Profile: Nuraliah Norasid

Published on 26 June 2017

Credit: Epigram Books

Nuraliah Norasid, winner of the 2016 Epigram Books Fiction Prize, reinterprets fantasies to reflect social realities.

By MELANIE LEE

When research associate Nuraliah Norasid won the $25,000 Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016 for her debut novel The Gatekeeper, she cried in shock.

“I didn’t expect to win, so I didn’t prepare a speech. I think I said something about enjoying the free food during the awards ceremony,” the 31-year-old recalls with a smile.

Just a few months before that announcement, she had also cried upon learning there had been a deadline extension for entering the Epigram Books Fiction Prize.

“I felt if I’d more time, I would have developed the second half of my novel more,” Nuraliah says. “As a literature student, I had submitted pieces for short story competitions and literary journals, but my work had been rejected. I guess I had those rejections at the back of my head.”

Nevertheless, her fantasy story, about a young medusa who becomes a gatekeeper of an underground settlement of non-humans, won the judges over. One judge, playwright Haresh Sharma, described her writing as “confident and effortless”.

However, it did take seven years of painstaking effort for Nuraliah to complete the novel. She had been researching and conceptualising the story since 2009, and it eventually formed the creative component of her PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from Nanyang Technological University.

“Ever since I was a kid, I loved stories, especially fairy tales. However, I grew up in a poor family, and sometimes, my parents could not afford to buy me storybooks. Instead, my father would buy me blank notebooks and tell me to write my own stories in there. I ended up rewriting fairy tales to give them what I felt were happier endings,” she says.

Her fascination with medusas can be attributed to playing Heroes of Might and Magic III, a video game with an opening scene of a medusa “kicking ass on the battlefield”. Reading up on related Greek mythology revealed new nuances that intrigued Nuraliah even more.

“The medusa is tragic on so many levels. She’s either victim-blamed, or being slut-shamed. She can never win. Ironically, it was Athena, another woman, who put her in that position.”

Nuraliah sees many parallels between the medusa’s fate to certain women’s issues today. In fact, her current job at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs involves studying marginalisation in society. At the same time, she is currently working on the continuation of The Gatekeeper — there are two more books in the pipeline to form a trilogy.

“I hope to marry my research interests with my future novels and hopefully, the value of writing will go beyond the story,” she says.

The Gatekeeper is available at shop.epigrambooks.sg.

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