$20,000 prize for unpublished novel

$20,000 prize for unpublished novel
Clockwise from top left: Writer Leonora Liow, Poet and graphic novelist Gwee Li Sui, Epigram Books’ founder Edmund Wee and Poet and fiction writer Felix Cheong.

Epigram Books is offering a novel prize: $20,000 to the best unpublished novel in English sent to the company from now till Aug 31, as well as the opportunity for it to be published.

The Epigram Books Fiction Prize will be the richest here for such works and is open to Singapore citizens and permanent residents, as well as Singapore-born writers, wherever they are residing.

A winner will be announced at the Singapore Writers Festival later this year, says Mr Edmund Wee, 63, founder of the home-grown publishing imprint, adding that judges reserve the right not to award the prize if no submission is up to the mark.

The prize is no one-off to do with the country's 50th birthday celebrations, he adds.

"We spend about $1 million a year publishing up to 50 books, so it's going to cost me $20,000 anyway to do a book. If we get a good book, it'll be worth it in the long run."

He will chair the judging panel and will announce the other three members of the jury later in the year.

Mr Wee started Epigram Books in 1999, first publishing mountaineer David Lim's memoir, Mountain To Climb, then an account of Singapore's race to the South Pole, Southbound, by Lulin Reutens in 2001.

The imprint released about a book a year until 2009, when it began reprinting hard-to-find works of Singapore literature, from plays by Jean Tay and Ovidia Yu to the late Goh Poh Seng's novel The Immolation.

Epigram Books is behind some of Singapore's most successful writers, including Adeline Foo (of the best-selling The Diary Of Amos Lee series for children) and last year's Singapore Literature Prize winner Amanda Lee Koe and her short story collection Ministry Of Moral Panic.

For the past two years, the imprint has brought out more than 40 Singapore titles a year, from fiction for adults and children to books on cooking and photography, as well as memoirs.

Mr Wee is offering the prize for unpublished novels because he believes novels can reveal more about a country than news reports, saying that Daniyal Mueenuddin's In Other Rooms, Other Wonders taught him more about Pakistan than any press article could have.

Since he receives more compilations of short stories from writers than full-length works of fiction, he hopes a cash award will encourage more Singapore writers to work on their novels.

He says: "Singaporeans have one prize, the Singapore Literature Prize, once every two years, and that is for a published book."

That prize is organised by the National Book Development Council of Singapore and supported by the National Arts Council.

He had thought to create an award just for Singapore citizens, but realised this would eliminate well-known Singapore-born writers such as Australian Boey Kim Cheng or even American Kevin Kwan, author of the comic novel about life in Singapore, Crazy Rich Asians (2013, HarperCollins), an international hit.

His long-term aim is to promote Singapore literature by sending in the novels he publishes for major international awards such as the annual Man Booker Prize.

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