“Each of these three novels is distinguished by a striking and vivid narrative voice, a gift for storytelling, and a wise and humane gaze; and it is especially thrilling to bring to readers’ attention deserving debuts that might have thus far fallen under the radar.”

– Chair of judges and author, Sarah Perry

The three novels to be shortlisted for the 2018 Desmond Elliott Prize, the “UK’s most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (the Daily Telegraph), have been announced today (Friday 27th April 2018). How to Be Human by Paula Cocozza, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and We That Are Young by Preti Taneja are all in the running to win the £10,000 Prize and be named the best debut novel of the year.

All three of the shortlisted titles share a preoccupation with the impact of social isolation and withdrawing from relationships with family, friends and colleagues.

How to be Human plays with the boundary between fantasy and reality as it tells the story of Mary, a young woman who increasingly shuns human interaction in favour of a curious relationship with a fox. Cocozza, who is also a feature writer for the Guardian, wrote the novel whilst completing an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded the David Higham Award. About the novel, Sarah Perry said: “In evocative and elegant prose Cocozza delves deep into the psyche of a strange and troubled woman. The reader is invited to share in her intense connection to a fox and will admire the author’s mordantly witty dissection of contemporary manners.”

Gail Honeyman’s best-selling debut, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, follows its titular character, the eccentric and isolated Eleanor, as she is pulled from the security of her comfort zone and, as a result, forced to come to terms with the dark events of her past. The book is currently enjoying its ninth consecutive week atop the UK e-book chart and won the 2017 Costa First Novel award. It was also longlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. Perry said, “Eleanor Oliphant leaps fully formed into the reader’s imagination from the opening page. Her voice is so vital that the reader accepts without question her intense loneliness, so that her tentative journey towards a redemptive kindness becomes profoundly moving.”

Rounding off the shortlist is We That Are Young by Preti Taneja, an ambitious retelling of King Lear which explores the play’s themes of severed relationships and warring families within the setting of modern-day India. The novel gains independent publisher Galley Beggar Press its second shortlisting for the Prize. The Norwich-based independent was previously shortlisted in 2014 with Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, which went on to win the Prize. Sarah Perry said, “The scope of Taneja’s ambition is breath-taking. We That Are Young is both universal in its themes of familial duty and personal failing, and exquisitely specific in its depiction of contemporary Indian society.”

The Chairman of the Prize’s trustees, Dallas Manderson said: “The purpose of the Desmond Elliott Prize is to support first-time writers and provide them with a financial platform from which they can dive into their next novel. Each year, our judges are asked to select just three authors from a longlist of 10 that they believe show the most promise for the future. It is never an easy task and the authors featured in this year’s longlist were all exceptional. Sarah, Samira and Chris have done a tremendous job and it is with great joy that we present their chosen shortlist. I look forward to finding out which of the three titles they deem most worthy of winning in June.

The Desmond Elliott Prize has a track record of spotting exceptionally talented novelists at the very beginning of their careers. Last year, the Prize was awarded to Francis Spufford for his debut novel, Golden Hill, and other past-winners include Lisa McInerney, Claire Fuller and Eimear McBride.

Chair of judges, Sarah Perry is joined on the panel by the award-winning journalist and broadcaster, Samira Ahmed, and head of fiction and publisher liaison for Waterstones, Chris White. The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 20th June, where they will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.

For further information please contact Laura Curtis at Riot Communications on

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Notes to Editors

  1. The Desmond Elliott Prize is an annual award for a first novel written in English and published in the UK. Worth £10,000 to the winner, the Prize is named after the literary agent and publisher, Desmond Elliott. When choosing the winner, a panel of three judges looks for a novel which has a compelling narrative, arresting characters and which is both vividly written and confidently realised.
  2. Desmond Elliott’s own story began in an Irish orphanage. In 1947, aged 16 and with just two pounds in his pocket, he left for England, to start his publishing career at Macmillan. Thereafter he set up as an agent and subsequently went on to establish his own publishing company, Arlington Books, in 1960. The charismatic, witty and waspish Elliott – who drank only champagne, flew regularly on Concorde and used Fortnum & Mason as his local grocer – nurtured numerous household-name authors, including Jilly Cooper, Anthony Horowitz and Penny Vincenzi. He died in August 2003 at the age of 73.
  3. The Desmond Elliott Charitable Trust is a registered charity. It is chaired by Dallas Manderson, the former Group Sales Director of the Orion Publishing Group. He is joined by Liz Thomson, journalist and broadcaster, and Christine Berry, a partner in the charities group at Taylor Vinters. Both Manderson and Berry worked with Elliott at Arlington Books. The Desmond Elliott Prize is administered by its Literary Director, Emma Manderson:
  4. The Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 shortlist in detail (alphabetically by author surname):
  • How to be Human by Paula Cocozza (Hutchinson)

You’ve seen a fox. Come face to face in an unexpected place or at an unexpected moment. And he has looked at you, as you have looked at him. As if he has something to tell him. But what if it didn’t stop there?

When Mary arrives home from work one day to find a magnificent fox on her lawn – his ears spiked in attention and every hair bristling with his power to surprise – it is only the beginning. He brings gifts (at least Mary imagines they are gifts) and gradually makes himself at home.

And as he listens to Mary, Mary listens back.

She begins to hear herself for the first time in years. Her bullish ex-boyfriend, still lurking on the fringes of her life, would be appalled. So would the neighbours with a new baby. They only like wildlife that fits with the décor. But inside Mary, a wildness is growing that will not be tamed.

Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize

“In her garden of earthy delights, a young woman takes a walk on the wild side that will lead her back to herself. In this parallel wilderness, reality bites with insouciant wit. For Mary Green, Cocozza has created a persona as winning and as wily as her invited guest, a couple couched at peace and not at bay. Nature and nurture confide in epicurean harmony. She takes us under their skin, to explore and to interpret with divining skill, and to touch the heart. Anthropomorphism made eloquence, realism made magical.”

About the Author

Paula Cocozza is a feature writer at the Guardian and completed her MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia, where she was the 2013/14 recipient of the David Higham Award. She lives in London.

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize

“A coming to life rather than a coming of age, this neat twist on a classic novel form. Miss Oliphant, an admirer, would be proud to find such as Miss Austen among her forebears; indeed, Eleanor turns out to be quite the beacon for moral and spiritual transformation in the manner of Emma Woodhouse. Her charms may emerge less gracefully, by Velcro’ed brogue not barouche-landau, but are no less enduring. Honeyman resists the temptation to make over her heroine. She realises, as we do, that Eleanor is already fledged. All she has to do is realise it fully. A woman badly done by whom we learn to like supremely well.”

About the Author

As a work in progress, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Since publication, translation rights have sold to over thirty territories worldwide, Reese Witherspoon has optioned it for film and it was chosen as one of the Observer’s Debuts of the Year for 2017. Gail was also awarded the Scottish Book Trust’s Next Chapter Award in 2014 and has been longlisted for BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Gail lives in Glasgow.

  • We That Are Young by Preti Taneja (Galley Beggar Press)

Money, power, corruption and desire. Unimaginable wealth. Unspeakable hardship. A family divided.

When Jivan Singh returns to his childhood home after a long absence, it’s only to witness the unexpected resignation of Devraj, the founding father of the Company – a vast corporation at the heart of Indian life. On the same day, Devraj’s youngest daughter absconds – refusing to submit to marriage. Her older sisters Radha and Gargi are handed their father’s company… So begins a vicious struggle for power, ranging from the luxury hotels of New Delhi and Amritsar, the Palaces and slums of Napurthala to the beautiful, broken city of Srinagar, Kashmir.

Praise from the Desmond Elliott Prize

“A commemorative portrait of a destroyed dynasty, a triptych dedicated to three departed sisters: one thinks of We That Are Young in painterly terms, the gravest of themes rendered in glorious colour, multiple canvases depicting intensely moving individual episodes. The voices equally enthral, from his daughters’ fervid dialogue to Bapuji’s mad soliloquising.  Prose as sensual, perfumed and parti-coloured as a wedding basket of ladoo, inset with gems of pure poetry. Yet pungent enough to match the Dhimbala’s fetid starvelings. Everywhere as remarkable to the ear as it is revelatory of the soul.”

About the Author

Preti Taneja was born in the UK to Indian parents and spent most of her childhood holidays in New Delhi. She has worked as a human rights reporter on Iraq, in Jordan, Rwanda, and Kosovo, and her work as been published in the Guardian, the New Statesman and Open Democracy. A fellow at Warwick University, she is also the editor of Visual Verse and was selected as an AHRC / BBC Radio 3 New Generation Thinker for 2014.

  1. The Desmond Elliott Prize longlist in full (alphabetically by author surname):
  • The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks (Salt)
  • How to be Human by Paula Cocozza (Hutchinson)
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)
  • Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak (Piatkus)
  • Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4th Estate)
  • How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus (Harvill Secker)
  • One Star Awake by Andrew Meehan (New Island)
  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)
  • We That Are Young by Preti Taneja (Galley Beggar Press)
  1. The previous winners of The Desmond Elliott Prize have successfully continued their writing career and have published further work to great acclaim.
  • 2017: Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (Faber & Faber) was the author’s first work of fiction following a number of successful non-fiction titles. It received critical acclaim and also won the 2016 Costa First Novel Award and the 2017 Ondaatje Prize.
  • 2016: The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (John Murray) was also awarded the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Book of the Year and has been optioned for television by boutique drama production company, Fifty Fathoms. McInerney’s second novel, The Blood Miracles, was published in 2017.
  • 2015: Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller (Fig Tree) received high critical acclaim and is published in nine countries. Fuller’s second novel, Swimming Lessons, was published in 2017.
  • 2014: A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride (Galley Beggar Press/Faber) was also awarded the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize in 2013, the 2014 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the 2014 Geoffrey Faber prize.
  • 2013: The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber (Sceptre) was also awarded the 2013 Author’s Club First Novel Award and longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.
  • 2012: The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen (Chatto & Windus) was shortlisted for the National Book Awards and selected by Richard and Judy for their book club. McCleen has since published The Professor of Poetry in 2014 and The Offering in January 2015, both with Sceptre. The Professor of Poetry received acclaim from Hilary Mantel, who called it “an astonishing and luminous novel…every line is newly felt and freshly experienced.”
  • 2011: Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph (Fourth Estate) won the Betty Trask Prize, and the Vodafone Crossword Book Award for Fiction in India. Her second novel, Another Country was published in 2012.
  • 2010: The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw (Atlantic Books) was shortlisted for the Costa First Book Award in 2009, longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award in 2009, longlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2010 and his second novel, The Man Who Rained, was published in 2012.
  • 2009: Blackmoor by Edward Hogan, (Simon & Schuster) was followed by his second novel The Hunger Trace in March 2011. His first novel for young adults Daylight Saving was published by Walker in February 2013.
  • 2008: Gifted by Nikita Lalwani (Viking) was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2007, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. Her second novel, The Village, was published by Viking in 2012 and was selected as part of the 2013 Fiction Uncovered promotion.
  1. To find out more about The Desmond Elliott Prize please visit: