The Shortlist


The annual Desmond Elliott Prize, which celebrates and champions the very best in debut fiction, has announced a shortlist of three novels, including The Marlowe Papers, a story written entirely in verse. An ‘ambitious undertaking’ for a new novelist, it focuses on the enduring mystery of Christopher Marlowe’s untimely death.

The 2013 shortlist was selected from a longlist of ten novels by a panel of judges chaired by best-selling novelist, Joanne Harris MBE, who said: ‘What is so startling about this shortlist is that here we have three first-time novelists ambitiously pushing the boundaries of style and form, with the confidence of authors much later into their careers: Gavin Extence’s debut is precisely plotted and has an audaciously realised circular narrative; the use of verse in The Marlowe Papers is brave and innovative; and Jenni Fagan’s use of the Scottish vernacular in The Panopticon is original and assured. If this is the benchmark for debut novels today the future of UK and Irish literature is in safe hands.’

The Desmond Elliott Prize 2013 shortlist in full (in alphabetical order by author):

The protagonists of all three titles play out their lives at the margins of society: the extraordinary accident which befalls ten-year–old Alex precipitates a whole series of life-changing events in The Universe Versus Alex Woods; in The Panopticon, Anais Hendricks is banished to a young offender institute of the most intimidating kind; and Christopher Marlowe re-tells the shocking story of his ‘death’ and subsequent exile in The Marlowe Papers.

The three shortlisted authors have received impressive accolades and critical acclaim in their burgeoning careers: Fagan was named as one of Grantamagazine’s Best of Young British Novelists and has been shortlisted for the James Tait Black fiction award; The Universe Versus Alex Woods, written by junior chess champion Extence, has been selected for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club and The Big City Read in Bristol and Somerset; while The Marlowe Paperswas also longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The Authors

Ros Barber is the author of three volumes of poetry and her work has appeared in publications such as Poetry ReviewLondon Magazine, the Guardian andIndependent on Sunday. She has a PhD on Marlowe and has recently been appointed Associate of the Shakespearian Authorship Trust. She lives in Brighton and has four children.

Gavin Extence was born in 1982 and grew up in Lincolnshire. From the ages of five to 11, he enjoyed a brief but illustrious career as a chess player, winning numerous national championships and travelling to Moscow and St Petersburg to pit his wits against the finest young minds in Russia. He won only one game. He now lives in Sheffield.

Jenni Fagan was born in Livingston, Scotland. She graduated from Greenwich University with the highest possible mark for a student of Creative Writing and won a scholarship to the Royal Holloway MFA. A published poet, she has won awards from Arts Council England, Dewar Arts, and Scottish Screen among others and was included in Granta Magazine’s Best of Young British Novelists list 2013. Fagan works as a writer in residence in hospitals and prisons and lives in London