04 October 2010

Metamorphosis - the Birth of a New (Butterfly) Book

Metamorphosis - The Birth of a New Butterfly (Book)
10/10/10 : Launch of A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore

The idea of coming out with a book on Singapore's butterflies stretched as far back as 2003. Then, the only book dedicated to Singapore's Flying Jewels was the Science Centre/BP Book that was authored by Steven Neo and published in 1996.

Back then, I was hoping that I could get one of the prominent publishing companies to financially back the book. That would leave me to concentrate on the task of writing and collecting photos for the book. Not surprisingly, the response that I got was rather lukewarm, to say the least, as no one thought that a book about Singapore's butterflies would have any commercial value nor interest.

So the idea for the book went on the backburner.

I made another attempt after that, even consulting the ever-energetic Ria Tan, a long-time friend who runs WildSingapore and the author of the Chek Jawa Guidebook, for advice. I also consulted Morten Strange of Nature's Niche, who authored and published a number of excellent bird books. But again, the initial effort fizzled out due to my own lack of time to focus on the book.

About three years ago, in 2007, after a few months of setting up this blog and penning many articles, I managed to gain the interest, and the offer of a personal sponsorship from a generous individual in Singapore.

This important catalyst sparked off renewed effort on the book again, and it has been three long years. I had to balance my work which required a lot of my energy and time to deal issues attributed to another untimely global recession, with working on the book. That left me with little spare time to conceptualise the book, its design, do literature research, write and collect the photos for as many species as possible.

Hence, many of my weekends were spent out in the field, taking photos of species that were still unavailable, and also writing and researching for the book.

I am very thankful that many ButterflyCircle members came forward readily to offer their excellent photographs to add more quality and completeness to the book. Particularly for the photos of species that I did not have a good shot of.

Special mention has to be made of BC members like Sunny Chir, who probably contributed the most photographs amongst the BC members, and also friends like Horace Tan, Leslie Day, Steven Neo, Marcus Ng, Ellen Tan, Teo Kiam Pheng and my wife, Shirley, who helped and meticulously vetted the drafts for the write ups for grammatical correctness and technical accuracy. (And I must say that there were plenty of mistakes in the early drafts!).

The full list of ButterflyCircle members is featured in the acknowledgement pages of the book. And I must sincerely thank each and every individual who contributed their work, that your photos have added so much quality and colour to the book. You have every reason to be proud of what you and ButterflyCircle have achieved over the years.

So the work continued over the period of three years, as BC members also raised their quality of butterfly photography, and the pages began to fill up with photos that will eventually grace the final book.

Researching and deciding what to put in the book took some effort, as the intention was to feature the book to as wide an audience as possible without too much scientific jargon. But at the same time, make the book as accurate as possible to the expert community.

A shot of the photoplate machine, which generates the master plate used in the printing process

There were many changes and amendments, and this is where I have to thank the publisher, Ink On Paper Communications Pte Ltd, a small Singaporean boutique set-up, for their help and patience with this first-time author! The design and layout was conceptualised by the young and very capable layout artist, Cressindie Tan, and ably advised by Kalyn Choi and Alicia Tan (the lady boss!). They even went on an outing with BC members to get the feel of what we do out in the field, shooting butts!

A peek at a stack of the finished 16-page sheet after which the pages are machine-cut and bound

It was almost a year ago that I'd set the goal of launching the book on 10 Oct 2010, that is, 10/10/10, an interesting date. It is also apt that this book is launched in the United Nations' International Year of Biodiversity 2010, as a contribution to biodiversity education and conservation, and in particular, to Singapore.

A view of the CMYB 4-colour printer used in the production of the book

It has been a tiring, but rewarding experience, putting this book together. The past few weeks have been a flurry of vetting, amending, inserting new photos, more vetting and proof-reading and changes! The final finishing touches to the digital files, and then more colour-proofing at the printers. It was also amazing to see the printing technology that we have today, as the lithographic and book-binding processes are now so technologically advanced and fast!

Colour-proofing process of the printed sheets and tweaking the colours digitally

My publisher even went the extra mile to ensure that a dummy copy of a fully-bound book sample was made to check the binding strength of the spine and to ensure that the pages do not fall out easily through frequent use of the book.

A "blind" copy of the bound book to check the robustness of the binding and spine sewing. The Trees of Our Garden City book, which is the same size and thickness, is shown for comparison

All that remains now, is to wait for the "butterfly" to eclose. The pupa shell is now transparent, and we can see the colours of the "wings" of this new butterfly, all set for its maiden flight. For the privileged few who have been invited to the launch this coming Sunday, let's celebrate the eclosion process together!

The Field Guide will be 370-page soft-cover A5 sized book featuring a total of 904 photographs.

Text by Khew SK : Photos (all of which will be featured in the forthcoming book) by James Chia, Sunny Chir, Chng CK, Khew SK, Nelson Ong, Jonathan Soong, Horace Tan & Zhuang Yaoyang