

If you could use just three words, how would you describe the stories in 17A Keong Saik Road?

Courageous. Inspirational. Emotional.

What do you think is the difference in designing covers for books as compared to other creative projects?

For book covers, you have one image to give people a glimpse into your story and evoke an emotion. People have a very short attention span so the challenge is to make their eyes stop while scanning through shelves and shelves of books.

With the advent of e-books and digital platforms, some say that book covers are increasingly taking a back seat. How do you think book cover designs can evolve with this trend?

I don’t see any problems. You still need a cover to entice people to buy the e-books. I believe images play a big role in our day to day decision to purchase anything. But in the future perhaps animated covers could be a thing.

If you could design a cover for any book in the future, what would that book be about?

Not anything in particular but I would love to work on design books as that’s what I’m passionate about.

Do check out Jessica's latest artistic work for Chinatown Crossings.

If you loved this article about the cover design of 17A Keong Saik Road, why not participate in this contest and vote for 17A Keong Saik Road as your favourite cover design for SLP! Stand a chance to win a copy of the book as well!

17A Keong Saik Road is available on our webstore, and in all good bookstores.

P.S. For the first time and in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Singapore Book Council, the public is invited to attend the SLP awards ceremony. Come meet your favourite authors! Free registration here


Charmaine Leung on how writing helped her re-connect with her past — Singapore Lit Prize feature July 10, 2018 11:30 1 Comment

This July 2018, in light of the biennial Singapore Literature Prize (SLP), we’ll be featuring our writers who’ve had their works shortlisted for the SLP 2018! Ethos is proud to have five titles on the shortlist this year—Phedra, 17A Keong Saik Road, Bitter Punch, The Magic Circle and Giving Ground—and beyond the SLP, we’re most interested to find out what went into the creative process behind these books.

Next on our list, we're thrilled to have Charmaine Leung, author of 17A Keong Saik Road. Find out about her love for Marmite as a beverage and why she wants to continue writing about the stories of Ma Je.

Hear Charmaine read her favourite excerpt from 17A Keong Saik Road.

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"The cause of sadness in my life was always my unhealed memories of the past. It is in learning to forgive and accept my past—my identity as a madame’s daughter, the lack of normality in my life, my inadequacies—that I could unfetter its hold on me, and begin to see what a unique and blessed life I have had. I had the opportunity to witness what most could not see, and experience what most could not imagine. Utopia was really in how I chose to perceive life, it did not exist in a tangible form. Even if my so-called utopia had been achieved, the fulfilment would be fleeting, because I would always dream up another paradise to go after. It would be a never-ending pursuit of something I probably already possessed, but did not appreciate. The utopia that I craved had always been in my own hands—something I could enjoy if I had chosen to seize it. The essence was not in how much fuller life could be, but in how I embraced the life that I already had." —17A Keong Saik Road

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Tell us more about this excerpt! Why is it your favourite and what is its significance? Do you remember how you felt when you wrote it?

This is one of my favourite excerpts from the book because it is essentially a reflection of my own journey of growth. It’s a reminder to myself that we are only limited by the capacity of our own minds. It is through acknowledging and coming to terms with the shackles that we place on ourselves that we can set ourselves free to explore life—I remember feeling enlightened and liberated as I penned those words.

Have you always known that you would write your memoir or was there a particular moment that made you go, “Yes, I need to write this book!”?

I’ve always wanted to keep a record of the stories that took place in the family—a collection of interesting incidents for us to be aware that we had such unique encounters. But I did not particularly think I was going to write a memoir, or even publish it. It was when I shared some of these stories with my best friend that she encouraged me to write a book.

There are very intimate and vivid details of your childhood and the Keong Saik area in 17A Keong Saik Road! Did these recollections come to you easily as you were writing your book?

I started journaling since I was a teenager. As I was preparing to write 17A Keong Saik Road, I read through all the journals that I had accumulated. That helped me to re-connect with a lot of the past as well as my feelings. I also had several conversations with Je Je and the Yim Hong character in the book and these provided more details as well as context for the book.

What do you think readers have found most exciting or unexpected after reading your story?

I think what surprised many is that these stories happened in very recent history. Some of the stories happened as recent as thirty to forty years ago, and yet now, we see a totally different Keong Saik Road and Singapore.

If your book were to be paired with any beverage, what would it be?

Haha, I would say Marmite. Unlike most people who consider Marmite an additive to food, it’s first and foremost, a beverage to me. In a way, like the blackish colour of Marmite, most may first see the dark side to the stories in the book, but if you give it a chance and savour the Marmite drink, you’ll discover that it’s yummy and has lots of vitamin B too! Similarly, I hope the book will help to surface many of the untold stories and lesser known tales of old Singapore that our generation of today may not otherwise be exposed to.

Lastly, any plans for a new book and if so, what would it be about?

I hope to keep writing, and perhaps work on the stories of the Ma Je that I’d the privilege of encountering and growing up with in my life. There’s not a lot of English writing on this group of immigrants who came to Singapore in the 1930s. Besides having a grandmother who was a Ma Je, the resilience and toughness of this group of women have always fascinated me and I’d like to explore a bit deeper their lives and motivations.

17A Keong Saik Road is available on our webstore, and in all good bookstores.

P.S. For the first time and in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of Singapore Book Council, the public is invited to attend the SLP awards ceremony. Come meet your favourite authors! Free registration here


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