Uncovering talent: the prize that rewards not just one, but eight, British novelists: Arifa Akbar, Week in Books

 

What do we make of a literary prize that picks eight winners? And one that rewards those not setting the world alight with their debuts nor those whom Alan Yentob might dedicate an Imagine series to, but writers who are on their second, third, maybe even 10th novel, quietly getting on with the next one?

Eight winners, as opposed to one, does up-end our traditional notions of contest, and winning, but it also makes the judging process gratifying, or so I found when I judged the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize 2014, which revealed its winners this week: Ben Brooks’s Lolito, about a paedophilic relationship that inverts the gender of the classic Lolita story; Cynan Jones’sThe Dig, a small, beautifully-formed tale of loss set against the brutality of badger baiting; Gareth R Roberts’s Whatever Happened to Billy Parks?, about an ageing, alcoholic footballer that looks at celebrity culture with surreal inventiveness; Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway,  which takes on the legend of Ernest Hemingway from the perspective of his four wives; Gerard Woodward’s Vanishing, a sprawling novel of war, betrayal, art and the truth of storytelling itself; Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman, which tackles homosexuality in London’s Caribbean community with great levity; Lesley Glaister’s Little Egypt, that studies sibling love within a dysfunctional family and Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, about a traumatic past that continues to mark the protagonist’s present.

In some ways, choosing more than one winner made the judging trickier. The temptation was to gun for your ‘winner’, the others mere bargaining chips (Edward St Aubyn would doubtless have fun here). Which is why it was good to have a prize chair in Matt Haig, who asked us not to aim for compromise or even consensus but to advocate for books we loved, even if the others really hated them. There is at least one such ‘Marmite’ book here.

Some – Evaristo and Glaister – have been writing for decades with big backlists while Brooks has six novels to his name, aged 22! Wyld, Roberts and Wood are, meanwhile, all on their second novels. While Wyld has been recognised for her talent (she’s on Granta revered ‘best young British authors’ list), the purpose of this prize is to get book-lovers – not critics or publishers – to appreciate her too.

Woodward gives us a novel that is making no concession to the easily distracted readers that Tim Parks referred to this week. Parks (who has written for us on page 27) noted the way in which he thought the Internet was changing novel reading, and writing, especially long, stylistically challenging novels that require long hours of silence and sustained attention. Woodward’s book does just that at 400 pages, and set at such a pace that we are still in the protagonist’s school years at page 150.  Jones, in turn, proves that the short novel can be as epic, and stylistically demanding as a long one. Set amid hostile nature, it reflects on loss, mourning and how the natural cycle of death and decay impacts on the soul. Not bad at 176 pages.

All eight books, in fact, are correctives to the idea that the novel is on its last legs. Read them this summer to (re)discover the fact.

Then the other rule: they must all be British. There are few prizes left that focus on British fiction alone, and this is the one aspect that most surprised me, though perhaps it shouldn’t have, for its breadth, its colour and its talent.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
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
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary