Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2017 shortlist announced

Straits Times arts correspondent Akshita Nanda and assistant news editor at The New Paper Andre Yeo will be vying for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2017. PHOTO: EPIGRAM BOOKS

SINGAPORE - Two journalists have made the shortlist for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize 2017, Singapore's richest literary prize.

Straits Times arts correspondent Akshita Nanda and assistant news editor at The New Paper Andre Yeo will be vying for the third edition of the $25,000 prize, Singapore's only one for unpublished English-language novels.

They will be up against office executive Sebastian Sim, who is on the shortlist for a second time, and writer Judith Huang.

The four novels in the running for the prize include a speculative novel set in a futuristic Singapore, in which a 13-year-old girl accidentally creates a new world using the Reality Machine in her mother's Biopolis laboratory, forcing her to go on the run from the government.

Another follows two women with the same name living 70 years apart, one an aspiring engineer in 1944 India, the other a scientist who emigrates from India to Singapore in 2015 to escape her matchmaking family and a secret past.

The last two draw on current affairs and news headlines: in one, six suicide bombers slip into Singapore to carry out an attack on National Day in 2020, while the other takes a fresh look at the 2013 Little India riots.

The manuscripts are submitted to the judging panel without the authors' names for impartial assessment.

Nanda, 38, has written textbooks, short fiction, and poetry, but this is her first novel. "I started writing novels because I couldn't find the stories I wanted to read, about matters that enchant or concern me."

Yeo, 45, a journalist of 21 years, has previously self-published a collection of 50 50-word stories to mark SG50. He spent 14 months on his first novel, writing almost daily from 10pm to 1am after he had put his four young children to bed. "I'm just honoured that they felt my manuscript was good enough to be shortlisted," he says.

Huang, 31, is best known for her poetry, having been a three-time winner of Britain's Foyle Young Poet Of The Year award for poets under 18.

She says she has a "lyric" muse and an "epic" muse. "When I write I either write something short like a poem, or hunker down and write something long, like a full-length play." In 2011, a friend challenged her to take part in NaNoWriMo, in which writers try to finish a novel in a month - although she took somewhat longer than that to produce her novelistic debut.

Shortlisted in 2015 for comic novel Let's Give It Up For Gimme Lao!, Sim, 51, says he is feeling the pressure as the only previous shortlisted candidate, but is glad that the award continues to attract quality submissions, even if this provides him with stiff competition.

The prize, which is sponsored this year by the Lee Foundation and Mapletree Investments, awards $25,000 to the winner and $5,000 to each of the other three finalists.

Open to all Singapore citizens, permanent residents and Singapore-born authors, it received 47 submissions this year.

The judges for this year's prize are Epigram founder Edmund Wee, Singapore Literature Prize-winning poet Cyril Wong, NUS associate professor Barbara Ryan and Pamela Ho, editor of The A List, a monthly arts and culture magazine published by the National Arts Council.

The winner will be announced at an award ceremony and gala dinner on Nov 23.

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