I blame the government for our starting up The History Workroom LLP. In 2006 I had received a First Time Writers and Illustrators grant from the Singapore’s National Book Development Council (NBDCS) and the Media Development Authority (MDA) to publish my manuscript “Samsui Girl”.
At the time, NBDCS and MDA did not find a publisher to publish these books but rather gave the writer/illustrator or writer and illustrator a sum of money to locate their own publisher and printer. I was in the middle of doing my PhD in Sydney, Australia so I enlisted an agent (my father!) to help me locate a publisher. He did, and the book was laid out and printed. But there were many things I was not happy with, including the design and how the publisher was managing it. To make matters worse, the book distributor ran away and I never got our last payment even though we sold out our first print run. All the publisher could do was shrug his shoulders.
This unpleasant experience with the publisher got me and Jaime (my then roommate) thinking: How difficult can this publishing thing be? We were sure we could do a better job if given a chance. So we decided to set up a small business to publish this “Samsui Girl” book. It was our very first project.
The more we thought about it, the more things we knew we could do. Jaime and I had met at the then Singapore History Museum (now National Museum) and had a lot of experience in history and heritage-related projects. Furthermore, I was pursuing a PhD in Public History. So we decided that more than publishing books, our business would be involved in heritage and history work in Singapore. Combined, we had experience in researching and curating exhibitions, writing, and developing history-related educational materials.
We knew this was a small market but since we had the expertise, experience, and most importantly the passion and interest we decided to “give it a try”. We thought of many names for our company but finally decided on “The History Workroom”. A close contender was “The History Workshop” but that name was already taken. This was the name of a history movement in the UK led by the academic Raphael Samuel who focused on people’s history. Our work is intellectually heavily influenced by this movement.
Anyway, so here we are 10 years down the road and still giving it a go. Since then, Samsui Girl has gone through two editions and three print runs and remains our most popular publication. Here’s to having more opportunities to build up histories and history-making in Singapore.