EPIGRAM BOOKS FICTION PRIZE 2016
The second edition of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize has one major enhancement. In 2015, one winner won S$20,000. This time round, thanks to our sponsors, all four shortlisted winners received cash rewards. The top entry took home S$25,000, the three finalists S$5,000 each.
Thankfully, many other things have not changed. The fear that last year’s large number of entries would be a one-time phenomenon proved ill-founded. Somewhere out there, Singaporeans are starting or continue to write fiction. 2016’s 52 submissions are evidence of that.
We were also heartened by the range of work received. They included experimental narratives and stories from so many genres. It bodes well for our culture. We will reserve judgement on whether there is indeed a literary uprising.
From the 52, we picked a longlist of ten writers, then narrowed it down to this shortlist of four: Nuraliah Norasid, O Thiam Chin, Tham Cheng-E and Jeremy Tiang. We honour them. May they continue to inspire, delight and challenge us.
The 2016 Winner
An early subject of Nuraliah Norasid’s writing was an earthworm princess. Growing up in a less privileged family, writing for her was a source of escapism. Since then, this research associate has graduated from spinning stories about star-crossed lovers to fearsome gorgons in this first novel. An early draft was written in 2006, but ten years later, Nuraliah found herself returning to it with older, wiser eyes. It evolved into The Gatekeeper, an allegorical tale ostensibly about two gorgon sisters, but looks to shed light on discrimination against marginalised communities in Singapore.
For Nuraliah, a champion of the fantasy genre, this mythological creature is more than just an emblem of terror. “The Medusa is like a very painful or disdainful truth—truth like poverty in clean, first class Singapore,” she explains. “[She is] like the Malay girl who was bullied out of her job at the froyo outlet because she can’t speak Mandarin in multiracial, multicultural Singapore.”
Each writer in Singapore writes because there is a compulsion to share a bit of themselves, a perspective of the things that are not entirely right in Singapore. Nuraliah Norasid
At the tender age of ten, a gorgon named Ria petrifies an entire village of innocents with her gaze. Together with her sister,m she flees the jungles of Manticura to the underground city of Nelroote, where most of society’s marginal members live.
50 years later, a man named Eedric has become bored with the monotony of his privileged life in Manticura, which has now become an urban city. He stumbles upon the entrance of Nelroote and meets gatekeeper Ria, who has been petrifying soldiers who threaten the peace of the underground city. As their friendship begins to blossom, whispers of the gorgon sisters come to a head and spark off a chain of events that throws Nelroote and its inhabitants into danger.