First #Merky Books novel makes Desmond Elliott Prize longlist

First #Merky Books novel makes Desmond Elliott Prize longlist

The first novel to be published by Stormzy’s new imprint #Merky Books, That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu (pictured), has been longlisted for the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize for debuts.

The book, rich in Ghanaian folktale culture, is a "novel-in-verse", telling the story of a young black Londoner in fragments of memory. Owusu, previously the host of lit and pop culture podcast Mostly Lit, began writing debut That Reminds Me in the aftermath of a breakdown; it was published by Penguin Random House imprint #Merky Books in November 2019. 

Owusu's debut appears on the longlist alongside two other books from Penguin Random House's stables: The Parisian by Isabella Hammad (Cape), a historical novel about a "young Palestinian dreamer", and Jessica Moor's feminist whoddunit Keeper (Penguin).

Six books from Hachette's stables also made the cut: The Art of the Body by Alex Allison (Dialogue Books), centred on the relationship between a fine art student, living and working with cerebral palsy, and his carer; The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré (Sceptre), featuring a young Nigerian woman, trapped in a life of servitude; Nobber by Oisín Fagan (John Murray), a darkly entertaining tale set in 14th-century Ireland, named as one of the Daily Mail’s "Books of the Year"; The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue Books), a book about a half-Nigerian teenager searching for their identity; Asghar and Zahra by Sameer Rahim (John Murray), a tragicomic account of a doomed marriage; and the philosophical Love and other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward (Corsair).

One book from an independent press was longlisted: Kozlowski by biographer and filmmaker Jane Rogoyska (Holland House Books), telling the story of a young Polish army doctor whose life changes irrevocably in April 1940 when 4,000 of his comrades disappear from a Soviet interrogation camp in Starobelsk, Ukraine. 

Peggy Hughes, programme director at the National Centre for Writing, said: "We’re delighted to present such a compelling longlist of debut novels for our inaugural year at the helm of the Desmond Elliott. Here are 10 of the most outstanding first novels of 2020–bold, brave, taking risks and asking questions of us and our times: these are books that demand to be read and new voices that need to be heard and shared. We don’t envy the judges their task but have no doubt that in Preti, Sonia and Sinéad we have three exceptional readers for the job ahead."

Preti Taneja, winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2018, is judging the prize this year in the role of chair. She is joined by chief lead writer at The Observer, Sonia Sodha, and writer Sinéad Gleeson. A shortlist will be announced on 6th May and the winner will be announced on 2nd July.

Taneja said: "Each book on the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020 longlist has earned its place for its love of language, its crafting of a sentence: for its approach to its subject matter and its creation of complex characters and an immersive world. That world might be full of terrors, the potential of love or exist in the past, recognisable present or longed-for future: the list has all of these. It is excellent to see that it reflects the range and depth of current concerns—that this group of debut writers are as clear-eyed, and as passionate and political as our times demand. There are 10 names here that many readers will not have encountered yet, and that is what makes the Desmond Elliott Prize 2020 unique. As a judging panel we now have an exciting challenge to choose a shortlist of three and a winner, and we are very proud to begin with this longlist."