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Karina Robles Bahrin escaped from the busy Kuala Lumpur to the serene island of Langkawi in 2011, dreaming she would be able to finally work on that novel she's always wanted to write.

Lo and behold, life got manic with the setting up of La Pari-Pari and Fat Cupid; a wonderful hotel and restaurant in Langkawi. Years went on by till we cut to the pandemic, she found herself with absolutely nothing to do.

“We had no guests at the hotel and we were eating whatever stock we had from the restaurant's fridge so it would not spoil. It was then that I found that I had run out of excuses not to write the novel. I told myself, if I cannot do it now, then I’ll never be able to do it,” Karina mentioned.

Armed with an online course on novel writing to ensure she was on the right path, she started weaving together characters and storylines along with fragments of texts she had written down more than a decade ago.

Her manuscript, The Accidental Malay, came in tops at a virtual ceremony live-streamed on Facebook and YouTube. The Epigram Books Fiction Prize was won by a Malaysian for the second time on Saturday (Jan 22). "This is really unexpected because it’s my first attempt at a novel," said Robles Bahrin, 52.