Singaporean wins adventure writing prize for post-apocalyptic story

SARAH ANG, winnner of the Author of Tomorrow prize, on her inspiration for Pearl Diving.
SARAH ANG, winnner of the Author of Tomorrow prize, on her inspiration for Pearl Diving.PHOTO: SARAH ANG

A story of a mysterious disease that wrecks the world has won Singaporean writer Sarah Ang, 21, an adventure writing prize from best-selling novelist Wilbur Smith.

Last Wednesday, she was awarded the £1,000 (S$1,750) Author of Tomorrow prize from the London-based Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation, set up by the British author of the Courtney and Ballantyne sagas and his wife.

The annual competition is open to short pieces of adventure writing in English from writers aged 21 and younger. Ten works were shortlisted across three age categories from almost 600 entries from around the world.

Ang won the category for ages 16 to 21 with her post-apocalyptic story Pearl Diving, which is available for free at read.worldreader.org (on mobile phone or tablet). "I was incredibly thrilled to hear of my win because the story meant so much to me and I poured a lot of myself into it," she says in an e-mail interview.

Her protagonist Pearl loves diving in the ocean like the ama, or Japanese pearl divers of yore.

As a deadly disease devastates the world, she is left to care for her sister, who has fallen sick after their mother, a marine biologist, goes missing.

Ang, who is studying English literature at University College London but is back in Singapore due to Covid-19, drew on the pandemic for inspiration.

"Seeing news reports about the chaos and hearing heartrending stories about people who lost their loved ones and didn't get to say goodbye, much like Pearl and her mother, made me imagine what it would be like to have a loved one suffering from the disease," she says.

"But it is also more than a pandemic story. I think the main character's grappling with loss, the bonds of family and central struggle with a difficult choice are things that transcend Covid-19."

She has been scribbling stories since she was six years old and has won a number of writing competitions here and abroad, such as the 2016 National University of Singapore National Poetry Competition and the 2018 International iYeats Poetry Competition. Her work has appeared in local anthologies like Who Are You My Country? (2018).

Seeing news reports about the chaos and hearing heartrending stories about people who lost their loved ones and didn't get to say goodbye, much like Pearl and her mother, made me imagine what it would be like to have a loved one suffering from the disease. ''

SARAH ANG, winnner of the Author of Tomorrow prize, on her inspiration for Pearl Diving

Her father works in an investment firm and her mother is a retired civil servant. She has a younger brother aged 18.

She has yet to decide what to do with her prize money, though she wishes to use some of it to help those hit hard by the Covid-19 downturn.

She has always been entranced by the ocean, though she has never gone diving, and based all the details in her story on online research. "I would like to learn in the future, though," she says.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2020, with the headline 'Singaporean wins adventure writing prize for post-apocalyptic story'. Print Edition | Subscribe