We need to talk about 'dumb' literary awards

Prize-winning author Lionel Shriver hits out at publishers and says latest accolade is a waste

When Lionel Shriver won the Orange Prize for Fiction, she thanked organisers unreservedly for the recognition that had eluded her for decades; she had written seven unsuccessful novels and her eighth had been rejected by 30 publishers before becoming a word-of-mouth hit.

Nowadays, her relationship to the prize is far more critical. Having scooped the main prize in 2005 for her novel about reluctant motherhood, We Need To Talk About Kevin, she has today won another accolade for the same book by being voted by the public as their favourite Waterstones/Orange "winner of winners" over the past 15 years. But, rather than gushing forth thanks, she complained that the multiple nature of the Orange Prize was "dumb" and diluted the impact of winning.

Speaking to The Independent about the shortcomings of the publishing industry and multiple prizes by the same organisers, she said: "I'm critical of the Orange people on this front. The more prizes you give, the more meaningless they become. It's a stupid thing to have more than one winner; it's diluting and it means nobody wins."

To mark the 15th anniversary of the Orange Prize, a youth panel picked Anne Michaels' Fugitive Pieces as its favourite winner. This year's Orange Prize for Fiction and Award for New Writers winners are announced tonight.

Shriver also fired a broadside against the publishing industry, saying she was "torn" about recommending writing as a career to aspiring novelists.

"I'm very sympathetic to aspirant writers. It's very difficult and there are no guarantees that cream will ever rise to the top," she said.

"It'd be totally hypocritical to discourage people from joining my profession, which was good to me in the end, but I have qualms about being encouraging. The odds are stacked against you. I want to give people enough of an idea of the capriciousness of the industry."

She went on to cast aspersions on the successes of some best-selling authors whose writing was simply not very good, she thought, but whose books were aided by the benefit of the powerful publishing publicity machine – citing Bret Easton Ellis' latest book, Imperial Bedrooms, as one such example.

"There are a lot of books that end up selling that aren't very good. I've just read Bret Easton Ellis' new book and it's awful but it's had a big publicity campaign.

"I'm writing a 1,500 word review of it – the size of which alone will overwhelm what I say. It's not a case of cream rising to the top but skimmed milk rising – of the 'no fat' kind. The book doesn't deserve the attention. It's ghastly. In the meantime, there are lots of books that will not be reviewed," she said.

Shriver's Orange Prize-winning novel has gone on to sell over 600,000 copies in Britain since publication and is currently being adapted as a film starring Tilda Swinton.

The book dramatises a Columbine-style high-school massacre committed by a delinquent son who kills his classmates and teacher with a crossbow. It is told through a series of letters written by his mother, Eva Khatchadourian, a New York career woman and reluctant parent whose relationship with her son is strained when she does not experience a rush of unconditional love for him after his birth.

Reflecting back to the initial success of the book, Shriver said: "I had made no money and I was a publishing pariah. I had no clout. The book came within a whisker of not being published. My former agent hated it and suggested I rewrite it as a comedy or without the school massacre."

Kate Mosse, co-founder of the Orange Prize, whose previous winners include Zadie Smith and Rose Tremain, said the reason there were a number of regular and one-off awards was to support women writers "in all stages of their careers".

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone