Titles from Penguin Random House (PRH) and HarperCollins are competing with an unpublished manuscript on the inaugural Staunch Prize shortlist.
The £2,000 award was launched by screenwriter Bridget Lawless in January to find the best thriller in which no woman gets beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.
At launch, the prize attracted some criticism from authors such as Sophie Hannah and Val McDermid with accusations of censorship and “missing the point”. Organisers of the CrimeFest event in Bristol subsequently withdrew its offer of a offered a complimentary pass and panel appearance for the winning writer.
However nine months on, a six-strong international shortlist has been revealed, featuring titles from Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, and a number of indies from across the globe as well as one unpublished manuscript.
The nominations include Anna Porter’s The Appraisal published by Canadian independent ECW press East of Hounslow by Khurrum Rahman (HQ), If I Die Tonight by A L Gaylin (PRH) as well as On the Java Ridge by Australian author Jock Serong, published by Australian independent press Text Publishing. Also vying for the prize is The Kennedy Moment by Peter Adamson, published by Oxford independent Myriad Editions and the shortlist is completed by Cops and Queens by US writer Joyce Thompson, who is currently seeking a publisher.
The prize was judged by Lawless, agent Piers Blofeld, of Sheil Land Associates, and actress Doon Mackichan.
Lawless told The Bookseller: "There were such a huge range of stories and styles to choose from, but we were pretty much in agreement about the shortlist. We were overwhelmed by number and quality of entries, which was only just manageable for our small team. We had entries from all over the world, which is amazing for a new prize, and thanks entirely to the coverage we got when we launched. Being controversial has its advantages."
She added: "There was no dominating theme. We had everything from cosy mysteries to experimental writing. But stories which felt relevant (topical, political or social, global) were particularly refreshing. The breadth of ideas and settings was quite astonishing and goes to show how much good writing there is in the thriller genre outside of the crime fiction arena... I’d like to thank all the publishers who entered novels into the Staunch Book Prize despite the backlash from some authors."
On the criticism levelled at her by the crime writing community, Lawless said: "The criticism was fairly vicious at times, but sometimes quite measured, even funny. But mostly, it missed the point of what we were trying to do. We were accused of 'banning' violence, telling writers what they can or can't write, censorship, trying to destroy livelihoods, and so on. In fact, we were simply looking for alternatives to depicting women as victims of sexual violence and murder.
"We weren't telling people not to write those stories, but inviting new and more original narratives a space where crime fiction dominates to a quite extraordinary degree. The criticism did come almost exclusively from crime writers, but we had so many positive responses from around the world that it's clear we're by no means a lone voice.”
Lawless was inspired partly by the #MeToo movement and believes there needs to be more consideration between depictions of violence against women in fiction and reality. "It was interesting to hear Natalie Portman addressing Variety's Power of Women event recently, calling for a year off from violence to women in the film-making world,” she said. "Given that this is where the #MeToo movement began, I guess that's not surprising. People are making the connection between what women are fighting for in real life - being heard and believed, taken seriously, not treated as sexual prey - and the way they're depicted in fiction. To be honest, this issue isn't going to go away. We're just getting started."
There will be an awards ceremony at Sony Pictures in central London on 26th November where the winner will be announced.