Man Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Fiona Mozley has scooped a nomination for the Society of Authors awards as the independent publisher-heavy shortlists are shared for the first time in the prizes’ 75-year history.
Judges praised the “challenging”, “bold” and “ambitious” writing as the shortlists for the Betty Trask, McKitterick, Tom-Gallon and Somerset Maugham awards – totaling £98,000 worth of prize money - were unveiled. The four prizes will be awarded at The Authors’ Awards on 19th July, billed as “a unique night of riches with all the awards judged by authors for authors”.
The shortlist for the Betty Trask Prize and Award, for a first novel by a writer under 35, is almost entirely dominated by indie presses. Judges Ben Brooks, Joanne Harris and Samantha Shannon paid tribute to Eli Goldstone’s “fable-like tale” Strange Heart Beating (Granta) as well as The City Always Wins (Faber and Faber) by Omar Robert Hamilton which was described as “challenging, heart-wrenching, and in many ways, necessary novel”.
Lloyd Markham was shortlisted for Bad Ideas/Chemicals, published by Welsh indie Parthian, and described as “a death stare at society, sharp as a syringe and gloriously weird”, while The Reactive (Jacaranda) by Masanda Ntshanga was said to offer a “depiction of the gritty reality of Cape Town in 2003 through the smoky lens of the young and high”
Meanwhile, two corporate publishers scooped shortlistings: Mussolini’s Island (Tinder Press) by Sarah Day was praised by the panel as a “powerful but little-known historical narrative that needed to be told”; along with All the Good Things by Clare Fisher (Viking), a “touching, tough and incisive view of what it's like to be a child in care”. The total prize for the award is £26,250.
The McKitterick Prize shortlist, awarded to a first novel by a writer over 40, saw judges Frances Fyfield, Aamer Hussein and Abir Mukherjee select mostly authors from independent publishers featuring inner worlds filled with loss, hope and self-acceptance. Darke by rare books dealer Rick Gekoski (Canongate Books) offers a “deliriously well-written tale of impending old age and bereavement” according to the panel, while Radio Sunrise by Anietie Isong (Jacaranda) follows a Nigerian journalist and “stays long in the imagination” while Silvertail Books’ Yes by Anne Patterson provides a “mesmerising book about a woman after a stroke”
Also vying for the £5,250 prize pot is The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr (Pan Macmillan) by Frances Maynard, described by judges as “the quiet, inspirational story of the dilemmas faced by an autistic daughter after her powerfully protective mother dies”, and Joy Rhoades’ The Woolgrower’s Companion (Chatto & Windus), a tale set in the Australian outback at the end of the Second World War, “full of moral dilemmas, brutality and humanity".
For the Tom-Gallon Trust Award (£1,575), for a short story by a writer who has had at least one short story accepted for publication, the nominations include the “compelling” ‘The Speed of Light and How it Cannot Help Us’ by Chris Connolly, ‘My Body Cannot Forget your Body’ by Kirsty Logan – described as “imaginative, darkly beautiful”, and ‘A Thousand Acres of English Soil’ by Benjamin Myers which “vividly paints generations of lives lived close to the earth”. Also in the running for the award is ‘Livestock’ by Valerie O’Riordan, praised for its “funny, acerbic tone”, and ‘It Was a Very Good Year’ by Gabi Reigh, singled out for tackling large issues, “hinted at with delicacy”. ‘A Brief Period of Rejoicing’ by Jacky Taylor completes the shortlist, offering a “the tantalising allure of what could have been”.
The Somerset Maugham Awards, worth £15,750, see a shortlist of poetry titles such as Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus) by Kayo Chingonyi, Fortune Cookie (Eyewear Publishing) by Jenna Clake and All the Prayers in the House (Bloodaxe Books) by Miriam Nash. J D Dixon's novel, The Unrivalled Transcendence of Willem J Gyle (Thistle Publishing), also features, alongside Mozely’s Elmet (J M Originals).
The prize is for published works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by writers under 35, to enable them to enrich their work by gaining experience of foreign countries.
Judges Jen Campbell, Barney Norris and Ian Thomson, paid tribute to the shortlistees. They said: "In judging this year's Somerset Maugham Award shortlist we've discovered five wildly different but equally excellent young writers. From poetry - Kayo Chingonyi's playful, nostalgic poignance, Jenna Clake's unique vision, and Miriam Nash's hypnotic sense of place - to fiction - J D Dixon's unforgiving, surprising and powerful narrative, and Fiona Mozley's visionary book, written in luminous prose - it's a privilege to include these writers and their work."
A spokesperson for the SoA told The Bookseller the shortlists have been revealed this year to ensure “a greater focus to a shortlist of writers rather than just a winner - traditionally the SoA haven’t mentioned anyone other than the winner and all those who have come close haven’t had recognition”.
“It’s also a way of being able to celebrate winner and shortlist throughout the year as events will be planned with them all,” the spokesperson said.
The awards will be presented by Stephen Fry at RIBA in central London on 19th July, with 400 guests from across publishing and SoA's membership.
Other prizes presented on the evening will include the Eric Gregory Award for a collection of poems by a poet under 30, the Cholmondely Award for a body of work by a poet, the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, the winner of which has already been revealed as Giles Tremlett for Isabella of Castile: Europe’s First Great Queen (Bloomsbury), and The Travelling Scholarships awarded to British creative writers to enable them to keep in contact with writing colleagues abroad.