Epigram fiction prize longlist includes illusionist Ning Cai and last year's winner, among others

Writer O Thiam Chin won the inaugural $20,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year.
Writer O Thiam Chin won the inaugural $20,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize last year. PHOTO: ST FILE

The winner of the inaugural Epigram Books Fiction Prize, O Thiam Chin, is taking another shot at the title this year.

O, who walked away with the $20,000 prize last year, is among the 10 writers on this year's longlist for Singapore's richest literary prize.

The writers, both budding and established, were picked from a pool of 50 people who submitted 52 manuscripts in total.

Familiar names include Jeremy Tiang, whose short story collection It Never Rains On National Day was shortlisted in the English fiction category of this year's Singapore Literature Prize; Lau Siew Mei, best known for her debut novel Playing Madame Mao; and Grace Chia, who was the first National Arts Council-Nanyang Technological University writer-in-residence from 2011 to 2012.

Also on the longlist are Pauline Loh, who has been writing professionally for more than two decades and whose works include non-fiction titles and children's picture books; and illusionist and escape artist Ning Cai, whose memoir Who Is Magic Babe Ning? was a finalist in the English non-fiction category of this year's Singapore Literature Prize.

Meanwhile, scriptwriter and Temasek Polytechnic lecturer Andrew Ngin - who has worked on the Channel 5 series Fighting Spiders, Under One Roof and Growing Up - is also taking a crack at the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.

Other fresh voices in the Singapore literary scene are also in the running: Warran Kalasegaran, who graduated from the University of Tokyo with a master's in public policy; research associate Nuraliah Nurasid, whose writing has appeared in the Quarterly Literary Review Singapore; and architect Tham Cheng-E.

The Epigram Books Fiction Prize is Singapore's only prize for unpublished English-language novels. It is open to Singapore citizens and permanent residents, as well as Singapore-born writers wherever they are residing.

When the $20,000 prize was announced last year, it toppled the biennial Singapore Literature Prize - which offers $10,000 each for the best in fiction, non-fiction and poetry published in any of Singapore's four official languages - as the country's richest literary prize.

A year after its debut, the pot for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize has doubled.

The winner will receive $25,000, up from $20,000 last year, and three other writers who make the shortlist are set to receive $5,000 each this time around. Last year, the other finalists received publishing contracts, but no cash award.

Epigram Books founder Edmund Wee says: "The longlist is just as diverse in genre as it is commendable in quality.

"We will no doubt have a tough time picking out the shortlist."

The shortlist will be released early next month and the winner will be announced at an award ceremony and gala dinner on Nov 24.

The judges for this year's prize are Mr Wee; Professor Philip Holden from the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore; Cultural Medallion recipient and resident playwright for The Necessary Stage Haresh Sharma; and author and activist Constance Singam.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2016, with the headline Epigram fiction prize longlist includes illusionist Ning Cai and last year's winner, among others. Subscribe