Chair of judges Louise Doughty calls on publishers to commit to their writers or “we risk letting the next Hilary Mantel or Ian Rankin slip through our fingers”
The Desmond Elliott Prize has this evening (1 July) announced that Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller has emerged triumphant as the best debut novel of the year. This dark story is set in the British survivalist movement of the 1970s, and features a father who keeps his daughter captive in the German wilderness for nine years, under the pretence that they are the last people alive on earth.
Fuller was selected as the winner of the £10,000 Prize from a shortlist which also featured Elizabeth is Missingby Emma Healey and A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray. Chair of Judges and award-winning author Louise Doughty said: “Our Endless Numbered Days is both shocking and subtle, brilliant and beautiful, a poised and elegant work that recalls the early work of Ian McEwan in the delicacy of its prose and the way that this is combined with some very dark undertones.”
While Fuller’s novel has been hailed by critics, it was not a breakout bestseller – something Doughty pointed out is typical of most debut novels. Doughty – who was joined by Foyles bookseller Jonathan Ruppin and journalist Viv Groskop on the judging panel – called for UK publishers to offer sustained support for novelists, far beyond their first books.
Doughty said: “Ian Rankin and Hilary Mantel both wrote for years before making the big time with sales. Ian Rankin famously succeeded with his seventh novel – and Hilary Mantel wrote brilliant, strange and wonderful books time and time again before Wolf Hall, her tenth. Her publishers not only kept publishing her, they kept faith with her as she wrote the books she wanted to write.”
She added: “I call on the publishers of all the books on our wonderful shortlist to support these writers not only with their sparkling debuts but with their fourth, fifth, sixth novels. Short-termism in publishing is not only devastating for the authors who don’t get the support they deserve, it’s bad for business. The publishing industry needs to commit to its authors for the long-haul or we risk letting the next Hilary Mantel or Ian Rankin slip through our fingers. I fully expect to see Claire Fuller, Emma Healey and Carys Bray on prize shortlists, bestseller lists and in the literary pages of our newspapers for years to come and if they aren’t, we should be asking why. Publishers, I am watching you.”
Fuller, 48, came to fiction writing later in life. She originally studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specialising in wood and stone carving, then ran her own marketing company for 23 years. She began writing fiction in her forties, spurred on by National Novel Writing Month (or “NaNoWriMo”), an online phenomenon which challenges participants to write a novel in a month. She belongs to a club of authors who have published their debut books in their 40s or later, called The Prime Writers.
Dallas Manderson, Chairman of the Prize Trustees, said: “A key mission of this Prize has always been to protect the future of fiction, and I am proud to see that the judges have done just that by selecting the very impressive Our Endless Numbered Days as this year’s winner. I know Desmond would have been pleased to champion such an entirely original writer and we look forward to seeing many more novels to come from Claire Fuller.”
The Prize is presented in the name of the late, acclaimed publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, whose passion for finding and nurturing new authors is perpetuated by his Prize. Now in its eighth year, the award has an established record for spotting up-and-coming novelists in the UK and Ireland and propelling them to greater recognition and success. The 2014 winner was Eimear McBride, author of the much-garlanded and critically lauded A Girl is a Half-formed Thing. Other past winners include Grace McCleen, Anjali Joseph, Edward Hogan and Ali Shaw.