By Lauren Nettles
“Debut fiction is the bravest, most exciting and purest form of the art,” declared judging panel chair Chris Cleave at the Desmond Elliott Prize ceremony last Thursday. The passion for debut novels and their importance in the world of fiction was tangible in Fortnum and Mason’s lovely Drawing Room as we eagerly awaited the announcement of the prize’s seventh winner.
The short-list was comprised of Ballistics by D.W. Wilson, author of two short story collections; The Letter Bearer by Robert Allison, author of an absolute stack of history books; and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, her first published work.
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing continued its incredible year by adding The Desmond Elliott Prize to a pile of awards which already includes Goldsmiths Prize, Folio Prize, Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award. After nearly a decade of rejections, A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing was picked up by Galley Beggar Press, an independent publishing house in Norwich, and proceeded to take the literary world completely by storm.
The Desmond Elliot Prize is doing incredible promotion for debut novels, but there’s simply no such thing as too much good press, and Cleave knows the best way to obtain it. “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,” he stated. As someone just getting a foot in the door of the publishing industry, I hope that I will be able to watch the world of literature grow thanks to writers such as McBride, Wilson and Allison offering a hand to authors in the difficult position of being undiscovered amongst countless other titles as they once were.
If established authors take the time to support their fellow writers, the worst case scenario ends with more literature being recognised and appreciated. The worst that could happen if they don’t is much less enjoyable; as Cleave said, “Let this generation of writers give life to the next, or may we be damned as the ones who let literature be murdered on our watch.”
Further information on the Desmond Elliott Prize for new fiction can be found here.