Student's 'failed' story turns winner

SINGAPORE - Student Aisyah Lyana, 16, did not expect her Malay short story to shine in the national writing competition, Golden Point Award. The first version, written during a Malay language exam earlier this year, had scored poorly.

The National Junior College integrated programme student said: "I didn't answer the exam question. But my teacher said he really liked my writing style and if I published a book, he would be the first to buy it. That inspired me to want to improve."

She polished the essay, expanded it and entered the story in the biennial contest for short stories and poetry in each of the four languages - English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

The contest, organised by the National Arts Council, is open to writers who have not yet published a full-length work.

Her work won an honourable mention in the Malay short story category, and as the youngest award recipient this year, she joins the contest's swelling ranks of winners in their teens and 20s.

This year, 40 per cent, or 19 of the 46 award recipients, belonged to this age group.

In the last contest in 2011, winners in this age bracket made up 30 per cent, or 13 of the 42 award recipients.

The tally includes first, second and third prize winners for two categories in each language - poetry and short story - as well as multiple winners in some categories and those who received honourable mentions.

Other young winners this year include medical student Eugene Yap, 21, who topped the Chinese short story category; teacher Tang Jui Piow, 27, who clinched first prize in Chinese poetry; and teacher Gayathiri Ilango, 27, who won in the Tamil short story category.

Mr Tang, a secondary school Chinese teacher, said: "With a day job, I can't put all my time into writing Chinese poetry so the prize is an encouragement to continue what I am doing."

The winning works were selected from among 771 entries by 24 judges including award-winning Singapore writers Mohamed Latiff Mohamed and Yeng Pway Ngon.

First prize winners receive $4,000 cash and a $6,000 enrichment grant that can be used to publish their works or attend writing workshops and residencies. Those who come in second get $3,000 cash and those in third place receive $2,000.

At the award ceremony at The Arts House last night, the guest of honour, Professor Chan Heng Chee, chairman of the arts council, pledged that as Singapore's literary landscape grows, the council will continue to support writers through writing residencies, workshops, literary awards and grants.

She added that "one of the next frontiers for Singapore literature is the translation of creative texts into other languages, to foster greater cross-cultural understanding" and she encouraged winners to take advantage of available grants and resources to make their works "accessible to a wider Singapore audience".

On having her work translated, Ms Zhang Ruihe, 36, an English language tutor who won first prize for her set of poems, Nordic, said: "The poems I submitted were all about Norway so I'll be more than happy if any Norwegian writer wants to translate them."

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