The 2008 Prize

Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (Viking)

giftedOn the 26th of June 2008, Nikita Lalwani was named the winner of the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize for Gifted, a story about a maths prodigy growing up in 1980s Cardiff, published by Penguin Books.

Penny Vincenzi, Chair of the Judges, commented,

“Gifted is a book of extraordinary range; it is touching, tender, funny and at the same time truly compelling. It covers the issues of duty and family loyalty, and the demands of an extraordinary talent, while holding at its heart the story of a young girl struggling with the agony of first love and her own, very particular, identity. Above all, it has a wonderfully bittersweet charm and for that reason Desmond Elliott would have loved it.”

The Desmond Elliott Prize is a new prize for first novels designed to reward “a sparkling good read”, a book which is both profound and has wide appeal.


nikita_lalwani_and_penny_vincenziNikita Lalwani and Penny Vincenzi

Nikita Lalwani was born in Kota, Rajasthan in 1973 and raised in Cardiff. Gifted is her first novel and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007 and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2007and the Glen Dimplex Fiction Award 2007.

A child prodigy, Nikita wanted to take her maths O-level early but was dissuaded by her father. She initially studied medicine at Oxford University but left after her first year, realising that it wasn’t a career she wished to pursue.

She then read English at Bristol University and continued on to a post-graduate degree in journalism and creative writing.

Gifted was written in 18 months and Nikita received responses from potential agents within two days of looking.  The Bookseller cited the book as “one of the most coveted British fiction debuts of the year”. Nikita lives in London with her husband and child.


“Superb, brilliantly realised…especially memorable for its sensuous power…
The searing narrative is unflinchingly and tenderly written.”
The Independent


Cardiff in the 1980s is a place where maths can get you noticed. Rumi Vasi is the town’s ‘maths prodigy’; untangling numbers and Rubik’s cubes protects her from the harsh realities of the playground and gives a pattern to her world. But after years of her father’s determined tutoring, Rumi find that numbers are beginning to lose their innocence. India infuses her with a romantic sense of belonging and, as she grows older and desire becomes a dirty word in the Vasi household, the idea of love is opened up to painful examination.

In a voice that is by turns very funny and fiercely tender, Nikita Lalwani reveals a captivating story of high aspirations and deep longing, and the sometime loneliness of childhood.


The Prize

winner_with_judgesFrom left to right: Penny VIncenzi, Nikita Lalwani, Geordie Greig, and Cristina Odone

Named in honour of literary agent and publisher Desmond Elliott, one of the most charismatic and successful men in recent publishing history who died in August 2003, the Prize is designed to celebrate sparkling new fiction and is worth £10,000 to the winner.

In the spirit of Desmond Elliott, the judges looked for a first novel which is intelligent with broad appeal, a page-turner which makes you pause for thought.

Chair of the judges, Penny Vincenzi was joined on the judging panel by Tatler Editor, Geordie Greig and author and journalist Cristina Odone.