7 things in her bag: Amanda Lee Koe

7 things in her bag: Amanda Lee Koe

Local writer Amanda Lee Koe is hardly photographed smiling, but she is anything but aloof.

In person, she exudes girlish charm and is extremely personable.

With her whimsical dress sense and tight curls, she is the epitome of cool.

"It's been a long time since I've been to a hairdresser; I decided to let the messiness take over. It's my signature look - dishevelled but chic," says Lee Koe, 27.

What was meant to be a 30-minute interview turned into an hour-long chit-chat about everything from vintage clothes to the hodge-podge of shops at Katong Shopping Centre, punctuated with lots of laughter.

Lee Koe has a lot to be happy about. She was recently awarded the Singapore Literature Prize for Best English Fiction for her debut collection of short stories, Ministry of Moral Panic, which is in its third print.

The collection comprises 14 stories set in Singapore that are thoroughly inventive and easy reads.

In Flamingo Valley, she tells the tale of an ageing Malay Pop Yeh Yeh singer who finds his long-lost teenage love in a psychiatric ward.

Another story revolves around a human Merlion who is a transsexual working in Orchard Towers.

About 2,000 copies have been sold since the book was launched in 2013.

"It's quite accessible even though it tries to push the envelope in terms of how we look at history or the underbelly of Singapore. I wanted it to be very readable and not highbrow," says Lee Koe, who is currently pursuing her master's degree in fiction writing at Columbia University in New York under a National Arts Council scholarship.

She says that she is fortunate to be able to pursue her hobby as a career.

"Growing up, I never thought that being a writer was a career option, because it's not something a lot of people do," she says.

"Being a writer opens up a lot of possibilities to being many different people in one lifetime," she adds.

Lee Koe has a busy year ahead as she will start writing a new novel that is due next year.

"I also want to redecorate my NYC apartment, travel to central Asia in the summer for research and maybe pick up ballet again," she says.

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