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31 Dec 2018 // Filed under Articles

By Danica Kelly James

Diploma in Creative Writing for Television and New Media

Singapore Polytechnic


As a child, she was destructive, picking fights at the playground and breaking other kids’ toys. Who would have thought that she would find a way to turn her violent tendencies into creative stories?

Nuraliah Norasid, 31, has used writing as an outlet since her childhood. Her passion for writing grew and led to her winning the Epigram Books Fiction Prize in 2016 for her manuscript The Gatekeeper. The published novel was shortlisted for the 2018 Singapore Literature Prize.

Nuraliah Norasid has been writing her own stories since she was in kindergarten. (Photo Credit: Danica Kelly James)


Where it all began

Nuraliah grew up in a poor home and was raised in a family with many financial difficulties.

She recalls being a very angry child, having come from a violent home environment.

“I was not allowed to laugh, cry or show any kind of emotion at home – that would get me into trouble.”

As a result, she lashed out at the kids in her neighbourhood, until she discovered writing, which gave her a sense of peace no other activity could.

“As a kid I had a tendency to take all of these fairy tales I wasn’t too happy with and then rewrite them in my own way,” she says.

Even now, years later, she still does that. She takes stories she is unsatisfied with and turns them into something entirely new that she feels good about.

Writing, for Nuraliah, is a way to escape from the stress of reality into a realm of imagination, where heroes and complex characters exist as she imagines them.

In this world of her imagination, “magical things could happen; more improbable things can take place.”

Some ideas do not take any shape, but others demand to be written.

“It’s almost a compulsion to write these things,” she says of putting her words onto paper.


Her debut novel

The idea for her debut novel took shape while she was doing her PhD.

The Gatekeeper is a fantasy novel. It includes an unusual interpretation of the mythical character, Medusa.

The early manuscripts of The Gatekeeper were very different from the published novel. Originally, there were no elements that differentiated it from a typical Western fantasy novel. Nuraliah put them aside and made changes to the characters and storyline to bring in a more local perspective.

She makes use of local language, common sights and socio-political background to keep her writing authentic to Singapore.

“I think that Medusa herself in the novel is actually very Malay,” she says of the character in the novel. “I recognise her in any Malay girl.”

She was hesitant about submitting the manuscript for the Epigram Books Fiction Prize, but did so at the insistence of her fiancé.

She attended the awards ceremony, expecting to leave empty-handed, but was shocked and mortified when she walked away with the prize she had expected to lose to the more experienced authors in the room.

“Someone said I looked like Halle Berry when she got her Oscars,” she laughingly remembers, referring to the actress’ emotional acceptance speech in 2002.

As the winner, her manuscript was published in 2017 as her debut novel.

Nuraliah is quick to give her fiancé credit for pushing her to submit the manuscript.

“If I had not submitted, I don’t think I would have published anything. I would forever have written books, and then hidden them in the drawer with all of my embarrassing juvenilia.”


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