Profile: Goh Eck Kheng

Published on 29 March 2016

Landmark Books’ Goh Eck Kheng believes his role as a publisher is to nurture authors.

BY pamela ho

“Adrian Tan, who wrote The Teenage Textbook and The Teenage Workbook, was a first-year Law student when we first met,” recounts Goh Eck Kheng, founder of Landmark Books, a boutique publisher known for being a forerunner in publishing Singapore writers. “We talked, I got to know him, discovered what he could produce; and from there, came the now classic books.”

With Goh, conversations birth books — and sometimes more. Accosting author Simon Tay at an event led to a long-standing friendship which saw Tay publishing with Landmark Books — City of Small Blessings went on to win the Singapore Literature Prize in 2010 — and reconnecting him with
the woman who would be his wife!

One can’t help but feel that publishing is more than just a business to him. As a matter of fact, says Goh, he doesn’t publish books. “I publish authors. Publishers nurture authors who have the capacity to write more than one book.”

You may say publishing runs in his blood. His father, a teacher-turned-publisher, relocated the family to Hong Kong when Goh was five. “He ran a book distribution business there. As I was too young to go to school, I spent a whole year in his office breathing in the smell of ink and paper. I guess that was how publishing seeped into my veins,” Goh reveals with a chuckle.

After graduating with a Law degree from the National University of Singapore, Goh decided to go into publishing. “My father tried to discourage me by bringing me to his warehouse full of yet unsold books. It backfired because the smell of ink on paper is like opium — one whiff and you’re hooked.”

In 1986, Goh founded Landmark Books. He’s also served as a board member of the Media Development Authority (2006 to 2008), and as chairman of the Speak Good English Movement committee, a post he has held since 2008. He’s also a founding member of theatre company, TheatreWorks, an accomplished photographer, ceramicist and award-winning designer.

This makes him a rare breed. As a publisher, he edits, styles, photographs and designs his books. “All the editors who worked full-time with me are able to produce books single-handedly. I believe a good editor must have a clear vision of the book he has developed with the author. There’s no better way to bring that to reality than to carry out as much of the production process as you can yourself.”

Landmark Books currently focuses on cookery, heritage and Singapore literature. Their latest release, Written Country: The History of Singapore Through Literature edited by Gwee Li Sui, pieces together Singapore’s history through the works of homegrown writers.

Known for taking risks with new and unknown writers, Goh seems to be enjoying the fruits; but for him, the pay-off is simple, “Many of my authors have become good friends.”

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