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.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
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.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all