I guess most of you had forgotten all about the MPH-Alliance Short Story Competition. After all, the shortlist was revealed way back in July.
Well, the prize-giving was held on Saturday at Subang Parade, and I guess that everyone was surprised because it was a two-way tie between Booker-longlisted author Tan Twan Eng and complete newcomer, Ivan Yeo Mun Kit.
I was one of the six judges for the competition, and let me tell you that there was plenty of lively debate about all the shortlisted stories - but the panel was completely split over which one should win outright, hence the compromise. The sponsors were kind enough to donate one more top of the range laptop, and the prize-money was shared.
Left to right above : Ivan, Twan Eng's mum - Sally Tan, guest Mano Maniam who gave a very good speech on the importance of stories, Datuk Dr. Abdullah b Abdul Rahman, Director of the MPH Group of Companies, runner-up Shih-Li Kow, Zed Adams father (?), and Lee Eeleen. The other runner up, Vincent Foo Hiap Khian, could not attend the event - he lives in Sarawak and we were told that he is over-70. (So -hurray - it isn't just about young writers making a fiction debut.)
Tan Twan Eng's Some Things Will Remain is a heart-stopping drama in which a woman is forced into murder to keep her child, and its terrible climax contrasts sharply with the traquility and beauty of the setting. It asks important questions too about whether such a killing can ever be justified, and whether a person is ever truly able to make amends.
Ivan Yeo Mun Kit is a writer I am sure we will be hearing much more from in future after this promising start. All the judges loved the humour and the carefully observed detail in this story of a young man learning to drive and juggling the relationship with his “not girlfriend”. Ivan has a strong voice and has a great ear for dialogue. His characters were very well drawn. There was some disagreement among the judges about whether we liked the ending though. (But then disagreement is what makes the whole process interesting!)
I won't say any more here about the other stories beyond that I hope these writers will be encouraged to keep writing. (And I hope that others who didn't make the shortlist won't despair, there were some excellent near-misses, and other writers who show a lot of promise.)
The prize for the Teen category which went to the best story on the theme of Staying and Leaving went to Emily Jong. Again, congrats to all prize winners and I hope we are hearing more about you all soon.
It was nice to reconnect with friends at the event. Below is Shih-Li Kow who came with her son Jack, talking to Lim Soon Heng who was one of the judges of the teen prize. I also enjoyed meeting the members of Electric Minds Project, who put on an entertaining and well-acted sketch for us.
The biggest congrats of the day I think must go to MPH for organising this very much needed competition to give local writers something concrete to aim for, and to Alliance Bank for supporting it. I do hope it returns next year!