Experience tells on Baileys Women's Prize shortlist

Experience tells on Baileys Women's Prize shortlist

Five writers on the six-strong shortlist for this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction – Rachel Cusk, Kamila Shamsie, Ali Smith, Anne Tyler and Sarah Waters – have all been shortlisted for the award before. 

The sixth novelist, Laline Paull, is shortlisted for her debut The Bees (Fourth Estate), about a bee born into the lowest class of her society, and her climb to the Queen’s inner sanctum.

Chair of judges Shami Chakrabarti told The Bookseller that people may say the list contained safe choices, “but at the same time I don’t think you can penalise because authors are consistently good”.

The shortlist for the 2015 award was announced this evening (13th April) at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in central London. The list is heavy on experience, with Tyler shortlisted for A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus), which is her 20th novel. The book tells the story of three generations of the Whitshank family.

Cusk is shortlisted for Outline (Faber/Vintage), her eighth novel which was also shortlisted for this year’s Folio Prize for Fiction. Outline is about a female writer who goes to Athens to teach a writing course, and tells the stories of the people she meets along the way.

Shamsie, Smith and Waters are all shortlisted for their sixth novels. A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury) by Shamsie is about an Englishwoman and a Pathan who meet in 1915, and the connection between them revealed 15 years later. Smith’s How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton), a dual narrative about a renaissance artist in the 1460s, and a child of a child of the 1960s, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015, the Folio Prize for Fiction 2015, and won the Goldsmiths Prize. Waters’ The Paying Guests (Virago) is set in 1922 and sees a widow and her daughter take in a married couple as lodgers.

Chakrabarti said: This list was not an attempt to reward experience, it’s was about how the books moved us and how the writing moved us. It wouldn’t be credible if experience was penalise. It just so happens that five out of the six are very established authors.”

Four of the authors shortlisted are British – Cusk, Paull, Smith and Waters – while Shamsie is British/Pakistani and Tyler is American.

Chakrabarti said: “Even the Brits on the list are 21st century writers, and that makes them international.”

“In the end it is the quality of the writing and books that grab you and you can’t put them down,” she continued. “What these six books have in common is that the storytelling and quality of writing are such that you can’t put them down. These are books you want to buy for friends.”

Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Diageo, said: “From a debut to a 20th novel, this year’s shortlist celebrates exceptional female writers who display a rich and diverse talent for telling stories.”

Chakrabarti was joined on the judging panel by writer Laura Bates, who is found of The Everyday Sexism Project; columnist and broadcaster Grace Dent; Helen Dunmore, novelist, poet and winner of the inaugural Orange Prize for Fiction, as the Baileys was known; and Channel 4 News’ presenter Cathy Newman.

The winner of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced on 3rd June.

Last year’s award went to Eimear McBride’s highly experimental debut A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Galley Beggar/Faber & Faber).