Anne Tyler, Sarah Waters, Ali Smith, and five debut novelists including Emma Healey and Sara Taylor are on the longlist for this year's Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.
Meanwhile chair of judges Shami Chakrabarti has told The Bookseller: "Until you can honestly see that women are getting the placing they deserve on other lists, it is not time to give up on the Women’s Prize."
Independent publisher Legend Press has two books on the 20-strong list, with half the titles coming from Penguin Random House.
London-based Legend's titles are After Before by Jemma Wayne, a story of three women who reach crisis point during a British winter, and The Life of a Banana by PP Wong, about a girl born and raised in London trying to find her own identity, whose life takes a harsh turn when her mother dies.
The other debut novels on the list are Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing (Viking), which won the 2014 Costa First Novel Award, and is about a pensioner who is losing her memory while trying to find her missing friend; Laline Paull’s The Bees (Fourth Estate), about a bee who works her way into the inner circle of the Queen Bee; and Sara Taylor’s The Shore (William Heinemann), about a collection of small islands and the stories of two families there.
In contrast to the first novels, Anne Tyler is longlisted for her 20th novel A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus), the story of three generations of the Whitshank family. Other well-established names include Pakistani/British writer Kamila Shamsie for A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury), about an English woman and a Pathan who meet on a train in Peshawar, and whose connection is revealed 15 years later; and Sarah Waters, longlisted for The Paying Guests (Virago), set in London in 1922 and following a mother and daughter who take in a couple as lodgers.
Virago has a second book on the longlist, Rachel Seiffert’s The Walk Home, about a boy who returns to Glasgow after running away from his family.
Rachel Cusk’s Outline (Faber and Faber) is about a female writer who goes to Athens to teach a writing course, and who is told the life stories of the people she meets along the journey. The book is also on the shortlist for this year’s Folio Prize.
Ali Smith’s How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton), the tale of a renaissance artist in the 1460s and a child of a child of the 1960s, is longlisted. It has already won the Goldsmiths Prize, and Costa Novel Award, and been shortlisted for the Folio Prize and the Man Booker Prize.
Two novels envisage dystopian or post-apocalyptic futures. The Country of Ice Cream Star by British/American writer Sandra Newman (Chatto & Windus) tells the story of a 15-year-old Ice Cream Star, who sets out to find a cure for the posies, a disease which kills people once they reach 20. Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven (Picador), is about a travelling symphony which performs concerts and Shakespeare to the communities which sprang up in North America after flu wiped out 99% of the population.
Chinese/British writer Xiaolu Guo is longlisted for I Am China (Chatto & Windus), which follows a translator as she tries to reunite a Chinese man held in a detention centre in Dover with his girlfriend in Beijing. Formerly independent publisher Quercus, now owned by Hodder & Stoughton, has Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night on the longlist, about a girl whose life is a reality television programme. Meanwhile Lissa Evans makes the list for Crooked Heart (Doubleday), the story of a young boy evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, who finds himself in danger after helping the woman he has been sent to live with start to make money.
Former Desmond Elliot Prize-winner Grace McCleen is longlisted for The Offering (Sceptre), about a woman who had a mental breakdown on her 14th birthday, and is still unable to recall the events of that night.
Patricia Ferguson is longlisted for Aren’t We Sisters? (Penguin Books), about a killer in Silkhampton and three women in danger, while Samantha Harvey makes the longlist for Dear Thief (Jonathan Cape), about a woman who writes letters to an estranged friend.
The final book on the longlist is Marie Phillips’ The Table of Less Valued Knights (Jonathan Cape), a comedy focusing on Sir Humphrey du Val, a knight with one leg shorter than the other, and Queen Martha of Puddock, a woman on the run from an arranged marriage.
The make-up of the longlist is 13 British authors, two Americans, two Canadians, one Pakistani/British writer, one Chinese/British, and one British/American.
Noticeable absences from the longlist include Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist (Picador), which is the bestselling paperback fiction title of 2015 so far, and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila (Virago), the latest in her connected Gilead books. Robinson won the prize in 2009, when it was sponsored by Orange, for her Gilead novel Home.
Chair of judges Shami Chakrabarti told The Bookseller it was “brutal” to have to cull the submitted books down to 20, and that there were roughly 30 novels that the judges spent hours deliberating over.
She also said that while the range of books on the shortlist showed that writing by women is “vibrant”, there was still a need for the prize."Until you can honestly see that women are getting the placing they deserve on other lists, it is not time to give up on the Women’s Prize," she said. “Until I see something remotely like gender justice I want to see women’s stories promoted. This isn’t just about literature, it’s about women’s experience. Sometimes stories can be more powerful than journalism or politics. This isn’t the time to end the particular spotlight and celebration that is the Women’s Prize.”
Chakrabarti added that there were “some little groups of themes” in the longlist. “[There is] a contingent of dystopia,” she said. “There are the family dramas, mother/daughter relationships being explored, the experience of ageing, which you would expect with the population as it is. It was nicely varied but there were often little groups.This is a shrinking, interconnected planet and Britain is a healthy, diverse society, and that is reflected in the books we read.”
The judging panel also includes Laura Bates, writer and founder of The Everyday Sexism Project; columnist and broadcaster Grace Dent; novelist, poet and winner of the inaugural Women’s Prize for Fiction Helen Dunmore; and Channel 4 News’ presenter Cathy Newman.
Chakrabarti said: “My judges are pretty amazing women. They come from very different experiences. We have got a good age range, we have got different walks of life and I think different reading tastes, and I think that’s helped. I think we have got an atmosphere where were feel every opinion counts.”
Syl Saller, chief marketing officer of Baileys’ parent company Diageo, said: “The inspiring female talent on this year’s longlist is exactly why Baileys, a brand that proudly celebrates women, is so honoured to be working with the prize.
“Now in our second year of partnership, we are once again thrilled by the range of excellent books that are featured on the list. This year brings even greater opportunity to share and celebrate the very best in fiction written by women to an even wider audience.”
The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction is awarded for the best-full length novel of the year written by a woman, and published for this year’s award in the UK between 1st April 2014 and 31st March 2015. Any woman writing in English is eligible.
The winner of the prize, which is in the second year of its sponsorship by Baileys, will be announced at a ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall in London on 3rd June.
Last year’s winner was Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Galley Beggar Press/Faber & Faber).