Here are our 2013 shortlisted novelists – with comments from judge, Alison Pearson.

Helen Bettinson, for The Kaiser's Guests

“In The Kaiser’s Guests, Helen took an unknown moment in history – an internment camp in Berlin where 4,000 British men sat out the First World War – and brought it vividly to life. So assured was Helen’s handling of the male voices and atmosphere that Chloe [the other competition judge] and I wondered if a bloke was trying to infiltrate the prize. But, as we can see, Helen is in fact a woman, with a terrific gift for creating male characters and compelling storylines.”

Catherine Chanter, for The Well (subsequently announced as the overall winner)

“Catherine Chanter submitted The Well, the riveting story of Ruth and her family, who find themselves living on a smallholding which continues to be rained upon during a time of drastic drought. I can’t do justice to the complexity in a few words, but the story has the pulse of a thriller combined with a futuristic evocation of a Big Brother society and an Ibsenite fable of humans faced with limited resources. The Well was so astoundingly assured that I wondered if AS Byatt had adopted a pseudonym to see if the judges would overlook a brilliant writer. But we didn’t.”

Kerry Evans, for One Hundred and Sixteen Words Per Minute

“Kerry Evans’s One Hundred and Sixteen Words Per Minute took us into the nocturnal world of Carla, who works as a typist in one of those giant City banks, a world Kerry dramatises with a brilliantly acute and sardonic eye. Carla is a single mum and her own mother is an alcoholic and there was particularly deft and poignant handling of the clash between the worlds of money and powerlessness. I would gladly read anything written by Kerry Evans.”

Lynn Fraser, for Oh To Be In Harper Valley

“As the author of I Don’t Know How She Does It, I’ve been described as the Founder of Mum Lit. It’s a branch of English literature plus Calpol and pelvic floor exercises!  Into the bittersweet, nay bonkers genre of Mum Lit, let us welcome Lynn Fraser, the author of Oh, To Be in Harper Valley. Lynn tells the story of Beverly, a mummy monster. Obliged to send her two kids to a failing primary school, Beverly sets about transforming it following the ruthless precepts of Machiavelli’s The Prince. Comedy is seriously underestimated, but it’s very hard to make a reader laugh as much as Lynn Fraser does with her blissful insights into the dark side of the Parent Teachers Association.”

Karen Ross, for Mother's Day

“Also hilariously entertaining was Mother’s Day, a Comedy Romance by Karen Ross. This is a truly inspired story told through the eyes of JJ Jackson who has one of those ghastly mothers who writes about her children’s endearing ways in a national newspaper column. I ASK YOU, WHAT KIND OF TERRIBLE WOMAN WOULD DO THAT? Anyway, Beth Jackson, media star, turns out to be the kind of woman who collects the Mother of the Year Award whilst telling her own daughter she’s too busy to see her on Mother’s Day, but might be able to find a slot in her schedule next week. Mother’s Day is a timely satire written with great comic flair and heart by Karen Ross, and, honestly, you could publish it tomorrow.”

Alex Hourston, for In My House 

“Alex Hourston ... submitted the wonderful In My House. In My House is about Margaret, one of those apparently dullish Anita Brookner heroines, who is living in timid obscurity in north London when, one day on the way back from holiday, at the airport an eastern European girl mouths HELP at Margaret in the mirror in the toilets. Margaret helps the girl escape a brutal trafficker. The story seamlessly interweaves thought and event and it’s full of the most dazzling observations which, as a writer, I wish that I’d had myself. Both Chloe and I admired Alex’s skill enormously. “

Sarah Stewart, for H

“H, as her author describes her, being “a Notorious Whore known under Various Identities but principally Infamous as merely H.” Set in the Restoration, H is about an incredible young woman who, like Moll Flanders and Becky Sharpe before her, has to adapt and improvise just to stay alive. It’s full of terrific historical detail, but it wears its learning very lightly and it was easy to see H becoming not only a novel, but a TV drama series. H has that sparky confidence and unputdownable quality which made me really cross when it stopped. So, I want to read the book, please, Sarah Stewart!”