Writer and humorist Nury Vittachi had to leave his homeland Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) because of ethnic clashes between Tamils and Singhalese. His family left for Singapore, lived in Kuala Lumpur and in London, and now he is living for years in Hong Kong. All those rambles have made him a mediator between east and west.

Nury Vittachi: Book prizes change lives

October 2008 -

In 1958, two events spoiled the peace on an island in the sun: I was born, and civil war broke out. Were they connected? My mother insists they weren't, but I was a very loud and obnoxious baby.

But you know what was strange about that war? It was secret.

The authorities had ordered a news black-out. People were disappearing—yet the world knew nothing about it.

My father was outraged and wrote a book about it. The manuscript was smuggled to London and printed by a major publishing house.

My mother scolded him: "Have you written a book? Or our death warrants?"

Things looked bleak. Our family was directly targeted in the violence. 
But one day everything changed. The book won an international literary award. My father gained a name. We fled the island one dark night and found a safe haven overseas.

Book prizes change lives.

Books may be small, disposable, low-cost items, but their contents are typically written by people who have sacrificed a large amount of time, energy and chi (or life force), to create something truly life-changing. And when that book wins a major prize, recognition is given to both the work and the writer—and the resulting celebration tempts thousands of readers to share in an experience that will change them.

Western Australia is this year launching one of the world's richest and most innovative book prizes. The Western Australian Premier's Australia-Asia Literary Award is revolutionary in many ways. It celebrates fiction set in Australasia and Asia—not only the fastest-growing region of the world, but the largest in terms of population and the most dynamic in terms of cultural evolution.
And while the majority of books entered for the contest will be in traditional printed form, the prize opens the door to cutting-edge electronic fiction. Then, of course, there's the size of the prize. A cash payment of A$110,000 means this is one of the largest book prizes in the world.

Yet it's a wise investment. Until now, the vast majority of popular fiction has come from the West. Yet the majority of consumers live in the East. It is inevitable that the world's cultural hub will move from West to East—and this prize puts the creative talents of West Australia right at the heart of the revolution.

So we're all winners. And the winner of this important prize will surely agree: book prizes change lives.