Judging the Desmond Elliott Prize: Sam Llewellyn

Sam Llewellyn – 2012’s chair of judges – has worked as a novelist, columnist and editor ever since Desmond Elliott himself commissioned Sam’s first novel in 1976. His children’s books include the Little Darlings series, and the Lyonesse series, a reimagining of the Arthurian canon. He is also Editor and Publisher of the Marine Quarterly – a journal of the sea. In this blogpost, he kindly shares a memory of Desmond and his support for the prize.


I first met Desmond when I was an editor at Pan Books in the mid-1970s. We had lunch from time to time: not the grim sandwich-and-water orgies of current publishing, but gastronomic epics, featuring excellent food irrigated by fine wines and plenty of them.

One day during a light midday snack of partridges and champagne at the Inn on the Park I mentioned that I had always rather fancied writing a book of my own instead of editing other people’s. “All right,” said Desmond without a flicker, “I’d better give you a contract. One book is difficult, so let’s have three, shall we?” So he dished out a three-book contract and a hefty advance, which he later made heftier by selling the books in New York, using, presumably, his fabled powers of hypnosis.

I have always blamed him for my subsequent career, which has involved writing a lot more books, and have been extremely grateful to him for the fun I have had in the process. One of the delights of acting as Chairman of the Judges in 2012 was that it brought back memories of Desmond, a crafty and fearless operator in the wild and individualistic world of pre-conglomerated publishing. The joy of the prize itself is that it is a continual reminder of Desmond’s buccaneering spirit, and the kindness and encouragement he gave new authors. Long may it continue.