SINGAPORE - Creative writing competition Golden Point Award saw two firsts in its 13th edition this year: the first time a writer snagged both first and second prize in the same category and the first time a category had no winners in the top three spots.
Freelance editorial consultant Nur-El-Hudaa Jaffar, 47, clinched both the first and second prize of the Malay short story category - the first to do so in the award's history.
Meanwhile, the judges for the Tamil poetry category decided not to choose any winners as the entries were not up to scratch.
Twenty-one writers were feted at the award ceremony on Tuesday (Nov 7) at The Arts House, at which Mr Baey Yam Keng, Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, was the guest-of-honour.
The biennial award, which received close to 700 entries this year, is a competition for short stories and poetry in Singapore's four official languages, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. It is a National Arts Council initiative managed by The Arts House.
While no first prize was awarded for Tamil poetry in 2009, this is the first time no top prizes have been awarded in a category. Instead, three merit prizes were given out.
Poet and Cultural Medallion recipient KTM Iqbal who was one of the judges said: "The winners of the merit prizes showed some promise in terms of style and were awarded to encourage their efforts."
His fellow judge, poet S. Nepolian Devakumar who goes by Nepolian, said the entries were let down by language errors such as spelling and grammar. He also advised participants to explore further beyond classic poetry from India and write using Singapore as context.
"There are countless Tamil literature programmes in Singapore to help hone writing skills," he said. "I look forward to greater poetry entries in 2019."
It was second time lucky for Nur-El-Hudaa, who submitted the first short story she ever wrote to the competition in 2015, but did not win a prize.
This year, when she heard she had won not just first but also second prize, she found it so hard to believe that she called the organisers back to make sure she had not imagined it.
The judges in their notes praised her first prize story, dark marital satire Balada Kasih Romi dan Junid (The Love Ballad Of Romi And Junid), for its "sharp and controlled prose, confident tone and deft use of irony".
In her second prize story Biarkan Dia Berenang (Let Her Swim), she wades into the debate over the "burkini" ban in France by tracing the story of a Serbian woman who leaves behind a history of trauma to move from Bosnia to France.
The entries were assessed anonymously.
Nur-El-Hudaa, who is married, said she is interested in depicting the dissolution of relationships, whether between a couple or across a community. "Peace in a multicultural society is such a fragile thing," she said.
Yale-National University of Singapore student Teo Xiao Ting, 22, won the first prize for English poetry for her collection Diagnostics, which wound academic footnotes from actual psychology journals into her poems about the aftermath of grief.
She said: "In psychology, everything is broken down into concepts and theories, but in
real life it is all jumbled up. The rational mind doesn't work when you're looking at grief. Art is a more fluid way of looking at the world."
She hopes readers will follow the footnotes, as the papers they link to add more layers of subtext to her work.
The competition is open only to writers who, at the time of application, have yet to publish a solo work in the genre they are competing in.
First prize-winners in each category receive $4,000 in cash, as well as a $6,000 enrichment grant, which can be used for programmes such as writing courses, workshops and residences. Second and third prize-winners receive $3,000 and $2,000 respectively, while those with honourable mentions and merit awards get $500.
Previous award-winners include this year's Young Artist Award recipient Joshua Ip, as well as writers Tania De Rozario and Jeremy Tiang.
Mr Baey said that greater diversity in Singaporean literature, or 'SingLit', should be promoted. "We believe that SingLit is more relatable to Singaporeans as it is the voice of Singaporeans. SingLit often captures instances of everyday life, which mirrors our multicultural landscape. If not us, who else will tell our stories?"
LIST OF PRIZE-WINNERS
1ST, ENGLISH: Mohamed Saleem Abdul Hadi, for Mani
1ST, CHINESE: Yolanda Yu Miaomiao, for The Missing Clock
1ST, MALAY: Nur-El-Hudaa Jaffar, for The Love Ballad Of Romi And Junid
1ST, TAMIL: Suresh Rama, for The Secret
1ST, ENGLISH: Teo Xiao Ting, for Diagnostics
1ST, CHINESE: Sun Jie, for Venice, and other poems
1ST, MALAY: Samsudin Said, for Tale Of An Old Tree, and other poems