The only local lit award for local authors


  • Books
  • Friday, 12 May 2017

Sonia Mael was over the moon when she emerged the winner in last year’s fiction category of the Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards (RCA) for Don’t Forget To Remember.

“Winning the award for my first novel was a feather in my cap.

“In the autumn of my life, nothing gives me more pleasure than writing stories based on my life experiences, those of my friends’ and acquaintances’, and others from my own fertile imagination,” the 73-year-old shares.

Sonia Mael is the nom de plume of Datin Harison Ahmad, and Don’t Forget To Remember went on to be longlisted for this year’s International Dublin Literary Award.

“To be nominated as one of the three contenders by the National Library here was an additional honour,” she says.

Harison’s win last year has ignited a passion for writing in her, and she is already working on her third book. Photo: Filepic

“Although the novel didn’t make it to the shortlist, I have the satisfaction of knowing that a few copies of Don’t Forget To Remember will be on the shelves in the Dublin Library.”

(The 23-year-old Irish award is presented annually for a novel written in English or translated into English; library systems throughout the world submit nominations. The other two Malaysian titles that were nominated are One Minute To Midnight by Diyar Harraz and Aishah Madadiy’s Bits Of Heaven; the latter was also shortlisted for last year’s RCA.)

Harison’s novel was also listed in the national Book Council of Malaysia’s 50 Best Malaysia Titles for International Rights 2016/2017.

To be nominated for the RCA, a work has to have a Malaysian connection.

This can mean a book written by a Malaysian citizen (the content doesn’t have to be Malaysian) or by a Malaysian living abroad (again, the content doesn’t have to be Malaysian); it can also mean a locally published book (the content doesn’t have to be Malaysian) or a book focusing on Malaysia (author and publication origin doesn’t matter).

Chew Cheong Tat, Popular Book Co’s senior merchandising manager, English and Malay department, says: “The holistic objectives of the RCA are to promote Malaysian works and to serve as a platform to introduce readers to these creative talents.

“Popular firmly believes that local writers are just as talented as their foreign counterparts, if not more so.”

He explains that “prominent efforts deserve special recognition” and Popular pulls out all the stops in doing its part in propelling the local literary scene to greater heights.

“This is why newly-published books are usually accompanied by promotions and discounts so they will reach as large an audience as possible.

“One shining example is Sonia Mael, who approached Popular for a distributor, and walked away with far more,” he points out.

Of course, it takes two to tango, and Harison muses that she is “greatly indebted” to the Popular staff she worked with, who “showed her the way when she was groping in the dark, and when others were confident that ‘Tiada siapa yang akan baca’ (no one will read it)”.

“Popular also followed up one step further by arranging book tours to the various towns in Malaysia which were very well-received and attended,” she adds.

It was the push she needed, and today, there is no stopping her. Earlier this year, her second novel, No Ordinary Love, was launched. Currently, she is in the midst of her research for her next novel.

“Writing has developed into a passion which I hope will sustain me for many years to come.

“I salute Popular and Star Media Group for taking the initiative to encourage local writers to publish their books with their unequivocal support through constant publicity and the annual RCA, which brings to the attention of the public the existence of such literature,” she says.

Don’t Forget To Remember is about two students falling in love in Australia and Malaya in the 1960s but Harison insists that her novels are more than “simple love stories or romances”, as they are embellished with descriptions of Malay beliefs and practices of the period.

“I constantly rewrote critical scenes in my novels, totally immersed in the characters and the crises they encountered at that exact moment.

“It was as if they were me and I was them. History plays a pivotal role in my books, for we are only accidents of history,” she says.

Chew comments that since the RCA was introduced 10 years ago, the competition has seen a wide variety of authors, specialising in different genres, being nominated.

“The latest books promoted at Popular outlets that also prove to be bestsellers stand to be nominated.

“But it is more than just a matter of being nominated or winning, rather, it is all about encouraging local authors to be brave enough to showcase their work,” he says.

With the RCA serving as a platform to shape and develop the local literary scene, Chew shares that Popular envisages that more publishers and readers will lend their support to local works, bringing the country’s literary industry to the next level.

“Many of these authors, regardless of whether they win or not, continue to pursue their passion in writing, something we find most heartening,” he says.

“This is why Popular will continue to lay the groundwork that enables local talent to gain a foothold in the literary industry.

“Much has been done, and much more can be done, with the support of all parties concerned,” he adds.

Chew says that since the RCA was introduced 10 years ago, the competition has seen a wide variety of authors, specialising in different genres, being nominated. Photo: Filepic

Much of that support comes from readers, of course, who can help not only by buying books written by local authors but also by voting in the RCA.

These awards, after all, are the only ones that are decided entirely by the book-reading public.

You have until May 21 to get your votes in for your top six titles – three from the fiction list and three from the nonfiction list (see “And the nominees are...” for the titles).

There are two ways you can vote: 1) Fill in a form at any Popular and Harris bookstore nationwide (there is no limit on the number of forms you can send in); 2) Vote online by visiting either popular.com.my, bookfestmalaysia.com or facebook.com/Bookfest Malaysia.

Readers who vote stand a chance to win a RM50 Popular gift voucher as well as a free one-year Popular membership card.

Haven’t read the books yet? No problem, because all 20 books are available at a 20% discount at all Popular and Harris bookstores until July 30.

The RCA winners will be announced on July 1 at the Main Stage, Hall 1 (Ground floor), Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre. Members of the public are welcome to join the ceremony to support their favourite authors.

The Popular-The Star Readers’ Choice Awards 2017 are a precursor to BookFest@Malaysia 2017, which will be held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre from June 24 to July 2.

Admission is with purchase of the BookFest catalogue (RM2.50), which will be available at all Popular and Harris bookstores closer to the event’s opening date.

Entry is free for students aged 18 and below, and senior citizens aged 60 and above. For more information, visit facebook.com/BookFestMalaysia.


Here are the 20 books vying for votes

There are two ways you can vote:

1) Fill in a form at any Popular and Harris bookstore nationwide (there is no limit on the number of forms you can send in);

2) vote online by visiting either popular.com.my, bookfestmalaysia.com or facebook.com/Bookfest Malaysia. Readers who vote stand a chance to win a RM50 Popular gift voucher as well as a free one-year Popular membership card.

Haven’t read the books yet? No problem, because all 20 books are available at a 20% discount at all Popular and Harris bookstores until July 30.

 

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