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Contact With Shadow

CONTACT WITH SHADOW is coming unglued!  (Unglueing is a new development in book distribution)


Full of grief, Singaporean history, printing press lore and sweet memories of love, to read Contact With Shadow is to experience loss-- and redemption. The story: a Cambridge research student comes to Singapore to learn about the island's pre-Linotype printing history. His wife, an amateur chef, is killed by lightning. Overwhelmed with a sense of loss, he struggles to write his thesis. More often than not, his words are about the woman he loved. A bureaucratic "assistant" enters the picture, as does a Hollywood producer... Contact With Shadow is an experience, not just a reading experience.

"It's a double pleasure to read this... First, there's the joy of gleaning nuggets of knowledge about Singapore and the printed word hitherto unknown; and second, there's the childlike wonder of never knowing what Stephen Black has in store for us on the next page."

~ Ng Yi-Sheng

2008 Winner of the Singapore Literature Prize

The cover was created by Debbie Ding and Shazanah Hassan.

There was once an exhibition about Contact With Shadow at the WOODS IN THE BOOKS Bookshop (Singapore)


It grew from the ground and the grass punched her and the metal on her sandals sparked. Her jeans opened as I watched her hair change. My wife was in the air. Her mouth distorted as the muscles around her eyes bulged and creased. The brightness disappeared. Still in the air, her fingers stretched as though someone’d yanked a wire in her arm. She fell and I ran to her in the sound of the bang. I touched her lips.

I feel this project is my lifework. I mourn the loss of the handwritten letter as well as all of the handcrafted printing machinery created before the Age of Linotype.

Sentosa... A Malay word meaning ‘tranquil’. In the interview it is mentioned that the Sarkies brothers, who were Armenian, used the name Sentosa for their house on Bukit Timah Road. The Sarkies Brothers are most famous for having established Raffles Hotel.

‘Sentosa’ is now associated with the island resort on the west coast of Singapore.

The original name of Sentosa Island was Pulau Belakang Mati, which, literally translated, means “island behind death.” During WWII, Japanese soldiers killed innocent civilians on the islands’ beaches. The name was changed to Sentosa in 1972.

One of our saints, St. Mesrop, founded our alphabet, in 450. Jon refers to Grabar, the Armenian language. Examples of the Grabar alphabet can be found inside the Armenian Church.

There’s some jazz on the hi-fi and everyone’s on the verandah. Helen’s beautiful in her strapless dress and her cheeks are glowing and this will be even better than drunken Bugis with its balconies full of bouncing transsexual breasts. This will be better than the blue movie at Maxine’s birthday party. “A pervert!" Helen says again. “Leather and shoes!”

Dr. Jack knew how to communicate with the future and he was obviously using a code. About two hundred years ago he sent a message on its way to me.

Additionally, the movie and related enterprises are projected to generate ten thousand employment opportunities and underscore Singapore’s commitment to becoming a global hub for the media arts.

In 2005 a movie by the name of Helvetica appeared. In the title sequence the word Helvetica is created by a ‘compositor’. Although the sequence shows only a single word being printed, one does get a sense of the steps involved in composition. The movie accomplishes its task and, honestly, I am really not upset that my opinion was not asked for. Nor was I contacted about being interviewed.

On the clear walls of the staircase are names and short phrases or stories written in the Ultralight Normal 6.6 version of Helvetica.** I try to ignore the hideous font and read the content. The phrases are specific to Singapore, yet universal: “We love Poly Campus more than Princess Mary Barracks... why must a big happy family be broken up?”

Plantin’s legendary studio was the Silicon Valley of 16th Europe, full of elegance and the world’s most sophisticated ink measuring and application technologies. Now, thankfully, it is a museum. We went. We held hands, her heart racing like mine. The drawings were there — Garamond’s original drawings**!The 380 drawings that Claude Garamond brought to life! The drawings are a monument, a landmark in the evolution of European printing and civilization! Garamond’s font of 1540, the masterpiece he created for King Francois!

We finally left the Sri Lankans and found a bus back to Boon Lay. We laughed upon seeing the Cambridge Industrial Park on Pioneer Road. On the train she told me about a new food she was creating. Two people will sit at a table with a very large glass tray between them. The tray will hold a liquid food and in the liquid will be floating white foods. Each person will use a dark sauce to write words on the white food. The staff will then turn on hidden fans to move the white foods, as if they are sailing, or floating like icebergs. Iceword ballet is what I am calling it.

We finally got home and went to sleep and now I’m waking up and she is not here. Forever.

By this time Prince Drtad had matured enough to become King Drtad. King Drtad tortured Greg in a number of unspeakable and unprintable ways and then threw him into Khor Virab, that deep dungeon I mentioned earlier. Ouch! Big ouch! And talk about being in the dark! Ow! Although Christianity had been underground since it began, it was now officially outlawed. Rebel stuff. It was considered a great threat to the state and the pagan world. “Death to Christians and their Christian helpers.” That’s what King Drtad said. In Armenian. OK, technically not Armenian, but the language that pre-dated Armenian.

Ultimately, revolutions are about no one in particular: they are ultimately the anonymous implementation of policies; just as certain caterpillars display a fierce false face to distract predators while the real face eats undisturbed.

Snappy postmodern writing has a new name and its name is Stephen Blake.Contact With Shadow meshes landscape with wordscape, creating a poetic conceptual work with the seriousness of historical nonfiction, the excitement of good travel writing and the tragedy of a romance novel… as well as something about ZZ Top!? AA Loh, architect (Hoffman Institute medallion Winner, 2005)

Plotless and pointless, CSW wanders “forever” in search of a theme. In Singapore, where the “action” takes place, is mindless self-indulgence punishable by caning? Chiaki Williams, International Finance Gazette

Tasty. Moody. Inky. Funny.

Amy Kennedy, www.endswithy.com

A postmodern hall of mirrors reflecting immense research and not much else.

Vincent Yamada, New York Chimes Book Review

Normal wear and tear also resulted in broken letters. Sometimes the pieces of type were not locked in properly and they met the paper at an angle; if they didn’t break, they may have been flattened or bent. Pages were printed one at a time, which meant that a small number of letters were used repeatedly, increasing the chances of breakage.

Letters were used well past their prime. The line of full stops following my w, for example, looks like a row of crumbling black cookies. The line does not look like this: ....................

We’d just arrived. It was very late and we were jetlagged and we didn’t have much Singapore money. We made rice with olive oil and furikake and used coffee cups to drink a small bottle of 7-11 wine. Dessert was a mango, eaten by candlelight. I told her about the Tamil king who was given a magic mango, one that would make him immortal. He served it to his favorite poet.

When she read, whether it was in bed, on a train or beneath a tree, the world became perfect. Sometimes she read words and made them into food.

CONTACT WITH SHADOW is coming unglued!
CONTACT WITH SHADOW is coming unglued!