Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-formed Thing has won the £10,000 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize, just weeks after being named the Baileys Women's Prize winner.
Meanwhile author Chris Cleave, chair of the prize judges, took the opportunity of his announcement speech to warn of a "short-sighted venality" seeking to crush publishing flair and stifle new voices, saying McBride's triumph should be a "rallying cry" to established authors to support those still emerging.
McBride's novel, originally published by Galley Beggar Press and now co-published with Faber, beat a three-strong shortlist made up of The Letter Bearer by Robert Allison (Granta) and Ballistics by D W Wilson (Bloomsbury).
The book is told as a stream of consciousness, and follows the relationship between a girl growing up and her brother, who suffers from a childhood brain tumour. Author Chris Cleave, chair of judges for the Desmond Elliott Prize, said: "It is the most untamed, most expertly crafted, most daring, most challenging and most moving human story I’ve read in years. Its language pulsates and adapts, disintegrating and resolving at will."
Fellow judge, associate editor of FT Life & Arts Isabel Berwick said: "The Desmond Elliott Prize prides itself on seeking out and championing the best new voices in literary fiction, and all the judges felt that this shortlist represented that ideal. They would have all been dignified and deserving winners of the Prize, but we could only pick one. McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is a game-changer, a disruptor, a grenade of a novel, and we all agreed this had to win.”
Cleave also took the opportunity to declare that it was up to established authors to seek out and champion new talent, because publishers had become so risk averse. "Debut fiction is the bravest, most exciting and purest form of the art, but today's forces in book retail are lethal to new talent. Publishers are much less able to take risks on unconventional first novels, so I believe that it is now up to established authors to seek out, champion and amplify the best new voices," he said.
"Eimear McBride has had widespread recognition for her achievement, but she is the exception after a fight of almost a decade. We writers now have a responsibility to raise up the next generation of novelists - to be an antidote to the short-sighted venality that seeks to crush publishers and their flair for taking risks. Otherwise the McBrides of the world will go unheard and – crucially – unread. It is up to us now to make McBride's triumph a rallying cry, and not the novel's last stand."
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing has now earned more than £60,000 in prize-money. As well as the Desmond Elliott Prize, which is given to first-time novelists, the book also won the £30,000 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction in June , and the inaugural £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize for experimental fiction in November last year. In May, it won the €15,000 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award. The book was also shortlisted for the inaugural Folio Prize, but lost out to George Saunders' Tenth of December (Bloomsbury), and was shortlisted for the Authors' Club First Novel Award. Last week, McBride was awarded a Travelling Scholarship Award of £1,500 at the Society of Authors awards.
After winning the Baileys Prize, McBride, who spent nine years trying to get her book published, attacked "conservative" publishing, saying: "Publishing has become very homogenous and conservative and market driven, under false pretences. [There’s a thought that] heavyweight middle-brow fiction is all readers want. There is a place for that, but there’s plenty of room for others too."
Norwich-based Galley Beggar Press described the experience of publishing the book in a interview with The Bookseller, with co-founder Henry Layte, who also runs bookshop The Book Hive, saying: "My feeling was this was either one of the greatest books of the late 20th century or it was complete crap." The publisher has since been inundated with manuscripts, and has asked all submissions to prove they are familiar with the press.
Faber has launched a national advertising campaign for the book, which has so far sold 18,964 copies across all editions.