Lucy Ellmann 'masterpiece' wins Goldsmiths Prize

Lucy Ellmann 'masterpiece' wins Goldsmiths Prize

Lucy Ellmann’s 1,000-page novel written almost entirely in one long sentence, Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar Press), has won the £10,000 2019 Goldsmiths Prize.

Booker-shortlisted Ellmann was announced as the winner of the £10,000 prize rewarding fiction at its most novel at a ceremony at Foyles, in Charing Cross, London, Wednesday evening (13th November 2019). 

"Testing the limits of the stream-of-consciousness narrative, Ducks, Newburyport rejects conventional plot and story structure,” Goldsmiths Prize organisers said. “Instead it captures the thoughts that pass through the mind of a middle-aged Ohio woman as she bakes pies in her kitchen. What emerges is a linguistically sinuous meditation on life, memory, motherhood and the randomness – and purpose – of everyday experience.”

Ellmann fended off five other contenders for the Goldsmiths Prize including Mark Haddon for The Porpoise (Chatto & Windus) and The Man Who Saw Everything (Hamish Hamilton) by Deborah Levy. Slip of a Fish (And Other Stories) by Amy Arnold was also nominated alongside Good Day? (Salt) by Vesna Main and We Are Made of Diamond Stuff (Dostoyevsky Wannabe) by Isabel Waidner.


Sam Jordison, who founded Norwich-based indie Galley Beggar Press, told The Bookseller of the win: "I was quite emotional - you get a rush of all these feelings. I was quite weepy at first and was thought I was about to blub. Luckily Lucy got up and made a joke saying, 'That is a lot of money for one sentence'. We won the first prize in 2013 [with Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing] so it was nice to be back with the Goldsmiths this year."

He revealed it was Eloise Millar who spotted the potential of the book: "It was Ellie [Jordison's partner, with whom he runs Galley Beggar] who had read the first 30 pages or so and said, 'This is the one'. As soon as you read the book you know that it is extraordinary. Everything about the book is unusual... there is this long and spooling sentence and you are in a different place."

Jordison also praised Ellmann's work ethic. "It took her seven years to write the book. Obviously Lucy is extraordinarily unusually talented but she has also worked so hard for so many years and thought about it so long and put effort in for so long before that. To see that acknowledged it just a great thing."

Of the complexities of publishing the 1,000-page book, he said: "It was interesting to publish it, it is why we're here because we can be more flexible. It was a logistical challenge. We have a amazing typesetter - Alex Billington - who was willing to do something different. He used Tetragon but he had to hack InDesign to make it work - it was just not the process of getting it to work in the programme, he had to go into engine room and rework it. But you don't think about it when you read it which is what typesetting should be about. Getting it printed was also a huge piece of work because only a few printers would be willing to do that."

Ultimately he believes the popularity of Ducks, Newburyport will continue. "It says so much about where are are now and that is also why it will endure," he said. I hope that it will be read for many years to come."

Writer and lecturer in creative writing at Goldsmiths and judging panel chair Erica Wagner said: “There were six extraordinary novels on the shortlist of the Goldsmiths Prize in 2019; it was a challenge to choose a winner, one which all the judges approached with seriousness and care. But Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport is that rare thing: a book which, not long after its publication, one can unhesitatingly call a masterpiece. In her gripping and hypnotic book, Ellmann remakes the novel and expands the reader’s idea of what is possible with the form. We are lucky to have such a winner this year.”
The award, run in association with the New Statesman, encourages British and Irish fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form. American-born Ellman's win comes as eligibility for the award was extended this year to authors of any nationality, provided they have been resident in the UK or Republic of Ireland for a minimum of three years. Previously, the Goldsmiths Prize was only open to those born in the UK or Republic of Ireland. Ellmann was born in Illinois and moved to England as a teenager. Her first novel, Sweet Desserts (Bloomsbury) won the Guardian Fiction Prize. Her most recent novel, Mimi (Little,Brown) was published in 2013. She lives in Edinburgh.
Deputy editor of the New Statesman Tom Gatti said: “The New Statesman is proud to be part of the Goldsmiths Prize, which once again has shone a light on the year’s most exciting fiction. A remarkable shortlist has produced, in Ducks, Newburyport, a winner that is truly worth celebrating."
Joining Wagner on the judging panel were novelist, video journalist and previous Goldsmiths Prize nominee Guy Gunaratne; the New Statesman’s culture Editor Anna Leszkiewicz and Icelandic poet and novelist and Academy Award-nominated lyricist Sjón.
Ducks, Newburyport was published on 4th July 2019, the anniversary of American Independence Day and went on to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize in September. The novel has sold 5,903 copies for £79,056, according to Nielsen BookScan.