First-time author Nuraliah Norasid has clinched the richest literary prize in Singapore - the $25,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize.
On top of the cash prize, her manuscript The Gatekeeper, about a young girl with Medusa-like powers, will also be published next year by Epigram Books, the award's organiser.
Now in its second year, the Epigram Books Fiction Prize is the only prize in Singapore for unpublished English-language novels.
The results were announced on Thursday (Nov 24) at an awards ceremony and gala dinner held at the Pan Pacific Singapore.
Prize winner Nuraliah, 30, a research associate with the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs, an organisation that examines socio-religious issues in Singapore, has had work published in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.
The four-man judging panel comprised Epigram's founder Edmund Wee; Professor Philip Holden from the National University of Singapore's department of English language and literature; author and activist Constance Singam; and Haresh Sharma, resident playwright of theatre company The Necessary Stage.
Besides Nuraliah's The Gatekeeper, the manuscripts of this year's three finalists will also be published next year.
These are Fox Fire Girl by last year's winner O Thiam Chin, 39, about a girl from Ipoh with something to hide; 37-year-old architect Tham Cheng-E's speculative fiction novel Surrogate Protocol; and State Of Emergency, a story about an extended family with left-leaning members, by New York-based writer Jeremy Tiang, 39.
The three will also receive a new cash prize of $5,000 each.
The competition is open to Singapore citizens, permanent residents and Singapore-born writers. Fifty-two entries were received this year.
Wee says that besides the four winning titles, Epigram may publish another six of the submitted manuscripts.
He also announced that Epigram has expanded its operations to the United Kingdom this month, to "bring the wealth of Singaporean literature, the stories of our authors to the world through the UK".
The first of eight planned titles for the London market is Inheritance by Singapore writer Balli Kaur Jaswal, 33, about a Punjabi family in Singapore, which will be released in May next year. Jaswal was a finalist of last year's prize.
The inaugural prize last year, awarded to O, was valued at $20,000. No cash prizes were given to the finalists then.
In response to the number of quality submissions received last year, Wee decided to sweeten the pot in July by doubling the kitty to $40,000.