Impact of the Desmond Elliott Prize

From a standing start in 2007, the Desmond Elliott Prize rapidly joined the elite band of literary prizes in the UK. Described by the Daily Telegraph as “The most prestigious prize for debut fiction”, the Desmond Elliott Prize is unique in supporting early-career novelists to establish their writing careers.

In the past 12 years, the Prize has celebrated the achievement of 120 first-time novelists who have been selected for its longlist and 36 for its shortlist. Many of those, while not actual winners of the Desmond Elliott Prize itself, have gone on to achieve critical and commercial success with second and subsequent novels, in Britain and beyond. The Prize has also taken a wide range of exciting, often experimental, sometimes ground-breaking and always compelling new writing to more than 1m readers who follow the Desmond Elliott Prize #DiscoverADebut.

Juliet Annan“The Desmond Elliott Prize made all the difference: in the month after her win, sales rose by 400% from the previous month…. The Desmond Elliott Prize was an early indicator of how successful Claire was going to be, and helped her along in her journey. We are still thrilled and grateful three years later”

Juliet Annan, Publishing Director of Fig Tree, and publisher of Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days (2015)


Words from the Judges

Louise Doughty (c) Charlie Hopkinson“The Desmond Elliott Prize is one of the most important prizes on the UK literary scene and I’m delighted to be chairing the panel for 2015. When I published my first novel, almost exactly 20 years ago, awards for debuts were one of the vital ways in which a new writer could get noticed. Since then, review space in newspapers has shrunk, advances have nose-dived and three out of the four prizes my first book was shortlisted for no longer exist. The advent of The Desmond Elliott Prize in 2007 was a welcome reversal to this trend and it has gone from strength to strength ever since”

Louise Doughty, Chair of the 2015 judges

“As space given over to books coverage across the mainstream media continues to decrease, first-time novelists are finding it harder and harder to get their books reviewed and read. This is why the Desmond Elliott Prize is so vital – it offers an essential platform to promote the work of debut authors and gives one special writer a year the financial support that will help them complete their second book and hopefully go on to enjoy a long and successful career”

Sam Leith, Chair of the 2017 judges

Jonathan Ruppin “…the Desmond Elliott Prize has contributed to the careers not just of the writers it rewards but of one of its judges too; perhaps one of my authors will soon join its list of winners”

Jonathan Ruppin, whose experience as a judge in 2015 inspired him to leave his career as a bookseller and become an agent

Sarah Perry. Photo Jamie Drew“Samira, Chris and myself were absolutely unanimous in our love and admiration for this novel, whose scope, ambition, skill and wisdom was, quite simply, awe-inspiring … all three of us sat together, shaking our heads, saying, ‘If this is her first novel, what extraordinary work will come next?’”

Sarah Perry, 2018 Chairman, on Preti Taneja’s winning novel We That Are Young, which had escaped the attention of every other prize

“I remember Desmond with great affection… He was enormously encouraging to me as a new writer. It is a real delight to have the chance to pass on some of that enthusiasm to other new writers through the prize that bears his name”

Sam Llewelyn, Chair of the 2012 judges

Chris Cleave - James Emmett“The Desmond Elliott Prize has proved itself a serious and consistent award for the very best debuts in fiction. As British and Irish writing is in such first-rate health, I am expecting the reading to be exciting and the judging difficult”

Chris Cleave, Chair of the 2014 judges

“Everyone has to start somewhere, and getting under way as an author is harder now than ever before. There are fewer reviews, fewer friendly bookshops, fewer publishers who can afford to nurture their young writers for long. Prizes like the Desmond Elliott help to make up for this by giving encouragement not just to the winner, but to those who are considered, and those who have something to aim for when their book comes out next year or the year after. The Prize signals that publishing is not just about sales, but remains primarily about producing good books”

Iain Pears, Chair of the 2016 judges

“It’s a prize that rewards the courage as well as the skill of new writers — the ones who will go on to shape the reading landscape of the future”

 Alan Hollinghurst, Chair of the 2019 judges


Words from the Authors

Nikita Lalwani“I am mostly grateful to the Desmond Elliott Prize for this: its contribution to my own survival. The Prize gave me a lot of things – publicity, visibility and audibility. But more than that, some kind of confidence, and sense of possibility regarding a tangible writing career”

Nikita Lalwani, author of Gifted, the 2008 winner

Edward Hogan“The Desmond Elliott Prize helped me to research, and it helped me to get to my desk. I reckon it helped me to write a better book. The great thing about the prize was that it gave me freedom not only from the bank manager, but also the freedom to write what I wanted. At an important and precarious time in my writing life, the Prize supported me without conditions, or criteria. It allowed me to concentrate on my craft. That’s a pretty special gift, and one for which I’ll always be grateful”

