The Society of Authors has announced its shortlist for this year’s £10,000 Betty Trask Prize - including for the first time a self-published novel, Speak its Name by Kathleen Jowitt.
The prize judges, authors Simon Brett, Michéle Roberts and Joanne Harris, said Jowitt's novel was "an original, closely-observed, funny and often touching story with an unusual setting and a keen understanding of the interactions between members of small communities". The book is about a student balancing university life with responsibilities as an officer for a Christian Fellowship, and finding out there are more ways than one to be Christian.
The Betty Trask prize for a debut literary novel by an author under the age of 35 recognised six novelists in total. Also in the running is Rowan Hisayo Buchanan for Harmless Like You (Sceptre / Hodder & Stoughton), recently shortlisted for the £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize. The judges paid tribute to her for her "painterly eye", branding her style "the real thing, sparse and lovely and luminous".
A second novel from Hodder & Stoughton appears on the shortlist, Rob McCarthy's crime thriller The Hollow Men (Mulholland Books / Hodder & Stoughton). Judges said the author was able to give the procedural "an original medical twist" and had created "an engaging, interesting hero".
On the shortlist from Penguin Random House is Barney Norris' Five Rivers Meet on a Wooded Plain (Transworld), a novel about the lives of five different characters that intersect in the aftermath of a serious car crash. It was dubbed "clever and compassionate" by the judges and was a recent runner-up for Debut Book of the Year at the British Book Awards. Last month it was also shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2017.
The remainder of the shortlist hail from indie presses. Elnathan John is shortlisted for Born on a Tuesday, a novel exploring life, love, friendship, loss and the effects of extremist politics and religion on everyday life in Northern Nigeria, published by Nigerian independent publisher Cassava Books Republic. The judges said it was "devoid of sentimentality, and yet engaging, troubling and sad".
Daniel Shand rounds off the list with Fallow, a book the judges noted "works on so many levels" - at once a road trip through Scotland and a modern Biblical parable and tense psychological thriller - published by independent literary publisher Sandstone Press Limited.
Commenting on the shortlist, Michéle Roberts said on behalf of the judges: "The merchants of gloom keep declaring that the novel is dead but people do keep on writing them. The entries for this year's Betty Trask Prize formed a particularly rich and varied collection. The shortlist features pleasingly original approaches to novel-writing and is characterised by diversity of subject, tone and voice, by the authors' passion, intelligence and deep commitment to their art."
The winner will be announced at the SoA Authors’ Awards on 20th June and receive £10,000 presented by Ben Okri. All other shortlisted authors will each receive a Betty Trask Award worth £3,000.