2013 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize
by Joy Haughton on 16 January 2014
Awarded annually to an unpublished female novelist over the age of 21, the Prize is becoming a key indicator of emerging new literary talent for agents and publishers alike.
2013’s competition, the third year of the Prize, built spectacularly on previous success by attracting a record number of entries. Nearly 250 women from across the world (the furthest flung entry came in from New Zealand) sent in the first thirty pages of their unpublished novels, along with synopses of the remaining story. During the fortnight preceding the closing date in March, the Lucy Cavendish Porters coped manfully as sacks of mail poured in.
Judging a literary prize is no small undertaking and we are very grateful to both Dr Chloe Preedy, Lucy Cavendish’s Teaching Fellow in English Literature, and Allison Pearson, novelist, journalist and broadcaster, for being willing to take on the mammoth task. Both remained cheerful and dedicated as the boxes of entries piled into their respective studies (as Allison Pearson put it, in her usual witty way: “the boxes began to make box love to each other. They reproduced in the night!”) Each judge gave over the entirety of April to frantic reading, culminating in the publication of a shortlist at the beginning of May.
Allison Pearson was quite correct when she said in her after-dinner speech at the Fiction Prize Dinner that virtually the only common theme among our shortlisted novels was the impressive quality of the writing. Helen Bettinson’s The Kaiser’s Guests is set at an overlooked moment in history – an internment camp just outside First World War Berlin. The Well by Catherine Chanter explores an apocalyptic future of drought and famine. Kerry Evans’ One Hundred and Sixteen Words Per Minute follows a secretary into the murky underworld of a city bank. In Oh To Be In Harper Valley, Lynn Fraser re-imagines the Parent Teacher Association as a Machiavellian scene of ruthless intrigue. Mother’s Day by Karen Ross introduces us to Beth Jackson, superstar columnist and Mother of the Year award winner, who can’t possibly make time for her own child on Mother’s Day. In Character, Alex Hourston plunges into the painful realities of human trafficking. Finally, Sarah Stewart takes us back to Restoration England and the bawdy world of the eponymous H. It is certainly easy to sympathise with the difficulty our judges had in choosing among that glittering array.
However, “after several hours of deliberation and gallons of lemon and ginger tea” the choice was finally made. Catherine Chanter emerged triumphant with her fascinating futuristic novel The Well. She was delighted to have been chosen and tells us that she plans to spend her prize money on a new laptop. A month after the announcement, we were delighted to hear that Catherine has now been signed by an agent whom she met at the Fiction Prize Dinner. The Library is already making space for her surely soon-to-be-published novel on the shelves!
In fact, the Library may need a whole new shelf for the Lucy Cavendish College Fiction Prize novels, as in the past year we have had news of publication from three of our previously shortlisted writers. Vicki Jarrett (2011 shortlist) brought out Nothing is Heavy with Linen Press. Sophia Tobin (2011 shortlist) is celebrating a two book deal with Simon and Schuster, starting with The Silversmith’s Wife in 2013. Finally, Kathryn Simmonds (2012 shortlist) is looking forward to the publication of Love and Fallout by Seren Publishing in 2014.
Looking ahead, we are delighted to announce that, owing to the continued generosity of Sophie Hannah (celebrated novelist and Lucy Cavendish Fellow Commoner), the Prize will continue into its fourth year in 2014. Entry details are available here, so do point the budding novelists in your life in our direction.
(Former) Executive Assistant