Ed Hogan, 2009 winner with Blackmoor

Ali Shaw“To hear your name announced, then, as the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize provides the kind of confidence boost usually only acquired via several bottles of that Fortnum’s champagne.Now the judges’ decision is something I can always reach back to, if I ever have doubts about my work”

Ali Shaw, author of The Girl with Glass Feet, the 2010 winner

Anjali Joseph“From the longlisting to the award ceremony… there was also a sense of intrigue and fun about the Prize that seemed to derive from its generous, eccentric donor. From the stories about him and the single photo of him on the web site, shirt open at the neck, expression mischievous, it was obvious both that he’d been alive to the odd ways in which a few well-timed moments of luck alter a life, and that flair was important to him. For all these reasons, I’m very proud to have won the Desmond Elliott Prize”

Anjali Joseph, 2011 winner with Saraswati Park

“Winning the Desmond Elliott Prize gave me both the sanction of approval and the financial ability to spend some time writing the next two books while working part time, rather than having to relegate writing to an hour or two snatched from the working day. It has made a big difference to me, and I continue to be grateful”

Anjali Joseph, 2011 winner with Saraswati Park

Grace Mcleen“Winning the Desmond Elliott Prize was like being thrown a rope at the bottom of a very deep, very dark pit. I can still remember being so sure I would not be awarded the Prize that when my name was spoken it didn’t register for some seconds! The Land of Decoration went on to win the Betty Trask Prize but I was much more overjoyed and astonished to win the Desmond Elliott”

Grace McCleen, author of The Land of Decoration, the 2012 winner

Ros Barber“The Desmond Elliott Prize is very dear to my heart. It’s a wonderful prize to win, and not only for the very obvious benefit that £10,000 represents when you’ve been writing fiction ‘on spec’ for many years. I’ll be honest and say that the most important benefit of winning the Desmond Elliott for me was probably more to do with my own need for external validation! The Desmond Elliott marks you out as ‘one to watch’ and that is immensely helpful in an industry that’s packed with talent”

Ros Barber, author of The Marlowe Papers, the 2013 winner

Eimear McBride“After so many years of rejection, to then find myself winning the best first novel award around was a real turn-up for the books. It not only fixed up my ceiling and all the many things wrong with my house, it also gave me heart for continuing on with the ‘difficult second novel’. Prizes help you find a readership and, especially when your writing leads you down unusual alleyways of form and language, that introduction to a readership is invaluable. So God Bless the Desmond Elliott Prize and all who sail in her, then, now and to be”

Eimear McBride, author of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, the 2014 winner

Claire Fuller“I discovered that writing a third novel was no easier than writing the first or second. It was still a battle with procrastination and the voice in my head asking whether I was good enough. Two main things got me through this and kept me writing. The first was knowing (partly due to my diaries) that books 1 and 2 were just as slow and difficult to do… And the second was saying to the voice now and again, ‘Well, Our Endless Numbered Days won the Desmond Elliott Prize’. And for a while it would go quiet and let me get on with it”

Claire Fuller, 2015 winner with Our Endless Numbered Days

Lisa McInerney“So the Desmond Elliott Prize does two wonderful things for debut novelists. First, and most obviously, her work being longlisted gives the novelist validation when she most needs it: at the start of her career. For me, it was proof positive that I was on the right track. I wasn’t a bad storyteller, and I wasn’t fooling myself. But also, in focusing on debut novels, the Prize creates a space for engaging with new work, introducing readers and writers to each other, and celebrating vitality, tenacity and innovation in the form”

Lisa McInerney, author of The Glorious Heresies, the 2016 winner

Emma Flint photo (c) Jonathan Ring“There is also a wider, international aspect to this competition: the collaboration between the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Festival du Premier Roman which brings together fifteen French authors with writers from Spain, Portugal, Romania, Italy, and Germany as well as Great Britain and Ireland… In a world where literary festivals are becoming increasingly popular worldwide, the Festival is therefore unique: it is the only literary event in France which uses reading as a means of discovering and promoting first novels”

Emma Flint, longlisted in 2017 for Little Deaths

Francis Spufford“…thanks to the Prize, my career as a novelist has been given a marvellous, confidence-building endorsement”

Francis Spufford, author of Golden Hill, 2017

Preti Taneja“The Desmond Elliott Prize has a tradition of celebrating the finest in avant garde writing. Winning meant so much to me personally and to my UK publishers, Galley Beggar Press. It continues to bring the book to more readers and in practical terms, makes a huge difference to my ability to write the next thing”

 Preti Taneja, author of the 2018 winner, We That Are Young