Desmond Elliott Prize to be run by National Centre for Writing

Desmond Elliott Prize to be run by National Centre for Writing

The £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize will be run by the National Centre for Writing (NCW) in Norwich with a new programme of support for a second novel and a sustainable career in writing.

The award will be the flagship in a portfolio of Early Career Awards being launched by NCW to support new writers and “increase collaboration” to help the tough literary fiction market with digital support from Arts Council England (ACE). The Centre is also working with the University of East Anglia and the Laura Kinsella Foundation on developing two new awards for early career writers which will be announced and opened for applications later this year. 

The winner of The Desmond Elliott Prize will receive £10,000 and, new to this year, a programme of support to help them towards a second novel and a sustainable career in writing. The prize is for a first novel written in English and published in the UK, and is named after the literary agent and publisher, Desmond Elliott. Claire Adam won the 2019 prize in June this year with her debut Golden Child (Faber).

“The Early Career Awards represent a new model for literary prizes combining the power of a private trust with the unique year-round programme of NCW,” the Centre said. Arts Council England (ACE) will increase the impact of the awards by contributing towards an early career digital programme providing resources, professional development and industry advice as a free public resource for new writers. “The ACE support will also enable a tailored early career programme for the winning writers which will include residency opportunities, mentoring and industry support to help them build a sustainable career.”  

The prize is currently funded and administered by the Desmond Elliott Charitable Trust with its trustees responsible for managing the endowment provided by Elliott in his will. The Bookseller understands that the Trust will no longer be involved and will no longer exist in any formal capacity though former trustees will still attend events.

According to the Trust’s financial statement for 2018, the trustees were discussing commercial sponsorship of the prize in October 2017.  “The Trustees have continued to consider the potential for obtaining external sponsorship for the Prize or alternative funding as the Charity’s own funds are depleted,” the document reads. “At the time of preparing this report, other opportunities for continuing the Prize are under active discussion.”

Chris Gribble, NCW chief executive, said: “Through embedding the Desmond Elliott Prize in our portfolio and launching the Early Career Awards we are looking to contribute to an alliance between writers, publishers, the trade, libraries and readers to boost the environment for literary fiction and writers at the critical early stages of their career.

“The market for literary fiction is tough and getting tougher and we want to help find innovative ways to increase collaboration in the sector. We are delighted to be the custodians of such a prestigious prize and to have found a sustainable way to support its future. We thank the Desmond Elliott Charitable Trust, the University of East Anglia and the Laura Kinsella Foundation for their confidence and investment in us. Huge thanks also to Arts Council England for recognising the opportunity to increase the impact of prize culture.”

Dallas Manderson, chairman of the Desmond Elliott Charitable Trust, said: “We are fortunate and excited to have found an organisation as vibrant and dynamic as the National Centre for Writing, whose values align closely with our own, to continue the work that we have started. The NCW approached us with an inspiring model that saw our remaining funds matched by the Arts Council and various other partners, and will make a greater impact than we could have had alone with what remained to the Trust.”

He added: “We are confident that Desmond’s Prize could not be in better hands and look forward to celebrating the future recipients of the Early Career Awards with the NCW, UEA and Laura Kinsella Foundation.”

Sarah Crown, ACE’s director of literature, said: “The Desmond Elliott Prize has long played a critical role in bringing debut novelists to wider audiences. I’m delighted that Arts Council England is able to support the National Centre for Writing to continue the delivery of the prize - and to test an innovative approach in which awards are complemented by professional development, mentoring opportunities, resources and advice, helping new writers to build sustainable careers in an increasingly challenging landscape.”

ACE had had pledged to help the sector in December 2017 following a report which showed that “the general trend for literary fiction is a negative one”. The work undertaken by digital publisher Canelo over the course of 2016-17, found that sales, prices and advances for literary fiction are all down and the ability of authors to make a living through their writing has been “substantially eroded”.

Launched in 2018 in Norwich, NCW is England’s first UNESCO City of Literature and aims to promote vibrant and diverse literary environment in the UK. 

Submissions for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020 are now open until 29th November 2019, email Or visit All first novels written in English by authors permanently resident in the UK and Ireland and published there between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020 are eligible for the Prize.