The Desmond Elliott Prize 2009 Longlist AnnouncedMonday, April 06, 2009
- Five men and five women compete for the second Desmond Elliott Prize
- Among them, a television producer, an indie folk-band drummer and a former debt counsellor tell insider tales of contemporary culture
- Historical fiction features as a major theme in longlisted titles
The line-up features five books by male and five by female novelists. A historical theme features strongly on both sides, especially in the work of Gaynor Arnold, Shona MacLean and Anthony Quinn.
- A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi (Fourth Estate)
- The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams (Virago)
- Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
- Mr Toppit by Charles Elton (Viking)
- Never Never by David Gaffney (Tindal Street Press)
- Blackmoor by Edward Hogan (Simon & Schuster)
- The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean (Quercus)
- The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape)
- Little Gods by Anna Richards (Picador)
- The Alternative Hero by Tim Thornton (Jonathan Cape)
Candida Lycett Green is joined on the judging panel by former Literary Editor of The Independent on Sunday, Suzi Feay, and Rodney Troubridge of Waterstone’s.
When narrowing the list to a shortlist of three books, the judges will be looking for a novel of depth and breadth with a compelling narrative. The work should be vividly written and confidently realised and should contain original and arresting characters. Books from all fiction genres have been considered.
The prize was established in honour of publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, one of the most charismatic and successful men in this field, who died in August 2003. He stipulated that his estate should be invested in a charitable trust that would fund a literary award “to enrich the careers of new writers”. Worth £10,000 to the winner, the prize is intended to support new writers and to celebrate their fiction.
A shortlist of three books will be announced on 26 May. The winner of the 2009 Desmond Elliott Prize will be announced on Wednesday 24 June at Fortnum & Mason, Desmond’s ‘local grocer’, in London.
Notes to editors
The Judges of the Desmond Elliott Prize are available for interview. Please contact Colman Getty
The longlisted authors may be available for interview. Please contact Colman Getty
- Images of the longlisted books, judges and the Prize logo are available from Colman Getty
The Desmond Elliott Charitable Trust is a registered charity. It is chaired by Dallas Manderson, Group Sales Director of the Orion Publishing Group. He is joined by Christine Berry,a partner in the charities group at Taylor Vinters, a Cambridge-based law firm, and Liz Thomson, Editor of BookBrunch. Both Dallas and Christine worked with Desmond Elliott at Arlington Books
The Desmond Elliott website includes information about the prize and the books, with regular news updates - www.desmondelliottprize.com
For further information please contact
Caroline Brown or Mark Hutchinson
at Colman Getty
T: 020 7631 2666
The Desmond Elliott Prize 2009 Longlist
A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Ezzi (Fourth Estate)
Ten-year-old Ruba lives in a village outside Beirut. From her home she can see buildings shimmering on the horizon and the sea stretched out beside them. She can also hear the rumble of shelling – this is Lebanon in the 1980s and civil war is tearing the country apart.
Ruba, however, has her own worries. Her father hardly ever speaks and spends most of the day sitting in an armchair, avoiding work and family. Her older brother Naji is beginning to spend time with older boys – and some of them have guns. When Ruba uncovers her father’s secret, she starts a journey that takes her from childhood to the beginning of adulthood. As Israeli troops invade and danger comes ever closer, she realises that she may not be able to keep her family safe.
Natalie Abi-Ezzi was born in the Metn region of Lebanon in 1972. She and her family moved to England in 1983 when Israel invaded Lebanon. She won the Radio 4 Dotdotdot short story competition in 2001. She is the author of The Double in the Fiction of R L Stevenson, Wilkie Collins and Daphne du Maurier (2003) and the co-editor of various other books. She lives in Kent with her partner and their baby daughter.
‘Captivating. A subtle, pertinent depiction of civilian life in the midst of bewildering conflict.’ The Guardian
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams (Virago)
From her lookout on the first floor, Ginny watches and waits for her younger sister to return to the crumbling mansion that was once their idyllic childhood home. Vivien has not set foot in the house since she left forty-seven years ago; Ginny, the reclusive moth expert, has rarely ventured outside it. Selling off the family furniture over the years and gradually shutting off each wing of the house, she has retreated into the precise routines that define her days.
With Vivien’s arrival, long-forgotten memories are stirred up, and the secrets that have separated the sisters threaten to disrupt more than Ginny’s carefully ordered world.
Poppy Adams is a documentary filmmaker with a Natural Science degree who has made films for the BBC, Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel. She has three children and lives with her husband in London.
Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
Alfred Gibson’s funeral has taken place at Westminster Abbey and his wife of twenty years, Dorothea, has not been invited. She is comforted by her feisty daughter, Kitty, until an invitation for a private audience with Queen Victoria arrives and she begins to examine her own life more closely.
Dorothea uncovers the deviousness and hypnotic power of her celebrity-author husband. But now she will have to face her grown-up children and – worse – her redoubtable younger sister Sissy and the charming actress, Miss Ricketts.
Gaynor Arnold was born and brought up in Cardiff, and was an au pair in Paris before reading English at St. Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she spent much of her time acting, including at the Edinburgh Festival and in the USA. She is married, with two grown-up children and currently works for Birmingham’s Adoption and Fostering Service. Girl in a Blue Dress was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2008.
‘Arnold's knowledge of Dickens is impeccable, and she uses fiction to give Mrs D what she never had - a chance to interview her husband's mistress, and reclaim her beloved children. Beautifully written, entirely satisfying.’ The Times
Mr Toppit by Charles Elton (Viking)
When The Hayseed Chronicles, an obscure series of children’s books, become world-famous, millions of readers are intrigued by the shadowy figure of Mr Toppit who dominates them. The author, Arthur Hayman, never reaps the benefits of his books’ success. The legacy passes to his widow Martha and their children – the fragile Rachel, and Luke, recently immortalised as Luke Hayseed, the central character of his father’s stories. But others want their share, particularly Laurie, the overweight stranger from California who comforted Arthur as he was dying, who has an agenda of her own that threatens to change all their lives. For, buried deep in the books, lie secrets which threaten to erupt as the family begins to crumble under the heavy burden of their inheritance.
Charles Elton worked as a designer and editor in publishing before becoming a director of the literary agency, Curtis Brown. Since 1991 he has worked in television and has been Executive Producer in drama at ITV since 2000. Among his productions are the Oscar-nominated short Syrup, The Railway Children, Andrew Davies' adaptation of Northanger Abbey and the recent series Time Of Your Life.
‘Mr Toppit is miles ahead of most debut novels and makes an engrossing, moving and perceptive read. Its taut narrative and daring emotional palate shift effortlessly between the dark days of childhood, the grit of pre-digital Soho and the overexposed nonsense of contemporary LA. It’s quite a ride.’ The Times
Never Never by David Gaffney (Tindal Street Press)
Eric is a debt counsellor and his life is a lie. When he’s not busy getting the dispossessed of West Cumbria’s debts written off, he’s using his insider knowledge to bounce the cost of his excessive lifestyle between several accounts – some of which aren’t exactly high-street. His girlfriend Charlotte has no idea how imperiled their home is.
Until the caravan postcards begin to arrive, each with only one word written on the back: Coerce. Harassment. Distress. Eric has a frightening puzzle to solve while juggling his finances. And his life gets more complicated as he reconnects with his teenage punk sweetheart in Manchester: Julie, a strange, fragile body artist.
With the loan sharks on his tail, he has to find a way to save his home – and keep the menacing Overspill Mayor away from Julie.
David Gaffney was born in West Cumbria, and now lives in Manchester. He has worked as a film studies lecturer, a holiday camp entertainer, a medical records clerk, a pub pianist, a debt counsellor in Moss Side, and now works for a shadowy government organisation. His short-story collections Sawn Off Tales and Aromabingo have been highly acclaimed.
‘Cometh the hour, cometh the novelist. David Gaffney’s breezy but savage satirical caper about the adventures of a dodgy debt counsellor and his hapless clients may not win many prizes for subtlety. But, just this week, it would be harder to imagine a book that scored a more penetrating bull’s-eye on the target of the moment.’ Boyd Tonkin, The Independent
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan (Simon & Schuster)
“You said once that Blackmoor killed Mum.”
“I suppose you don’t think that a place can kill a person,” says George.
Vincent shrugs. “I just want to know how.”
“Slowly, that’s how.”
Bird-watching teenager Vincent Cartwright lives out a bullied, awkward existence not far from the site of Blackmoor, a mysterious, vanished Derbyshire village. His mother Beth, half-blind and unknowable, and her life and death in that same village has always been a dark family secret, but as Vincent comes of age he begins to search for the truth.
