A Fruitful Festival (part 2) - The D.K. Dutt Award for Literary Excellence

I make a point of attending the George Town Literary Festival in Penang every year. The festival is the highlight of the Malaysian literary calendar and has evolved by increments every year. This year's was the biggest and sleekest to date.

Though I wasn't initially directly involved in any of the events, by chance (or by dint of hard work - take your pick) I ended up participating in two events - The Fay Khoo Award for Food for Food & Drink Writing (which you can read more about here) - and The D.K. Dutt Award for Literary Excellence.

The award is in its third and final year. 

In 2015, the award's inaugural year, I submitted a story entitled 'Big-Balls' - an entirely invented incident, involving a completely fictional sleazy champion bowler, that in no way resembles any news story involving champion bowlers accused and excused of statutory rape that you may or may not have read of in the Malaysian newpapers. 

Big Balls was short-listed as a runner up when the prize that was announced at the 2015 George Town Literary Festival. 

You can read it in Champion Fellas (buy here) - an anthology that includes a selection of that year's submissions. 

This year the theme was Beginnings and Endings.

I submitted a story entitled 'Antecessor.' It was inspired by seeing the fossilized remains of Homo Antecessor this summer in the Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos in Northern Spain. The remains had been found nearby in digs near the village of Atapuerca, which lies on the St. James Way pilgrimage route towards Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, a route I have had the luck to walk twice. The best preserved remains were those of a boy, on the cusp of becoming a man. I felt that it fitted well with the theme in so far as he was starting out in life and yet didn't live very long. On a broader timescale it was humanity's early beginnings that I wanted to underline as well. 

I tried to imagine the circumstances that had led to the boy's death and went through several scenarios. The one I finally settled on is one of the least unsettling. 

As an amateur anthropologist I enjoy a fascinating YouTube channel called Primitive Technology. There's one video where the host demonstrates how early man uses fire to harden and sharpen sticks for hunting. In an early draft I included this detail, only to discover when reading more on the subject that there was no ash or carbon suggestive of fire found in the layers where Antecessor's fossils were found. Current theories are that this particular species of human's never mastered fire. 

There's no record either of how they communicated. They may have had some sort of speech, or just communicated in guttural grunts, or anything in between. I hedged my bets by eliminating any dialogue included in earlier drafts. I did a lot of rewrites and a lot of research.

I was delighted when judges Dipika Mukherjee and Sharon Bakar included Antecessor in the long-list for this year's D.K. Dutt award, and even more so when I was awarded runner up for the prize at the George Town Literary Festival.

Congratulations to my fellow runner-up Sharmilla Ganesan and the winner Saraswathy Manickam. Hopefully their stories and those of other contenders will be included in a future anthology. 

The same event also saw the launch of 'Bitter Root, Sweet Fruit' - an anthology of last year's entries, available for sale very soon.


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