Stranded by the demise of literary magazines, Thailand’s top writers and keenest readers are turning to AnOwl
A NEW Thai-language website full of literary fiction debuted last Monday – and immediately crashed because fan interest overloaded its server. The founders got the technical glitch resolved and more than 4,000 people could resume reading. It’s a number that’s bound to rise much further.
The key founders of AnOwl are three novelists who were already popular under the pennames Piyaporn Sakkasem, Pongsakorn and Kingchat.
Piyaporn – real name Nantaporn Sarntigasem – is the author of such hit titles as “Tawan Tor Saeng”, “Sai See Plueng” and “Rak Nakara”. The many fiction-friendly magazines that have folded in recent years left writers and readers without a “meeting point”, she says.
“The magazines provided a stage for writers to present their work under the care of professional editors. The readership hasn’t declined, but the consumer’s media-consumption behaviour changed. We want to fill the empty hole with an online community for readers and writers.”
AnOwl aims to fill the folded magazines’ role as meeting points for authors and readers.
They needed a name for the site that was meaningful in both Thai and English. AnOwl fits the bill because the owl in Western culture symbolises wisdom, and AnOwl resembles the Thai for “reading for (a specific purpose)”.
AnOwl is billed as a weekly magazine with novels forming the backbone of the free content. Piyaporn, Kingchat (Parichat Salicupt) and Pongsakorn (Dr Pongsakorn Chindawatana) share the editorial duties. Another five founding members have worked in the publishing business for many years.
“In these days of digital news, more and more people are turning to social media, resulting in a constant decline in readership for conventional newspapers and magazines,” says Kingchat, whose best sellers include “Pornprom Onlawaeng”, “Sera Daran”, “Buag Hong” and “Sood Saneh Ha”.
“The time has come for us to adapt to the interactive digital platform, but we need to retain the high quality of a good magazine. We’ll try to keep our content free as long as possible because we don’t want to burden our readers.”
The inaugural content is 10 novels, free for the reading.
The initial content is 10 novels that have never been published – by both celebrated and emerging writers. More will be added later.
On the computer or phone screen, the pages look like those of a magazine, and there’s a cover and preface as with hard-copy books. There are also articles – trade news, reviews and other items of interest.
“When magazines were flourishing, any author who got his work published earned an automatic guarantee regarding his writing ability,” says Pongsakorn, who has garnered acclaim for the novels “Roi Mai”, “Sab Phusa” and “Kol Kimono”. All three were adapted for television.
Three noted authors are among the site’s founders – by their pennames from left, Pongsakorn, Kingchat and Piyaporn Sakkasem.
“The three of us rose to fame thanks to the editors at the magazines who coached us about suitable content and proper timing,” he says. “From our experience working with them, we can now carefully select the novels and articles appearing at AnOwl. The readers won’t feel that they’re jumping into a sea of content.”
Currently on the site is Pongsakorn’s new novel, “Irrawaddy Kliew Krasip”, inspired by the Burmese sacking of Ayutthaya in 1767, when thousands of citizens were carried off into slavery.
Piyaporn’s latest novel, “Duangjai Rabai See”, is also there, comparing the characters of three men living in New York, Giverny and Auvers-sur-Oise to the colours of red, yellow and blue, based on paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet and Van Gogh.
And Kingchat continues her series about the mythical Himmapan Forest in “Nin Nakin”, this time using a fresh penname, Alina.
Soi Hong Saeng by Mala Kamchan
Pongsakorn says it’s “an honour” to be publishing the new work “Soi Hong Saeng” by SEA Write Award winner Mala Kamchan. “He was writing the novel for Khwan Ruen magazine, but it shut down before he was finished.”
To keep the content free for as long as possible, none of the contributors are asking for remuneration.
“There are many fiction sites open to rookie writers and it’s hard for any one writer to stand out,” says Piyaporn. “One site might be bombarded with 50,000 submissions, so the readers also have difficulty picking one that meets their preferences.
“So, since we were born from magazines like Sakulthai and Khwan Ruen, we want our site to be a platform for emerging writers and we carefully select works that are interesting and touching.”
Among the new faces is the pen-named Parb, whose detective fiction “Kahon Mahorlatueg” was adapted for a TV drama that’s currently airing on One Channel. His new work, “Ling Padkorn”, is a murder mystery.
Also new on the scene is Karn, whose favourite authors are Agatha Christie and Stephen King. His debut novel is “The Never-ending (Love) Story”.
New fiction website AnOwl.co is a digital magazine of carefully selected novels by both celebrated and emerging authors. For now, at least, it’s all free.
Pongsakorn says his personal favourite at the moment is the writer using the penname Nak Hayra, whose work is normally found online. “She graduated in history and has spent more than a decade in South Korea. Her style is very interesting. Her new work with us, ‘Phusa Haeng Racha’, is about the Japanese occupation of Korea during the war.”
Apatsaphorn Supapa, who writes as Pasrasaa, presents her new mystery story at AnOwl, “Game Archa”, with an equestrian theme.
Apatsaphorn, 35, says she’s “a loyal fan” of the site’s founding authors and didn’t hesitate to contribute when they invited her.
“I wasn’t even born during the heyday of magazines, so usually I publish at sites like Dek-d and Fictionlog. There are a lot of fiction websites today, but AnOwl stands out because the works are so well screened.”
Even with so many channels available to writers, says Apatsaphorn – who’s written more than 40 works of fiction in the past 15 years – it’s still not easy to get recognised.
“Older writers had the magazines, but my generation relies mainly on word of mouth. To become famous, we have to be disciplined and determined and write about what we’re really interested in.”
The founders say readership hasn’t declined, but rather consumer behaviour has changed.
An article on AnOwl pays tribute to the late beloved editor Suphat Sawasdirak of Sakulthai weekly magazine, which recently closed after more than 60 years. Sakulthai was the foremost magazine for novelists and gave many noted authors their start, such as Tomyantee and Krisna Asoksin.
Also planned is a series of videos with authors helping chefs prepare dishes mentioned in their books. Ready for posting are demonstrations of how to make the souffle that Kingchat featured in “Sood Saneh Ha” and the oily cooked rice Pongsakorn dreamed up for “Irrawaddy Kliew Krasip”.
Readers will soon find a podcast as well, and an audio series about what’s happening in publishing circles.
Income will be raised through workshops that are being organised on writing fiction, together with the field trips tracking the footsteps of characters in novels.
“I was groomed by Suphat Sawasdirak – such a talented editor,” says Piyaporn. “She once compared a magazine to a meal of dishes cooked with different techniques – boiling, stir-frying, sauteeing, currying, frying, plus desserts and fruit – that satisfies every taste. We want AnOwl to be like that too.”
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