SINGAPORE - Six novels will be chosen as finalists of the Epigram Books Fiction Prize next year, which will see the total prize money increase from $40,000 to $50,000.
In previous years, the prize was awarded to four novels, with one winner receiving $25,000 and three finalists each getting $5,000.
The sixth edition of the award, which is Singapore's only prize for unpublished English-language novels, will be presented next January at a virtual ceremony instead of the usual hotel gala dinner, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The savings from the dinner's cancellation will be redirected towards rewarding more finalists instead, said publisher Epigram in a statement on Tuesday (Oct 27).
Epigram founder Edmund Wee, 68, said: "Many artists are struggling during this pandemic. Now is not the time to cut back on support for them.
"We have raised enough money from our supporters and sponsors for the prize money and other expenses. It makes no sense to keep this money for next year when there are writers struggling now. We'll worry about next year when the time comes."
He added that he would consider keeping the shortlist at six novels in lieu of a gala dinner only if Covid-19 were still around. "I think it is important to honour our authors in public."
All six finalists will have their manuscripts published.
Epigram also unveiled its longlist for the prize of a dozen writers from Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Thailand, the most number to date.
Among them are Singaporean Sebastian Sim, 54, who won the 2017 prize for his satirical novel The Riot Act, and former finalists The New Paper news editor Andre Yeo, 48, author of 9th Of August, and Bruneian academic Kathrina Mohd Daud, 36, whose novel The Fisherman King was shortlisted last year and has just been released.
Besides Sim and Yeo, the other seven Singapore writers on the list include Lasalle College of the Arts lecturer Wesley Leon Aroozoo, 36; Association of Comic Artists of Singapore vice-president Boey Meihan, 43; and Daryl Qilin Yam, 29, whose debut, Kappa Quartet, was longlisted for the 2015 prize.
They are up against acclaimed names from the region such as Filipino writer Glenn Diaz, 34, whose 2017 novel The Quiet Ones won the Palanca Grand Prize and the Philippine National Book Award, and Thai writer Wipas Srithong, 50, whose novel Khon Khrae (The Dwarf) won the 2012 South-east Asia Write Award.
The panel of judges includes Epigram Books founder Edmund Wee; film producer and curator Wahyuni Hadi; children's book author Monica Lim; Nanyang Technological University Associate Professor Sim Wai Chew; and Mr Gareth Richards, founder of Gerakbudaya Bookshop in Penang.
The prize, which is a cash advance against future royalties, was begun in 2015 for Singapore writers and opened to writers from other Asean countries in 2018.