Sarah Perry, author of the 2016 Waterstones Book of the Year, The Essex Serpent, is to chair the judging panel for the 2018 Desmond Elliott Prize, the “UK’s most prestigious award for debut novelists” (The Telegraph). Perry will be joined on the panel by award-winning journalist and broadcaster Samira Ahmed, and head of publisher liaison and fiction for Waterstones Chris White. The trio of judges are tasked with finding the novel they believe is most worthy of winning the £10,000 Prize and being crowned the best debut of the last 12 months.
Perry’s first novel, After Me Comes the Flood, was released to critical acclaim in 2014 and longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Folio Prize. Her second novel, The Essex Serpent, became a number one bestseller when it was published in 2016 and was chosen as Book of the Year by Waterstones and the British Book Awards. It was also nominated for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Costa Novel Award. In addition to being a best-selling author, Perry also used to be the UNESCO World City of Literature Writer in Residence in Prague and writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library.
Perry said, “I was thrilled and flattered to be asked to chair the judging panel for the 2018 Desmond Elliott Prize, and equally as thrilled to accept. I feel increasingly passionate about the power of literature to serve as a guiding light in what seem intolerably dark and troubling days, and I am delighted to play a part in a prize that has always shown us what more we have to look forward to from debut authors.”
Samira Ahmed is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. She presents Front Row on BBC Radio 4, the Proms on BBC4 and Newswatch on BBC1, and is a visiting professor of journalism at Kingston University. Ahmed was previously a correspondent and presenter at Channel 4 News, Deutsche Welle TV and BBC News, reporting on Newsnight, the Today programme and as the BBC’s LA correspondent covering the OJ Simpson case.
Chris White has worked at Waterstones for 10 years and is head of publisher liaison and fiction for the bookseller chain. Having started his career as a bookseller at Hatchards, White moved to Waterstones’ Head Office in 2008 where he was part of the team responsible for Waterstones 11, a promotion which endeavoured to discover and champion debut writing. He has previously been a judge for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Awards and a category judge for the British Book Awards.
The Desmond Elliott Prize has a track record of spotting exceptionally talented novelists at the very beginning of their careers. Last year, the Prize was awarded to Francis Spufford for his debut novel, Golden Hill. Other past-winners include Lisa McInerney, Claire Fuller and Eimear McBride. The Prize, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, is presented in the name of the late publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, in memory of his passion for discovering and nurturing emerging authors. The judges, with Desmond’s values in mind, will be looking for vividly written novels with a compelling narrative and arresting characters.
Chair of Trustees for the Prize, Dallas Manderson, said, “The Desmond Elliott Prize has a long history of outstanding judging panels and I am delighted to welcome our three exceptional judges for 2018, each of whom brings their own unique wealth of knowledge and experience to the role. It is no easy task that lays before them, but I have no doubt that they will do a tremendous job and look forward to discovering the novel they choose to be this year’s winner.”
A longlist of 10 books will be announced in April and a shortlist in May. The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 20th June 2018 where they will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.