The Orange Prize for fiction is the UK's biggest annual award for novelists, with the winner receiving pounds 30,000. But in this, the fourth year of the prize, only one British writer, Julia Blackburn, is on the shortlist of six. All the others live in the United States or Canada.
Ms Blackburn, who has been shortlisted before, is on the list this year for The Leper's Companions, a tale that includes travel back through time, a mermaid, a leper and a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
The rest of the shortlist comprises the Nobel Prize for Literature winner Toni Morrison for Paradise; Barbara Kingsolver for The Poisonwood Bible; Jane Hamilton for The Short History of a Prince; Marilyn Bowering for Visible Worlds; and Suzanne Berne for A Crime in the Neighbourhood.
Any woman writing in English is eligible for the award. A spokeswoman for the prize said: "The judges simply go on the books and not the nationality of the authors. Unfortunately, Canadian and North American writing is particularly strong at the moment."
The chair of the judges, Lola Young, professor of Culture at Middlesex University, said: "This year's shortlist demonstrates the thrilling diversity of women's writing. The characters, plots, language and style in these books offer readers a wonderful range of literary experiences." The other judges include: Mariella Frostrup, the television celebrity; Nicci Gerrard, a thriller writer and journalist; Ursula Owen, the chief executive of Index on Censorship; and Honor Wilson-Fletcher, Waterstone's publicity manager.
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