Best debut novel of the year will win £10,000 from Prize funded by the late agent and publisher’s estate
The Desmond Elliott Prize 2016 has today (6 May) announced a shortlist of three books in the running to take home the “most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (Daily Telegraph). The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney (John Murray), The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester (Penguin) and Mrs Engels by Gavin McCrea (Scribe), have been chosen from a longlist of ten books published in the last year by British and Irish debut novelists. McCrea and McInerney are Irish, while Rochester is English.
The three writers delivered books that belied their position as debut authors, according to the judges. Chair of judges Iain Pears said: “These are hugely ambitious, complex, confident works by three extremely talented writers and it is wonderful that the Desmond Elliott Prize exists to help them reach the wide audience they so richly deserve. With the demise of the Guardian First Book Award, a prize like this is all the more important to new writers.”
Gavin McCrea, 38, was born in Dublin and has since travelled widely, currently living between the UK and Spain. Pears said: “McCrea has cleverly included just enough historical detail to set a very evocative scene, then lets his cast tell the story. The writing always surprises, his characters are compelling without having to be likeable and, as all of we judges noted, Mrs Engels is perhaps the most feminist novel we read for the Prize.”
Lisa McInerney, 34, lives in Galway and is the author of the award-winning blog ‘Arse End of Ireland’. She has also written regularly for websites including Culch.ie, The Antiroom and Irish news site TheJournal.ie, taking a frequently acerbic look at social issues. The Glorious Heresies has also been shortlisted for the Baileys Prize. Pears said: “It is no surprise that not one but two major literary prizes have noticed McInerney’s talent. She gives us strong, complex working-class characters with real emotional hinterlands, and plays with the reader’s emotions in an extraordinarily sophisticated way.”
Julia Rochester, 50, has worked for the BBC Portuguese Service and for Amnesty International as Researcher on Brazil, but it is the landscape of her childhood in Devon that features in The House at the Edge of the World. Pears said: “Rochester’s writing is quite wonderful – she is particularly strong on her sense of place. She brings the landscape to life just as she does her characters. We all felt we were with them at key points in the book.”
Pears said of the judging process: “There are titles we are all sad not to take further in this Prize but we are sure we have selected three exceptional books from fully formed talents. They are all very different, but all absolutely meet the Prize’s criteria of delivering a compulsive narrative, characters you can believe are real and brilliant, confident writing. These authors deliver all three in spades.”
Dallas Manderson, Chairman of the Prize Trustees, said: “We are thrilled to present these outstanding titles in our search for this year’s best debut novel. The judges have done an admirable job selecting a shortlist from a longlist of huge variety in both style and scope. I believe Desmond Elliott would have thoroughly approved of this shortlist, and we all look forward to seeing which book ultimately takes the Prize.”
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 ninth year, the award has an established record for spotting up-and-coming novelists from the UK and Ireland and propelling them to greater recognition and success. The 2015 winner was Claire Fuller, author of the bestselling Our Endless Numbered Days. Other past winners include Eimear McBride, Grace McCleen, Anjali Joseph, and Edward Hogan.
Author Iain Pears is joined on the judging panel by The Pool’s Sam Baker and former literary editor of the Independent on Sunday Katy Guest. The winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 22 June, where he or she will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.