Winners over the decades
Heading into its 21st year, I take a look at the Women’s Prize for Fiction winners over the decades…
On 8th March 2017, the long list of 16 authors hoping to win the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will be revealed. From 150 novels just 16 will make it to the long list and this will be halved again on 3rd April when 6 authors will have made it onto the shortlist and be in with a chance of winning the award.
Awarded annually, the Women’s Prize for Fiction is one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious literary prizes. Any female author who has written an original, full length novel in English is able to enter and compete for the ‘Bessie’, a bronze figurine of a women created by artist Grizel Niven and the £30,000 prize fund.
The UK based awards was started in 1996. The prize was established to recognise the literary achievements of female authors after the shortlist for the Booker Prize in 1991 featured no females despite 60% of published novels that year being written by female authors. Since 1991 the shortlist for the Booker Prize has included only 35 female authors on the shortlists compared to 115 male authors.
Hannah says “I can’t believe it is as recently as 25 years ago that women were not being recognised for their work.” Studying modules in journalism and creative writing she says: “I think it is such a good thing that women are getting the work they have done recognised the way it should be.”
However, a female only book awards has not come without criticism. Feminist Germaine Greer was quoted as saying “soon there will be a book awards for people with red hair” and 1990 Booker prize winner A.S Byatt said it is a “sexist prize” and “such a prize was never needed” and has refused to have her work considered for the prize.
Although some think there is no need for the prize in today’s society, the award continues into its 21st year. This year’s winning book and author will be announced on the 7th June 2017. The winning author will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of the awards previous winners, one of the most famous winning titles ‘We need to talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver won the award in 2005. The novel went on to sell in advance of one million copies and was adapted into a film which premiered at The Cannes Film Festival in 2011 and made over $6 million dollars at the box office.
Another 19 authors have also claimed the prize which has been running for over 3 decades. For this post I have decided to take a look back over the decades at some previous winners and their works.
The first year of the awards and the first winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction. Helen Dunmore’s third novel ‘A Spell of Winter’ was crowned the winner in 1996.
A previous Mckitterick prize winner for her debut novel ‘Zennor in Darkness’ in 1994, Dunmore is also the author of a number of short stories, children’s books and works of poetry. She continues to write and one of her later novels ‘The Lie’ was shortlisted for the 2015 Walter Scott Prize. Her latest novel ‘Exposure’ was published in January 2016.
‘A Spell of Winter’ follows the lives of two siblings Rob and Cathy who have been abandoned by their parents and they have no idea why. The gothic novel is set in England when the beginning of the First World War was imminent. Shutting out their family’s dark secrets and the impending war Rob and Cathy create a refuge in their grandfather’s country house. As time progresses and with only each other for company their sibling love deepens and crosses into forbidden territory with terrible consequences.
“Abandoned by their parents and they have no idea why”
‘The intensity and darkness of the world Dunmore creates an enjoyable, finely crafted, if disturbing, literary page turner’ says a review by Publishers Weekly.
Jean Rumsby, founder of the Chesham Elderly Readers Book Club says: “I remember when this book first came out, it’s been one of my firm favourites since then and I have reread it many times.
“I would and have recommend this novel to others, the plot is unlike any other book I’ve read.”
This is the only novel that I haven’t read from my selection of winners over the decades, possibly as it was published only 5 years after I was born so it’s not a novel I have come across before. But having read the blurb I like the sense of intrigue that Dunmore produces and it makes me want to know what dark secrets the family has and what happens to the siblings.
The last winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, in 2007 the award would change its name to the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. The preceding winner to ‘We need to talk about Kevin’, was author Zadie Smith. Her novel ‘On Beauty’ was chosen as the 10th winner of the award for its ‘powerful, moving, and funny story about love and family’. The novel was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2005.
The novel, which takes its title from an essay by Elaine Scarry ‘On Beauty Being Just’ focuses on two families and their different lives and the rivalry between them. The blurb reads: “On Beauty concerns a pair of feuding families – the Belseys and the Kipps, and a clutch of doomed affairs. It puts low morals among high ideals and asks some searching questions about what life does to love.”
“It puts low morals among high ideals”
“Smith demonstrates that she can write a book that is just as readable and addictive as White Teeth (you will finish it at 3am, regardless of when you start reading it)” said journalist Charlotte Thomas in The Independent’s review of ‘On Beauty’ in 2005.
Cath, a member a book club formed by her workplace describes the book as one of the best she has ever read: “I didn’t want it to end because I was enjoying the story so much.
“I think it is an extremely well written novel and I will definitely be reading it again. If you haven’t already read it, I would put it on your list.”
Now named the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction the most recent winner of the award was Lisa Mcinerney and her debut novel ‘The Glorious Heresies’. The novel won both the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2016. McInerney had previously been author of a comedic blog named ‘The Arse end of Ireland’ about life on a Galway council estate. In 2015 she published her first short story ‘Saturday, Boring’. Her highly anticipated second novel ‘The Blood Miracles’ is due to be released at the end of April 2017.
The novel tells how an accidental murder affects the lives of those in the novel who include 15 year old drug dealer Ryan and his girlfriend Karine, his alcoholic father, a gangland boss and a prostitute. The lives of these five misfits are all intertwined and when the accidental murderess returns to Cork after 40 years in exile, she changes the lives of them all.
“The lives of these five misfits are all intertwined”
Chair of judges for the awards in 2016, Margaret Mountford best known for her appearance on television show ‘The Apprentice’, described the novel as: “a superbly original, compassionate novel that delivers insights into the very darkest of lives through humour … You get that rich vein of humour throughout this book, which stops it from being bleak.”
Lynda, who is part of the office book club at my workplace says: “I had never heard of Lisa McInerney before but her book was recommended to me by a friend. I love the storyline; it’s gripping but not too heavy going because you have some humour in the novel.”
It was Lynda who first recommend the book to me and it was interesting to me as one of my close friends now lives in Galway and I have been over to visit so recognised many of the places in the novel which I think made it more enjoyable for me. I found it a bit hard to follow with so many characters linked to one another in different ways, it’s easy to forget who knows who. But overall I did like the book and it was an enjoyable story.
Each of these three novels have very different topics by very different authors but all made award winning pieces makes it hard to predict what the judges look for in a winning novel. The Women’s Prize for Fiction has so far been won by two Irish writers, nine Americans, five British, two Canadians, one Australian, and one Nigerian. With variety of stories and themes in the winning novels each year and an even broader range in the long listed novels, I will be interested to see which books are chosen by this year’s judges to make it onto the longlist and one step closer to winning the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017.
Find out a bit more about this year’s judges in the video from the Women’s Prize for Fiction YouTube channel below:
Have you read any of the winners mentioned in the post? Or is your favourite novel written by a woman? Do you think there is a need for a women’s only literary award in today’s society? Please let me know in the comments.
Click here to view my blog on the Long list.
Click here to view my blog on the Short list.