Filipino Scholastic Asian Book Award winners: The voyage of writing
MANILA, Philippines – When the winners of the 2014 Scholastic Asian Book Awards were announced in June 2014, two Filipino writers were declared the winners.
Sophia Lee, 32, and Catherine Torres, 34, won the grand prize ($10,000 Singaporean dollars) and first runner-up, respectively. India's Vivek Bhanot was the second runner-up.
Lee is currently working on an MA in Creative Writing from University of the Philippines Diliman while Torres is a foreign service officer and has been posted to places such as Singapore and India.
The Scholastic Asian Book Awards is a biennial competition by Scholastic and the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS) and was first spearheaded in 2011. According to the official Scholastic Asian Book Award website these are the contest objectives:
- To recognize excellence in fiction in Asian stories for children
- To showcase the diversity of literary talent within Asia
- To encourage and inspire more books and stories with Asian content
The stories are geared towards children from ages 6 to 18. Writers are then put on a shortlist before being notified if they have won.
Sophia Lee: The idea of meaning
In a message to Rappler, Lee wrote that her fascination with storytelling comes from her childhood, and that her love for writing fiction is fueled by her belief that one is limited only by what they can imagine.
Lee wrote about the dictionary being a source of inspiration for her award-winning story What Things Mean. “Honestly, the dictionary was one of my favorite books growing up. I liked learning about how words were given their meanings.”
Lee wrote that she wanted to present the idea of meaning in a story for young adults, to remind readers that they have the power to define who they are, they can be more than the labels assigned to them. “I liked knowing that it is people who assign meaning to things. Meaning comes from us, from how we perceive and interact with things around us.”
What Things Mean is about a teenage girl, Olive, who doesn’t understand why she’s so different from her family. Olive closely resembles her father, whom she’s never met. Olive believes that through meeting her father, she may better understand who she is. Lee’s story follows Olive finding her father and learning the truth about how it is she who gives the world meaning, and not the other way around.
Lee also writes feature stories and creates events for advocacies and social enterprises to gain support for their different causes. Lee feels fortunate to be able to use her writing skills to support causes that she advocates herself.
She also writes short fiction for a content providing company and said, “It [writing short fiction] challenges me to be more creative, to come up with stories even when I don’t feel particularly inspired.”
Lee wrote how she is constantly inspired by what others before her have done. When she finds something she likes, she reads it over and over so she can observe how the author created their characters or structured the narrative. Lee mentioned how reading challenges her to be a better writer.
Her message for aspiring writers: just write. Lee wrote how there’s nothing more important than getting oneself to actually put words on the page. However, she also cited that it was important to get feedback when writing and for any kind of writer to read. A lot.
Lee also wrote that she was fortunate to discover many amazing local authors during her time at UP Diliman, while she works on her Creative Writing MA.
Lee said that her professors at UP Diliman also advised her to write stories tailored to the individual. “Write the story only you can write. Just keep your eyes open, find them [the stories] and find a way to tell them in a voice that’s uniquely your own.”
What Things Mean is Lee’s first work to be published and she wrote that was floored by this “terrific starting point” in her writing career. However, she said that she saw herself as a neophyte in the writing world. “I see myself as someone who is just starting out. I would like to learn more about teaching creative writing, though that might come much later.”
Lee says that moving forward, she just hopes that she will be blessed with time and resources to keep writing and producing work that will make people proud.
Catherine Torres: Making the voyage
In another message to Rappler, Catherine Torres wrote that it was a set of Childcraft encyclopedias that spawned her love for reading and, ultimately, writing. It was also the idea of being able to string words together to elicit emotion, getting people to laugh, cry, and even fall in love, that inspired her to start writing.
Torres currently works in Manila as a foreign service officer, writing memos and briefings, but it is really during her down time when she writes creative non-fiction and fiction. “I do more fiction simply because in my line of work, the realities you have to deal with are often overwhelming enough. Perhaps you could say writing fiction helps me to stay sane,” she tells Rappler.
Torres says that her work as a foreign service officer came into play in her writing. It is the constant movement that comes with her job that gives way to stories like Sula’s Voyage.
Torres wrote the prize-winning story Sula’s Voyage after being posted in Singapore, where Torres found the Balangay team that was moored there. Torres described how it was exhilarating to see the two wooden boats, with their billowing colorful sails approaching the pier.
When the crew members of the Balangay team shared their stories of hardship at sea with her, it caused Torres to wonder whether she would be daring enough to go on a similar adventure. “I wrote the story precisely because I wasn’t [daring enough]. I had to make the voyage vicariously through [protagonist of Sula’s Voyage] Sula.”
The story follows Sula, born on the Sulawesi Sea on a perilous voyage by her hippie parents. In her teenage years, Sula finds that she has no real friends because of her and her family’s nomadic lifestyle. After being bullied by classmates, Sula is protected by something she can’t explain, but that also gets her expelled.
Fortunately, she finds safe harbor in James, one of her father’s students. However, when James breaks a promise to her she flees. In her time away, Sula grows more confused about herself and her feelings for James. When he meets an accident, Sula must decide if she is ready to relive her parents’ voyage to save him and discover herself.
While Torres wrote that different people can take away different things from the same book, what she wants people to take away from Sula’s Voyage is a love for the sea.
That being said, Torres’ encounter with Sula’s Voyage wasn’t all smooth sailing. She had to write the story in three months before completing her assignment in Singapore.
When she returned to Manila, Torres found out that she had a thyroglossal duct cyst that may have been triggered by stress. But Torres acknowledged that the cyst was a minor inconvenience in exchange for the experience of writing about Sula’s journey.
Torres said that despite illness, that she wrote until it hurt. “I poured out my soul into this book, and put in its pages most, if not all, of what’s important to me: family, the sea, nature, the stars, beauty, friendship, and God, in the different ways we call him.”
Watch for these two writers to make waves as they continue to explore their craft: the voyage on the waves of creativity, on the road to the search for meaning. – Rappler.com
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