Debut novelist wins major literary award

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The Independent Culture

A writer has beaten literary heavyweights to win a prestigious award for her debut novel. Evie Wyld, 29, from south London, is this year's winner of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for her book After The Fire, A Still Small Voice.

The work tells the story of Frank, who is attempting to build a new life for himself away from his violent past in a small coastal community in eastern Australia.

Wyld's first novel beat shortlisted works from Booker prize and Orange Prize-winning authors, Aravind Adiga and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Indian author Adiga won the Booker Prize last year for The White Tiger. He was shortlisted for his second work of fiction Between The Assassinations.

Acclaimed Nigerian novelist Adichie, who won the Orange Prize for Half Of A Yellow Sun in 2007, was shortlisted for The Thing Around Your Neck, a collection of 12 short stories.

The 2009 shortlist of six works for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize also featured writers from Canada and Australia as well as India, Nigeria and the UK.

Other shortlisted books included The Striped World by Australian poet Emma Jones and Six Months In Sudan by James Maskalyk, based on a blog the Canadian doctor wrote while working for Medecins sans Frontieres.

The other shortlisted work, Waste by Cambridge graduate Tristram Stuart, examines the poverty and rising food costs in developing nations.

Wyld, whose family are from Australia, lives in Stockwell in south east London, and helps run a small independent bookshop in Peckham.

She spent three years writing her first novel, having previously published short stories in magazines.

The prize, the second-oldest literary award in the UK, helped launch the careers of VS Naipaul, poet Andrew Motion, Margaret Drabble and David Hare.

Chair of the judges Louise Doughty said the winning novel was "awash with fine images that linger in the mind".

She said: "She writes brilliantly (and is) able to paint a picture or create a convincing encounter with a few deft, evocative strokes, in a prose style worthy of our very best writers.

"There is nothing 'first novelish' about this first novel. It's a fantastically mature book, never showy, a slow burn that drags the reader in."

Wyld receives a £5,000 cheque at a ceremony in central London tonight.

The prize was founded in honour of the writer John Llewellyn Rhys, who was killed in action in the Second World War.