Titles by Francis Spufford, Kit de Waal and Rowan Hisayo Buchanan have been longlisted for the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize for first-time novelists.
The authors' debuts, Costa First Novel Award winner Golden Hill (Faber & Faber), Costa finalist and bestseller My Name is Leon (Viking), and the recently Jhalak Prize longlisted Harmless Like You (Sceptre), respectively, all made the cut for what the prize is describing as its "strongest ever" longlist.
The prize, awarded for the past 10 years in the name of the late literary agent and publisher Desmond Elliott, announced its longlist today (31st March). It comprises 10 titles in total with authors behind the works breaking out from a variety of backgrounds: De Waal previously worked in criminal and family law and was a magistrate, while David Savill, who is longlisted for They Are Trying to Break Your Heart (Bloomsbury), was a current affairs journalist for the BBC and Paul Stanbridge, longlisted for Forbidden Line (Galley Beggar Press), a builder, bookseller and pensions administrator in several former careers.
Uniting the titles thematically is love and loss. Touching on the impact of absent parents, Alan McMonagle's longlisted book Ithaca centres on an 11-year-old "preoccupied with thoughts of the Da he has never known", de Waal's My Name is Leon on the plight of children in care in the 1980s, and Buchanan's Harmless Like You, won by Sceptre in a fierce six-way auction, is about a Japanese artist who abandons her son. Emma Flint's longlisted Little Deaths meanwhile explores the tragic disappearance of two children and Thomas Maloney’s The Sacred Combe, also longlisted, tells the story of London banker Samuel Browne who wakes one day to discover his wife has left him suddenly.
Pan Macmillan imprint Picador counts two titles on the longlist between Flints's Little Deaths and McMonagle's Ithaca, as does Penguin Random House, between two of its imprints, counting My Name is Leon for Viking and Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary - a story of longing and desire in 1980s Ireland - for Vintage imprint Harvill Secker.
HarperCollins imprint 4th Estate has one title in the running, The Transition by Luke Kennard, a story in which couples spend six months living under the supervision of mentors until they are ready to be reintegrated into adult society. At Hachette, Little, Brown imprint Sceptre also has one listing.
The independents between them rack up four longlistings. In addition to Savill's book for Bloomsbury and Spufford's for Faber, independent publisher Galley Beggar Press is longlisted for a fourth year in a row with Stanbridge's Forbidden Line. Independent Scribe also has another title - The Sacred Combe by Maloney – longlisted this year, after Gavin McCrea’s Mrs Engels (Scribe) reached the shortlist in 2016.
Judging the prize is literary editor for the Spectator, Sam Leith, author Kamila Shamsie and specialist book buyer for WHSmith, Iain Rushworth.
Leith, in his role as chair of judges, said: “I’m delighted to be contemplating a longlist with such a range of styles and registers, such a variety of publishers, and such a diverse list of authors. This very strong longlist affirms the vitality of debut fiction in the UK. And here’s a reminder too, in the sheer range of the authors’ day-jobs, that there’s no one route to becoming a novelist. But each of our authors has shown determination, imagination, optimism and – to nod to Kingsley Amis – the all-important ability to apply the seat of the trousers to the seat of the chair. Congratulations to them all.”
The chairman of the prize’s trustees, Dallas Manderson, said: “The aim of the Desmond Elliott Prize is to champion first-time novelists and it’s a real delight to take the opportunity of our 10th anniversary to look back at the huge success and recognition that our past winners have gone on to achieve. I’d like to think Desmond would be proud of his prize’s track record for spotting the stars of the future. There’s no doubt amongst the trustees that this is our strongest ever longlist, so we wish our judges the very best with their daunting task of whittling this down to just three extraordinary debuts.”
A shortlist will be announced on 5th May, and the winner will be revealed at a ceremony at Fortnum & Mason on 21st June where they will be presented with a cheque for £10,000.
Last year's Desmond Elliott Prize winner was Lisa McInerney, whose novel The Glorious Heresies (John Murray) has since been optioned for television. Her second novel, The Blood Miracles (John Murray), publishes in April.