The prize, which is only open to women in a bid to promote women's writing, attracted 60 per cent of its entries from North American writers, provoking chairman of the judges, author and critic Lisa Jardine to comment on "the confidence and maturity of north American writing".
Ms Michaels' book tells the interlocking stories of two men whose lives have been transformed by war. Liz Calder, head of Bloomsbury Publishers, described the book as "the most astonishing first novel I have read in over 20 years of publishing fiction
Ms Michaels, who has also written two collections of poetry, beat a shortlist that included: Margaret Atwood (Alias Grace), which narrowly missed out on winning the Booker Prize; Deirdre Madden (One by One in the Darkness); Jane Mendelsohn (I Was Amelia Earhart); E. Annie Proulx (Accordion Crimes) and Manda Scott (Hen's Teeth).
t British poet, novelist and playwright, Glyn Maxwell, dubbed by one critic the Shakespeare of the Suburbs, has won a top American literary prize. Maxwell, 35, has won the EM Forster Award, established from the American rights and royalties of Forster's posthumous novel Maurice, and awarded by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Past winners of the pounds 9,500 award include Margaret Drabble, Seamus Heaney and Julian Barnes.
Maxwell, who has written three volumes of poetry, two plays and a novel, writes work that is often humorous, dealing with the idiosyncrasies of life in middle England. He says he will use his prize money to travel in America. Speaking of his method of writing in a recent interview, he said: "I write verse on a computer if I can find one. I write plays by hand, on four colours of paper, on a desk in a house in the Pyrenees. I write in the day, stone-cold sober, empty of thought, music, the urge. The act of writing alters the passage of time, hurries it, or halts it. That's a glimpse of Heaven. Mine anyway." David Lister