Gwendoline Riley has scooped the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for Fiction 2017 for her fifth novel First Love (Granta).
One of the judges, author Evie Wyld, said the account of a turbulent marriage between a young writer and an older man, was the “unanimous winner” of the annual £1,500 award.
Riley (pictured right) revealed the previous roll call of winners – including Seamus Heaney, Julian Barnes and Eimear McBride –had left her overwhelmed.
The Mersyside-born author told The Bookseller at the ceremony in central London on Wednesday (12th December): "It’s a fantastic prize with a very august of previous winners, my eyes scanned down them and I was dazzled because there were so many people I love on there… It’s just encouraging, I can’t say I’m easily discouraged because obviously I’ve been writing for a good time and I haven’t been discouraged, but it’s nice to be encouraged."
Of her next book for Granta, she said: "It’s called My Phantoms at the moment, it might change, it’s a book that has a Chekhov element and a tricky mother element, that’s all I will say."
The judges included Lorien Kite, Financial Times’ deputy life and arts editor, and Susie Nicklin, c.e.o. of the MILD Group and a new entry into The Bookseller's recent 100 list.
During the ceremony in Faber's Bloomsbury offices, which featured Faber's newly ensconced publisher Alex Bowler, its c.e.o. Stephen Page and Peter Straus, m.d. of RCW, among other, Kite discussed why the book had struck such a chord with the judges. She said: "There were a number of very good books in the submissions but in the end we felt we had a clear winner with Gwendoline Riley's First Love, a novel that stood out because of its precision and originality of language, the quality of its analysis and the author’s exquisite control of her material.
"It’s a book that for all the difficulty of its themes can also be very funny and not only in grim irony, but also in the lightest way, finally it’s a reminder in an age of literary gigantism that there’s no substitute for craft and artistry in fiction."
Wyld said of the 176-page First Love: “It’s a book of nerve endings and often brutal truthfulness. It’s slim but has a powerful gravitational field, each word placed with expert care. In its unpicking of an abusive relationship, it feels both powerfully urgent and a novel that will be studied for years for its beauty, horror and humour.”
Riley grew up on the Wirral and was previously published by Jonathan Cape before going to Granta for First Love in 2016, following a “closely-fought” auction. It was published in February 2017. Her other novels include Cold Water, Sick Notes, Joshua Spassky, Opposed Positions (all published by Cape) and she has won the Betty Trask Award and a Somerset Maugham Award as well as being shortlisted for various prizes. Riley told The Bookseller in May she was hoping to finish another novel by the end of the year.
The Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize was set up in memory of the founder and first chairman of Faber, Geoffrey Faber and is awarded to poetry and prose in alternate years, to a writer aged 40 or under. Last year’s prize went to poet Kim Moore for her collection The Art of Falling (Seren Books).