by Verner Bickley
Proverse Hong Kong entered a new phase in 2002 with the publication by Gillian Bickley of a major academic work on early education in Hong Kong. The Development of Education in Hong Kong (1841–1897) is still in print and much sought after by historians and educationists. Its predecessors, Gillian Bickley's The Golden Needle: The Biography of Frederick Stewart (1997) and Verner Bickley's Searching for Frederick and Adventures Along the Way (2001) were published by other presses, but taken together with The Development of Education, provided the impetus for the establishment of Proverse as a new publishing house in Hong Kong.
Since those early days, Proverse has thrived in Hong Kong as a general publisher, with growing international connections and an impressive list of poetry, fiction and non-fiction titles, first published in print form and then as e-book editions. Proverse's success as a publisher led to the establishment in 2008 of the International Proverse Prize, open to all persons of eighteen years and above and without restriction as to nationality, residence or citizenship. The objectives of the prize are to encourage excellence in publishable writing in the English language. The winner receives publication without charge by Proverse Hong Kong together with a cash prize of HK$10,000. What we have found particularly interesting is that the prize attracted considerable interest from the time it was first announced, with entries received from countries as diverse as Andorra, Antigua, Australia, Austria, Bangladesh, the Bahamas, Britain, France, Hong Kong, Mauritius, New Zealand and the USA. The backgrounds of the writers themselves are even more varied than this suggests, including, for example, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago and the United Arab Emirates. The reason for this support may be that, unlike several other competitions, as already stated, the Proverse Prize has not placed any restriction on authors' eligibility, other than that they must be at least eighteen years old; authors need not have been born in, reside in or have citizenship in any particular country. It is open to all. The competition also accepts a wide range of genres. Authors have been quick to notice this also; so much so that the entries received for the prize in its three years of existence have included biographies, children's stories, epic poems, memoirs, non-fiction (including some based on impressive academic research), novels and novellas, poetry collections, short story collections/sequences and travel narratives. Writers have written directly to us explicitly to express appreciation of this inclusiveness.
Proverse books are now distributed worldwide and are also available as e-books (nearly all of these to date have previously been published in print form) in various formats and for various platforms, including Mobibook, Amazon Kindle and 24reader.com. Several books have been translated and published in Chinese. One is presently being translated from Czech into Chinese, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Czech Republic.
As a taster of the types of books published by Proverse, let me introduce just a few of our titles and their authors. The first of these is Tightrope! A Bohemian Tale, translated from the Czech and narrated through the eyes of a child. The author, Olga Walló, worked for Czech TV for thirty-five years as a translator and dubbing director. She has translated plays (including twelve of Shakespeare's) and novels. Her short stories and essays have appeared in periodicals and she is a frequent contributor to journals on various philosophical aspects of everyday life. Tightrope! recounts the story of a filmmaker father, an actress mother who didn't want to act, and an uncle so innocent that he became a slave-labourer from stubborn and ignorant idealism, and it also shows "the silly lessons of totalitarianism," asserted by the child as woman. The novel has been hailed by the writer, Josef Škvorecký, as "imaginatively written and entertaining―but essentially tragic" and by Václav Havel, the tenth and last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic, as "something to identify with…I hope that, through the personal accounts of the author, [readers] will be able to trace the complex path which our nation travelled so long ago."
The second book, Viginia MacRobert's, Gin's Tonic: Ocean Voyage, Inner Journey, tells the story, in vivid language, of how she set out with a small crew, the dog, Henry (later joined by the kitten, Coco), to sail around the world, coping with breakdowns, loneliness, pirates and typhoons. She began her journey in Hong Kong on 1 October 2006 and 493 days later completed a circumnavigation of the globe. Virginia has described her journey as life-changing and involving more adventure than she had anticipated:
When I left, I thought the leaving was away from something, the daily stress of all the things that constitute the land life. I was wrong about that because I was sailing towards something else, something entirely new. I am glad now that I took the risk. Life is full of risks in all aspects and we all have to be brave, make choices and just get on with it. To put it simply, I have chosen to love the sea, and its moods, its beauty and mystery have captured me and I will never escape it. When I am near it, I feel alive and can breathe more freely again. I have heard it said that there is a place for everybody and I have found my place.
The third book, Caleb Kavon's, The Reluctant Terrorist: In Search Of the Jizo, started with a dream:
Do I always know what I am going to write before I write it? No, I do not. Everyday is different and what I will say I am not sure of until the letters start to appear on the screen. But I still dream, and this, and only this, am I sure of today. Johnny Graham and Naoyuki Sato, his mother, and Chiasa are waiting for you, and they came from a dream.
The Reluctant Terrorist is Kavon's second book for Proverse. It is a novel of adventure and mystery and suspense. Yet one suspects that the author's own life was (and is) as colourful as his writing. He saw action in Central America during the conflict between the Sandinistas (the National Liberation Front) and the Contras, and he has had, and perhaps still has, more than a passing interest in the conflict in Afghanistan.
We are proud to have published these books and others of equal merit, and are just as proud of others to be published soon. For example, Denis Wong's Revenge From Beyond is a gripping detective story set in ancient China, involving a beautiful widow, an upright but inexperienced magistrate, a disaffected son, an advisor to the Emperor and an active group of towns-people concerned that their business interests not be prejudiced by an unsolved murder on their doorstep. It includes details of ancient court practices and judicial punishments. The book educates as well as thrills. Thrills also abound in an epic poem, L.W. Illsley's charming story of Astra and Sebastian, stunningly illustrated by Shelley Knowles-Dixon. Readers interested in history will wish to pick up Gregory James's Foch's Reserves: The Chinese Labour Corps about an impressive body of men formed during the First World War. Vaughan Rapatahana's poetry collection, Home, Away, Elsewhere, and Laura Solomon's novel, Hilary and David, join our growing list of works by New Zealand writers. Canadian writer, Jason S. Polley's cemetery miss you will join his first work of creative fiction, refrain, published by Proverse in 2010. A Catalan writer has described Patricia W. Grey's mystery/travel novel, Death Has A Thousand Doors, as a new milestone in the writing about beautiful Andorra in the Pyrenees.
So far, so good. These are books to be proud of. But what lies ahead? There are those that say we may be witnessing the death of the printed book and its replacement by electronic devices. That may be true, but it is also true that there will always be a need for what broadcasters call interesting "content." Most publishers are aware of this need and many (including Proverse) are preparing for it. Just how is a trade secret! And then, of course, although the modern printed book may eventually go, there will always be those enticing books from the past with their smell of mature leather and their pages still uncut!
Of course, change is inevitable. It was only a few years ago that publishers ceased to issue "galley proofs," "page-proofs" and "paste-ups" (the last being the final stage before publication). We've come quite a way since then but, whatever the system and the terminology, the fundamentals remain the same. A good published book is an achievement for the author and a source of pride to its publisher, bringing entertainment or information to its readers. These are the considerations that motivate Proverse.