SINGAPORE – The Epigram Books Fiction Prize has announced its first tie, dividing the prize between Singaporean writers Sebastian Sim and Boey Meihan.
The two will each receive $ 15,000 from the sixth edition of the award, Singapore’s only award for unpublished English-language novels.
They were among six shortlisted writers celebrated in a virtual ceremony broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube on Saturday, January 16, instead of the hotel’s usual gala.
This is the second laurel for Sim, 54, who won the award in 2017 for The Riot Act and was also a finalist in 2015 for Let’s Give It Up For Gimme Lao!
He said he was “half surprised, half grateful” to be the first double winner in the history of the award.
The idea for his winning manuscript, And the Award Goes to Sally Bong !, arose while he was writing Let’s Give It Up For Gimme Lao !, a satire about a relentless overachiever who was born on the night of independence. from Singapore.
“It got me thinking,” said Sim, who has a day job as an office executive. “What would the Singapore experience be like for a non-director? “
Its protagonist Sally Bong, who appears briefly in Let’s Give It Up For Gimme Lao! and whose life parallels that of Gimme Lao, is kind at heart but not ambitious.
She realizes early on that while she is praised by authorities when her attempts to help others gain media attention, they react with horror when she tries to push the boundaries.
Boey, 43, is a newcomer to the prize, although she is no stranger to the book business.
The community events manager and former bookseller of Books Kinokuniya is the Vice President of the Singapore Comic Artist Association (Acas) and released her first novel, the space opera The Messiah Virus, in 2019.
Her novel, The Formidable Miss Cassidy, mixes historical romance, comedy and horror. She’s had the idea running through her head for 20 years, she said, but the novel really only came to light during last year’s Breaker.
It takes place in 1890s Singapore and follows Miss Lydia Cassidy, a Scottish companion who discovers that the house she works in is haunted by a pontianak. Judge Monica Lim described it as “The King and I meet Mary Poppins, with some hantu (ghosts) thrown in for good measure.”
“It’s a world I’ve always secretly believed in,” said Boey, who took inspiration from British fantasy writer Neil Gaiman’s “gods and monsters in plain sight” and populated his novel with supernatural beings such as the orang minyak, a fat and rapacious ghoul from Malay folklore, and toyols, undead infantile spirits.
“From lines on your palm describing your fortune to the orang minyak coming for your daughter, Singapore’s culture has always been a mishmash of Westerners and Asians. Singaporeans have a remarkable ability to accept that opposing beliefs may exist. in the same space. “
Epigram founder Edmund Wee, 68, said the jury was out between the two books and neither side wanted to give in.
As the judgment was to take place on Zoom, he added, it was more difficult to “bang our heads together”. Eventually, they got the idea to follow in the footsteps of the Booker and the Singapore Literature Prizes, both of which recently named joint laureates.
The jury also included Lim, author of children’s books; producer and film curator Wahyuni Hadi; associate professor of English at Nanyang Technological University, Sim Wai Chew; and Mr. Gareth Richards, founder of Gerakbudaya Bookstore in Penang.
Sim said he plans to donate 40% of his prize money to documentary director Jason Soo, whom he has never met in person but whose work he is a huge fan of, while Boey hopes to use some of it. of his earnings to release a comic book with Acas.
It was a year of many firsts for the award. As the usual gala ceremony had to be canceled due to Covid-19, Epigram shifted the savings toward expanding the price list from four to six novels, increasing the pot from $ 40,000 to $ 50,000.
In previous years, the shortlist included four novels, with one winner receiving $ 25,000 and three finalists each receiving $ 5,000.
This year, the other finalists – Singaporeans Daryl Qilin Yam, Pallavi Gopinath Aney and Wesley Leon Aroozoo and Malaysian HY Yeang – will each receive $ 5,000.
The six shortlisted novels will be published in the second half of this year.
The award, which is a cash advance against future royalties, was launched in 2015 for Singaporean writers and opened to writers from other Asean countries in 2018.