Orange judges reveal 20 women fighting for £30,000 fiction prize

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Organisers of the Orange Prize for Fiction, Britain's most lucrative literary prize, revealed its "longlist" of women authors yesterday - many of whom had written as men.

The fifth annual prize pits such literary heavyweights as Anita Desai and A L Kennedy against first-time novelists such as Zadie Smith, whose book White Teeth has been critically acclaimed.

The contest for the £30,000 prize, which will be presented at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, in June, is open to any woman writing in any country, provided she writes in English. This year's longlist includes five British writers, five Americans and 10 from other parts of the world.

"Nine are about clashes of culture, which couldn't be much more relevant this time with mass migration in all parts of the globe and asylum-seeking in the news," said the writer and broadcaster Polly Toynbee, who chairs the panel of judges. "These provide an extraordinary wellspring of creativity. And there are books from a wide range of countries, not a limited little Western list."

The books cover every type of novel, rather than falling into the category of "traditional women's fiction," Ms Toynbee said. "We had every genre submitted; war, crime, there were lots written in the male first person. They were very much not the sort of thing you would associate with 'women's writing'."

Ms Toynbee's comments came a day after Orange published survey results showing that men were more biased towards books written by other men, than women were towards "women's books". The survey found men were put off buying books if the cover design or title was too feminine, or contained the word "love", regardless of the subject matter. Women were less likely to judge a book by its cover and less inclined to label it a male or female read.

Kate Mosse, co-founder and honorary director of the Orange Prize for Fiction, said: "This research does support the contention that women novelists have to work harder to be taken seriously by both sexes and supports the informal research we undertook with booksellers when setting up the prize in 1994."

The judges for this year's prize include Ffion Hague, wife of the leader of the Opposition and trustee of the British Council, and historian Dr Amanda Foreman, whose biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, was a bestseller.

Meanwhile, the organisers of the Orange Prize for Screenwriting were making a final attempt to contact one of their shortlisted authors, who has "gone missing". Jonathan Hall, 38, of north-west London, had until midnight last night to get in touch, or face expulsion from the contest for the £5,000 prize.

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