The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber is today announced as the winner of the annual Desmond Elliott Prize, which celebrates and champions the very best in debut fiction. Exceptionally, written entirely in verse, The Marlowe Papers focuses on the enduring intrigue surrounding the authorship of the works of William Shakespeare and the mysterious, untimely death of Christopher Marlowe.
The Chair of judges, Joanne Harris MBE, said: ‘Barber’s novel stood out from the shortlist because it is a unique historical conspiracy story that engages all the senses. It is as enticing as a top-flight thriller, with the welcome addition of gorgeous, evocative language as visual and concise as a screenplay. The Marlowe Papers is technically accomplished and hugely impressive in both style and scope, enhanced by being written in verse, it is certainly an ambitious undertaking for a new novelist – I cannot wait to read Barber’s next book.’
The inspiration for The Marlowe Paperscame to Barber from a comment made by author and academic, Jonathan Bates, during a Channel 4 documentary about Shakespeare. When Bates dismissed the theory that Marlowe was the true author of the works of Shakespeare as the stuff of fiction and that it would make a great novel, 48 year-old Barber, a former computer programmer, took him at his word and began writing. It was a process that would take her four years.
Barber, already a published poet, beat off stiff competition to claim the prestigious £10,000 Prize: the 2013 shortlist also featured The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan, one of Granta Magazine‘s Best of Young British Novelists and Gavin Extence, whose novel The Universe Versus Alex Woods was selected for The Richard and Judy Book Club. Harris said of the shortlist: ‘it was incredibly hard to choose between these three talented writers. The Panopticon is epically masterful and atmospheric, whilst The Universe Versus Alex Woods is expertly plotted and charmingly quirky. All are great examples of the exceptionally high calibre of new writers in the UK and Ireland.’
Fellow judge and Head of Marketing at Foyles Bookshop, Miriam Robinson said: ‘Literary prizes are in many ways comparable to the role of the bookseller who, in offering enthusiastic and wholehearted recommendation for a title, can change its prospects within an incredibly crowded market. We have great faith that The Marlowe Papers will be a delight to all those who will now discover it, thanks to The Desmond Elliott Prize.’
Now in its sixth year, the Prize is presented in the name of the acclaimed publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, whose passion for finding and nurturing new authors is perpetuated by the Prize. The award has an outstanding record in spotting up-and-coming novelists and aims specifically to help advance their careers.
Past winners of the Prize have gone on to garner critical acclaim and to be shortlisted and win further awards including: Grace McCleen (The Land of Decoration, 2012) who won the 2013 Betty Trask Award, was shortlisted for New Writer of the Year at the National Book Awards in 2012 and selected for The Richard and Judy Book Club; Anjali Joseph (Saraswati Park, 2011) who won the Betty Trask Prize in 2011 and was named by the Daily Telegraph as one of their top 20 authors under 40; Ali Shaw (The Girl With Glass Feet, 2010) who was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award; Edward Hogan (Blackmoor, 2009) who went on to be shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award; and Nikita Lalwani (Gifted, 2008) who was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for both the Costa First Book Award and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award.