The worst most authors have to fear is a critical review, but Elif Shafak's latest novel led to her being put on trial under Turkey's Article 301, which punishes anyone who "denigrates" the national character. Now, 18 months after her acquittal, Shafak's book The Bastard of Istanbul has been long-listed for the 2008 Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.
The Turkish court case was brought over a fictional character who referred to the mass killings of Armenians during the final years of the Ottoman Empire – among the most disputed chapters in the country's history – as "genocide".
But Kirsty Lang, the chair of the judging panel, said that what stood out about the novel – among 20 on the long list – was not its political controversy, but its strong female characters.
The Bastard of Istanbul tells the story of a 19-year-old woman who walks into a doctor's surgery and asks for an abortion, before fast-forwarding 20 years to a house of women in the Turkish city, including a clairvoyant, a hypochondriac and a beautiful, rebellious mother.
Ms Lang said: "It's got some fantastic, feisty women in it. It's quirky and has a freshness to it, and it's very outspoken about sex and relationships."
This year's long list has a strong international flavour, although Ms Lang said she expected more of the 120 entrants to be from Africa after the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won last year with Half of a Yellow Sun.
The only writer on the list from Africa is Lauren Liebenberg, who grew up in what was then Rhodesia during the civil war. Her novel, The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam is about two girls growing up on a Rhodesian farm in the late 1970s.
Sorry by the Australian author Gail Jones brings a topical edge to the long list, dealing with Australia's stolen generation – children of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were taken from their families by the government – to whom the country's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd recently apologised.
Canadian Nancy Huston, who lives in Paris, is long listed for Fault Lines, about a family trip to Germany that uncovers terrible secrets; and Iranian-American writer Anita Amirrezvani is nominated for The Blood of Flowers, a tale set in 17th-century Iran.
Anne Enright's The Gathering, which won the 2007 Man Booker Prize, is also in the running.
There are seven debut novels including Monster Love by Carol Topolski, about a couple who murder their child.
Writers in the running
Anita Amirrezvani for The Blood of Flowers
Stella Duffy for The Room of Lost Things
Jennifer Egan for The Keep
Anne Enright for The Gathering
Linda Grant for The Clothes on Their Backs
Tessa Hadley for The Master Bedroom
Nancy Huston for Fault Lines
Gail Jones for Sorry
Sadie Jones for The Outcast
Lauren Liebenberg for The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam
Charlotte Mendelson for When We Were Bad
Deborah Moggach for In The Dark
Anita Nair for Mistress
Heather O'Neill for Lullabies for Little Criminals
Elif Shafak for The Bastard of Istanbul
Dalia Sofer for The Septembers of Shiraz
Scarlett Thomas for The End of Mr Y
Carol Topolski for Monster Love
Rose Tremain for The Road Home
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