Angela Meyer, publisher at Bonnier Books UK Australian imprint Echo, has won the inaugural £1,000 Mslexia Novella Competition for Joan Smokes (Contraband).
The tale, to be published in the UK in November, centres on a young woman who attempts to escape the demons of her past by travelling to Las Vegas, tackling themes of reinvention, grief, trauma and love.
Prize judge Eloise Millar, co-founder of Galley Beggar Press, praised the author for her “pared-back, brittle language”. She said: “The real magic is in how the author puts the reader so surely in the protagonist’s shoes. It feels like a cliché to say that good writing should ‘suck you into another psyche’ as Barbara Kingsolver puts it, but empathy is what we all need more of, especially now. As an act of empathy, as well as a beautifully rendered work of literature, Joan Smokes shines.”
Meyer told Mslexia magazine: “I went to Las Vegas as a kid and have always been fascinated by the place – the seediness underneath the glamour. And the fact that it’s so close to the Nevada nuclear test site. I wanted to write about the early 60s, when the testing was taking place. I took up smoking and burlesque dance lessons as part of my research – I’m a very method writer. There’s more air in a novella than a short story – for exploring the past in proper scenes.”
Her debut novel, A Superior Spectre, is also being published by Contraband, an imprint of Saraband, in the UK on 15th August.