The Desmond Elliott Prize Shortlist Proves “There’s No Age Limit on Being a Sparkling New Arrival on the Literary Scene”
The Desmond Elliott Prize 2015 has today (15 May) announced a shortlist of three books in the running to take home the “most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (Daily Telegraph). Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (Viking), A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray (Hutchinson) and Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (Fig Tree) have been chosen from a longlist of ten books published in the last year by British and Irish debut novelists.
The three shortlisted writers reflect the variety of paths that can lead to authorship. Chair of judges Louise Doughty noted: “It’s fascinating to see that each writer arrived here from slightly unorthodox beginnings and it’s a testament to The Desmond Elliott Prize that it identifies and rewards the very best new writing talent, whatever the author’s date of birth. Our shortlist shows that there’s no age limit on being a sparkling new arrival on the literary scene.”
Doughty added: “Contrary to the popular myth of gilded youth producing all our great works, literary history is strewn with late starters: William Golding published his first novel at the age of 44 and went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.”
Claire Fuller, 48, originally studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specializing in wood and stone carving, then ran her own marketing company for 23 years. She began writing fiction in her 40s, spurred on by National Novel Writing Month (or “NaNoWriMo”), an online phenomenon which challenges participants to write a novel in a month. Doughty said: “Our Endless Numbered Days is a brilliantly constructed tale of a survivalist father kidnapping his own daughter to live in a Bavarian forest, told through the eyes of an utterly convincing teenage narrator.”
Londoner Emma Healey, the youngest of the shortlisted authors at 29, took home a C in GCSE English in her school days, but, like Fuller, brings an artistic background to her writing – her first degree was in bookbinding, after which she worked in an art gallery. She eventually enrolled in the UEA Creative Writing Course before Elizabeth is Missing went on to sell at auction and become a bestseller. Doughty commented that the novel “has been rightly acclaimed for its deft interweaving of two time frames as an elderly woman living with Alzheimer’s sets out to solve a mystery from her past.”
Carys Bray, 39, has spoken openly about the restrictions that kept her from writing until recently. Just five years ago she and her husband decided to remove their family of six from the Mormon faith. She now also teaches Creative Writing and is completing a PhD. Doughty called A Song for Issy Bradley “a heart-breaking and tremendously funny account of a family negotiating a personal tragedy in a devout Mormon community.”
Doughty said of the judging process: “Our deliberations were long and heartfelt but we’ve come up with a shortlist of three fantastic books of which we are immensely proud. The books we eventually chose are all remarkably fully achieved first novels – we would defy any reader to guess they were debuts. Each book has a compulsive narrative, characters you really care about and language that sings off the page – it’s the combination of all three skills that shows these are all novelists with great futures ahead of them.”
Dallas Manderson, Chairman of the Prize Trustees, said: “We are delighted to present these outstanding titles in our search for this year’s best debut. The judges have done an admirable job selecting a shortlist from a particularly strong and varied longlist this year and we look forward to seeing which book ultimately comes out on top.”
The Prize is presented in the name of the late, acclaimed publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, whose passion for finding and nurturing new authors is perpetuated by his Prize. Now in its eighth year, the award has an established record for spotting up-and-coming novelists in the UK and Ireland and propelling them to greater recognition and success. The 2014 winner was Eimear McBride, author of the much-garlanded and critically lauded A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. Other past winners include Grace McCleen, Anjali Joseph, Edward Hogan and Ali Shaw.
Louise Doughty is joined on the judging panel by bookseller Jonathan Ruppin and journalist and author Viv Groskop. The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 1 July, where she will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.