The 2010 Prize

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

2010_girl_with_glass_feetOn Wednesday, 23 June 2010, Ali Shaw was named the winner of the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize for The Girl with Glass Feet, published by Atlantic Books.

Elizabeth Buchan, Chair of the Judges, commented,

“After some soul searching and much debate, we decided on The Girl with Glass Feet as our winner. This is an extraordinary first novel – bold, original, tragic and endlessly surprising. In its exploration of frozen landscapes, both interior and exterior, and in its precisely detailed and articulated fantasy, it is possible to see a substantial author of the future.”



(left to right: Judges James Daunt, Elizabeth Buchan, Ali Shaw and William Skidelsky)

Ali Shaw was born in 1982 and grew up in a small town in Dorset. He graduated from Lancaster University with a first-class degree in English Literature and has since worked as a bookseller and at Oxford’s Bodleian Library. He is currently writing his second novel.

Ali shaw speaks about his novel The Girl with Glass Feet.

Since its publication I have been asked many times what kind of book The Girl with Glass Feet is. It’s an innocuous question, but it’s a hard one to answer. I tend to reply with something oblique, like ‘It’s a love story,’ which normally prompts the follow up question, ‘What kind of love story?’ ‘A love story about a woman who is turning into glass and about the man she falls in love with.’ ‘Oh, so it’s a fantasy?’ ‘Well, yes and no.’ I continue in this fashion until my evasiveness becomes infuriating. The reason for such noncommittal responses is that the book stands as uncomfortably in any genre as its titular character stands on her feet made of glass. I drew on fairy tales and magic realism and domestic realism and scraps of other things to try to create the kind of book I would like to read, and I ended up with something I feared would end up lost in the foggy grey areas between genres. So I was filled with great thankfulness and astonishment when the novel won The Desmond Elliott Prize. I am grateful to both the judges and the Trust for awarding the Prize to The Girl with Glass Feet and in doing so allaying my fears.

For me the Prize means both financial support in order to carry on giving my all to my writing, as well as an immeasurable boost in terms of the confidence needed to do so. Writing is a strange affair, and the isolation necessary to accomplish it can sometimes mean that your own worst critic runs amok through your work. The award of the Prize offers me reassurance that things are on the right track, as well as providing me with the practical breathing space required to continue.

I can’t really pinpoint when I discovered writing as I know it now. As a child it was always a pastime of mine, but it took a combination of melodramatic teen angst and the reading, at an impressionable age, of writers like Franz Kafka and Hans Christian Anderson to realise that the fantastic could be used as a kind of expressionism. The opposite of escapism, it could use dramatic and original imagery to cut closer to the nerve than a purely realist account of emotion ever could. I hope I have moved on from those teenage scribblings, but I still find myself revisiting those writers for inspiration.

At Lancaster University I took an MA in Creative Writing, then stole time to complete The Girl with Glass Feet while working among books, both as a bookseller and at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Whiskey and black coffee helped with this, allowing for late nights and early mornings respectively, but the main drive comes from maintaining a link between your heart and your work. It’s true that a piece of writing changes in time with the life of its author, but there will always be something of your current experience that you want to express in the story you are writing. The trick is knowing where to stop, so that you are not redrafting for ever and ever.

I am indebted to Iona, Sue and Sarah for their help with the novel, and of course to Desmond Elliott himself for leaving in his legacy such support for new writers. I am also delighted to have shared the shortlist with two fantastic writers in Maria Allen, author of Before the Earthquake and Jacob Polley, author of Talk of the Town.

A mysterious and frightening metamorphosis has befallen Ida MacLaird – she is slowly turning into glass, from the feet up. She returns to St Hauda’s Land, where she believes the glass first took hold, in the vain hope of finding a cure. Midas Crook is a young loner who has lived there all his life. When he meets Ida, something about her sad, defiant spirit pierces his emotional defences. As Midas helps Ida come to terms with her affliction, she gradually unpicks the knots of his heart and they begin to fall in love…

What they need most is time – and time is slipping away fast. Will they find a way to save her?

The Prize was inaugurated in honour of publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, one of the most charismatic and successful men in this field, who died in August 2003. He stipulated that his estate should be invested in a charitable trust that would fund a literary award “to enrich the careers of new writers”. Worth £10,000 to the winner, the Prize is intended to support new writers and to celebrate their fiction.

The Desmond Elliott Prize 2010 panel of judges was chaired by Elizabeth Buchan who was joined by William Skidelsky, Literary Editor of The Observer, and leading independent bookseller James Daunt, founder of Daunt Books.