Singlit Spotlight: Singapore’s Next Crop of Writers

Chris Toh
·5-min read
To commemorate World Book Day (23 Apr), we flip the page on Singlit and look at the
To commemorate World Book Day (23 Apr), we flip the page on Singlit and look at the
To commemorate World Book Day (23 Apr), we flip the page on Singlit and look at the "contents" of an exciting new chapter. | Photos: (left to right from top left) Instagram/@ballijaswal and @suffianhakim, Facebook/@jinnykoh, Epigram Books, Instagram/@runhideseek, Epigram Books, Facebook/@jingjingleeauthor and @nuraliah.norasid, and Instagram/@marylyn.orificial

Singapore’s writers have been telling stories for decades, with veteran authors and poets like Catherine Lim, Edwin Thumboo, Christine Suchen Lim, and Ovidia Yu still coming up with new works even today.

But there has been a rising batch of writers who look set to carry the torch from these seasoned writers. Here are some you should look out for.

Balli Kaur Jaswal

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Balli has been going from strength to strength ever since her debut novel Inheritance was published back in 2013. Her second novel Sugarbread was nominated for the Singapore Literature Prize in 2018.

That same year, her third novel Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows was highlighted by Reese Witherspoon’s book club as a must-read, and optioned for a movie by Ridley Scott’s production company.

Her next novel The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters has received loads of internationally acclaim, with reviewers saying her stories are “rich and refreshingly original”. We have to agree.

Marylyn Tan

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In 2020, 27-year-old Marylyn became the first female to win the Singapore Literature Prize for Poetry (English) in the SLP’s 29-year history. Judges called her poetry collection Gaze Back “a clarion call for gender and linguistic reclamation”.

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The book pushes boundaries and tackles topics such as femininity, queerness and occultism, and was also shortlisted for the Lambda Literary Awards.

Marylyn, who says she hardly reads poetry, also has an art collective called dis/content (@hellodiscontent), which purports to create a space for interdisciplinary, collaborative art.

Gabby Tye (right) and Elodie Kyra

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Gabby started when she was 11, and now, 10 years later, she has six books written for teens to her name. Just last month, a graphic novel version of Run, the first book in her trilogy (comprising Run, Hide and Seek) was launched.

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Watch the animated version here:

Gabby followed up with three other books: K, a Run/Hude/Seek companion book; as well as Ever and After, set after the events of Run/Hide/Seek.

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Her sister Elodie is also making a mark. She started by contributing to Eliza Teoh’s series of children’s books, Ellie Belly, but now has her own trilogy for teens – Rage, Resist and her latest one, Retaliate.

Gabby’s and Elodie’s books have been frequent bestsellers; whether they’ll continue writing into adulthood remains to be seen, but their future looks bright.

Suffian Hakim

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This author has proven that he can tell a funny story with his novels, The Minorities and Harris bin Potter and the Stoned Philosopher. But in Suffian’s newest book, The Keepers of Stories, he goes for a more dramatic and darker storyline. Set in 1978, the novel follows two siblings who are brought to live with a community of squatters in Changi Beach. But then, their father disappears and a strange man washes ashore warning of mortal danger.

Jing-Jing Lee

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In 2020, Jing-Jing became the first Singaporean to be longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction, a prestigious British award for female authors, thanks to her debut novel How We Disappeared, about locals forced to be “comfort women” for the Japanese military in World War II Singapore.

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It was a bestseller and was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize last year. The novel received local and international acclaim with critics praising its “visceral power and heartbreak” and calling it “a must-read for all”.

Nuraliah Norasid

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Nuraliah got off to a winning start with her debut novel, The Gatekeeper. The story about a girl called Ria who can turn anyone to stone won the 2016 Epigram Books Fiction Prize, the 2018 Singapore Book Award for Best Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize that same year.

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According to her, The Gatekeeper is part of a trilogy, with the next two books drawing from other key characters in the Medusa mythology; but she also has a new novel – a modern fantasy that will delve into the mythos of angelic and demonic figures, in the works.

Darren Chen

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This author made his debut earlier this year with a novel called The Good Guys, a tale about a group of superheroes in a special facility getting treatment for trauma. But one of them is murdered and the whole place goes into lockdown, where they realise that being stuck with slightly unstable people who have superpowers may not be a good idea at all.

Darren’s novel is quirky and funny, but also highlights the best and worst in us humans.

Jinny Koh

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Jinny is the author of The Gods Will Hear Us Eventually, a novel about what happens to a family when a girl goes missing. Embracing the ethos of whodunnits and mystery novels, reviewers have called her debut work "intriguing" and "unpredictable".

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Jinny has also written short stories for various magazines, anthologies and journals, both here and in the US, where she studied. She is the editor and co-founder of editorial firm Deep Narrative.

Teo Xue Shen

TEO XUE SHEN
TEO XUE SHEN
PHOTO: EPIGRAM BOOKS

What’s impressive is about NUS undergrad Xue Shen is that he wrote his novels while still serving NS!

His first book, 18 Walls, is an action-thriller about a group of special forces sent out beyond the walls that protect a city. They are tasked to destroy the enemy – half-animal, half-human creatures who would not hesitate to kill.

His second, Children of the Ark, follows a group of people sent to rescue children who have been targeted by the government because they have special abilities that others don’t have.

That Xue Shen’s two YA novels were longlisted for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize shows his talent as an action author.

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