Desmond Elliott Prize 2014 – Meg Tobin-O’Drowsky
By Nick P Canty, on 14 July 2014
Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing wins 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize
I was honoured to attend the 2014 Desmond Elliott Prize ceremony on Thursday 3rd of July. Held on the fourth floor of Fortnum and Mason’s famous Piccadilly store, the place where Elliott (who arrived in London with £2 in his pocket; there’s hope for us all) did his grocery shopping, the whole evening was very exciting. While waiting for the announcement to begin, I found myself playing a classy game of ‘who’s who?’ and quickly discovered that every part of the book business was well represented, from librarians to academics, publishers and media to data aggregators and booksellers. Everyone was happily mingling and catching up, and for a night it was easy to forget all about the stressors that bookmaking weighs on everyone in the industry. Of course, we were all there for one reason: to celebrate writing, writing being one thing everyone in the room had in common.
Having had the great fortune of meeting D.W. Wilson, Robert Alison, and Eimear McBride a couple of weeks prior, I of course noticed them first upon my entrance and was immediately star-struck. The three of them have so many awards under their respective belts and boast such talent that I couldn’t help but be in awe of the company in which I found myself. And then I spotted Chris Cleave and added his list of awards to the pile, and I discovered I could swoon even further. Thankfully, I was rescued by a pair of librarians from Barrow-in-Furness who were also found wandering, lost, around the ground floor of Fortnum and Mason before the ceremony. They joined in my game of ‘who’s who’ and the instant camaraderie between us, attributed both to not exactly fitting in with the crowd and our collective love of books, is something that has stayed with me. I’ve found myself thinking about them every day since.
But on to the main event: the air was electric in the few moments before Cleave, Chair of the judging panel, took the podium. He introduced all three books with such passion and beauty, and succinctly described why the Desmond Elliott Prize is so valuable: “Debut fiction is the bravest, most exciting and purest form of the art, but today’s forces in book retail are lethal to new talent. Publishers are much less able to take risks on unconventional first novels, so I believe that it is now up to established authors to seek out, champion and amplify the best new voices.” Cleave provided the highest praise for all three novels and everyone in the room seemed swept away by his elegantly crafted words (no one could ever be fooled into thinking Cleave is anything but a writer). Appropriately, Cleave had lots of very high praise for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, and I think we’d be hard-pressed to find someone in the room who disagreed with him: “It is the most untamed, most expertly crafted, most daring, most challenging and most moving human story I’ve read in years. Its language pulsates and adapts, disintegrating and resolving at will. Above all it is a seditious act of storytelling that does what only the greatest works of fiction do: irresistibly it pulls you in to the story, leans close to your ear and whispers you something true about yourself.”
After the announcement was made and McBride said a quick thanks, the champagne again flowed and everyone in the room continued to mingle and chatter, fully at ease. It was truly an evening I’ll always remember, and I’m so thankful I was given the chance to stand in the same room with so many incredible people, winners and otherwise.