The Blagger's Guide To...The Orange Prize

Sorry boys...the friendliest prize in town is back

*Awarded on Wednesday at a glamorous ceremony (well, we'll be going) at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the Orange Prize celebrates "excellence, originality and accessibility in women's writing from throughout the world", and rewards it with a cheque for £30,000 and a bronze statue known as a "Bessie".

This year's shortlist comprises: Emma Donoghue's Room; Aminatta Forna's The Memory of Love; Grace Williams Says it Loud, by Emma Henderson; Great House, by Nicole Krauss; The Tiger's Wife, by Téa Obreht; and Annabel, by Kathleen Winter.

*This year's judges are: the historian Bettany Hughes; the actress and writer Helen Lederer; Liz Calder, the founder of Bloomsbury publishing; Susanna Reid, the journalist and broadcaster; and the author Tracy Chevalier.

*Judges and Orange insiders know it as the friendliest book prize in town. But outsiders can get a bit jealous. In 2008, the writer Tim Lott called the prize "a sexist con trick", asking: "Could the establishment of a men-only prize be justified?" and concluding that "the Orange Prize is sexist and discriminatory, and it should be shunned". Auberon Waugh was not a fan, nicknaming it the Lemon Prize. Nor John Sutherland, nor Alain de Botton. And it's not only men. The brilliant novelist A S Byatt claims that it "ghettoises" women writers. Zadie Smith, when she was shortlisted in 2000 for White Teeth, refused to turn up to the ceremony, dismissed the prize as irrelevant and said the judge, Ffion Hague, could "kiss my behind". She felt a bit better after a few years, and when she won the prize in 2006 for On Beauty she said: "I cannot believe it. I am stunned ... It's about being counted and being part of English writing."

*So why isn't there a men-only book prize? "Because no one has, as yet, put in the time, creativity, effort and enthusiasm necessary to start one up and keep it going," was a prize spokeswoman's response to Lott. The writer Susan Hill joked that she is to sponsor a new prize "for a novel written by anyone who was born before 1988 in Budleigh Salterton and who is an only child ... [People] can have a prize for whatever they damn well like." The 2008 winner, Rose Tremain (for The Road Home), put it quite succinctly: "Come on guys, stop grumping!"

*To add insult to injury, Orange Prize winners tend to outsell winners of the Booker Prize. The Orange's all-time bestseller is Andrea Levy's (inset, above) Small Island (which also won the Best of the Best prize on the Orange Prize's 10th anniversary), with sales of 834,958, followed by Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin (646,373). Only one Booker winner, Yann Martel's Life of Pi, has outsold any of these titles over that period, with its sales of more than a million.

*One of the aims of the prize is to bring the competition books to a wider audience. Of the current long list, Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad, saw a 2,250 per cent week-on-week sales boost after the shortlist was announced.

*The prize's founder, Kate Mosse, is no stranger to bestsellers herself. Having been a novelist since the publication of Eskimo Kissing in 1996, she achieved international bestseller status in 2006 and 2007 with her novels Labyrinth and Sepulchre. Labyrinth won the British Book Award for Best Read of the Year, and has been used in a Standard Grade English exam.

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