Edward Hogan was born in Derby in 1980. He is a graduate of the MA in creative writing course at the University of East Anglia and a recipient of the David Higham Award in 2003. Blackmoor was on the shortlist for the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize. He is shortlisted for the 2009 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. A teacher, he lives in London.
'[A] gloomy, brilliant debut... Hogan, still in his 20s, writes in the modern, simple prose of a writer far older and he's expert at unpicking the frustrations of the working-class male in post-industrial Britain; Beth's husband is a man whose ‘ambition, he realised, had become to avoid humiliation’. It's joyously depressing stuff, but also a wise study of bereavement.' The Observer
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by Shona MacLean (Quercus)
Banff, Scotland, 1626. The body of the apothecary’s apprentice is found in Alexander Seaton’s schoolhouse, murdered by poisoning. Seaton is a schoolmaster by default, a disgraced would-be minister whose love affair with an aristocrat’s daughter left him dishonoured and deprived of his vocation. Persona non grata in the town, he has few friends, so, when one of them is accused of the murder, he sets out to solve the crime. He embarks on a journey that will uncover witchcraft, cruelty, prejudice and the darkness in men’s souls. It is also a personal quest that will lead Alexander to the rediscovery of his own faith in God as well as his belief in himself.
Shona MacLean was born in Inverness and brought up in the Scottish Highlands. She has a Ph.D in History from the University of Aberdeen. She lives with her husband and four children in Banff, Scotland, where The Redemption of Alexander Seaton is set.
‘Pacy and literate… this is an accomplished and thought-provoking debut’ – The Guardian
The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn (Jonathan Cape)
Summer 1939. Historian Tom Baines is at work on a study of Liverpool’s architectural past. If war should come, will the buildings and streets that he documents survive? Then his faltering project gets a boost when a photographer, Richard Tanqueray, and his wife Bella befriend him and together they work against the clock of a rapidly contracting peacetime.
A further preoccupation takes hold when he begins to read the journals of a brilliant young Victorian architect, Peter Eames, who briefly flourished in Liverpool in the 1860s. Through him, Baines comes to a fuller understanding of the nature of genius, but also the mysterious workings of the human heart. Eames’s own legacy will have unexpected reverberations seventy years later when war comes and Baines joins a Heavy Rescue team, retrieving the wounded from bomb-damaged buildings. With the ordinary rules of life suspended and mortal danger ever-present, he finds his courage tested – and his conscience troubled as an adulterous lover.
Anthony Quinn was born in Liverpool in 1964. Since moving to London in 1986 he has written about film and books for a number of newspapers and magazines, including The Independent, The Telegraph, New York Times and The Mail on Sunday. For three years he was arts editor of Harpers & Queen. Since 1998 he has been film critic for The Independent. In 2006 he was one of the judges of the Man Booker Prize. He is currently wine correspondent for Esquire magazine.
‘Ambitiously conceived...perfect pitch when it comes to the prose of each period'
Little Gods by Anna Richards (Picador)
Jean Clocker is conceived by her mother Wisteria only as a means to entrap a damaged First World War veteran into marriage. Having achieved wedlock but failed in her plan to rid herself of the now-redundant snare, Wisteria visits maternal tyranny on her prodigious daughter. Jean spends her early years avoiding her mother’s blows and striving to make herself just a little less extraordinary. Orphaned, finally released from servitude, in the opening days of the Second World War, she thrives as a member of a demolition crew. It is Denny, a tiny, charismatic GI with a reverence for size, who facilitates a second liberation as he takes her across the ocean as a GI bride. But, once in California, he disappears and Jean is left once more to negotiate the world on her own.
Anna Richards, now in her early thirties, was born in Essex. Today she lives in London, where she works as a freelance copy editor.
The Alternative Hero by Tim Thornton (Jonathan Cape)
By the time most people hit 30, they’ve managed to do one of the following things: grow up; meet one of their heroes; move on a bit from the music they were obsessed with at the age of 17. Clive Beresford has failed to do all three. He mopes around, broke, drinking too much, disgusted at the deletion of the bands he loves, quietly lamenting his never-was career as a music journalist. But all, or at least some, of that is about to change. One Saturday morning, Clive sees the biggest alternative rock star of them all walking down the high street: Lance Webster, disgraced ex-singer of Thieving Magpies. Determined to grab the scoop of a lifetime, Clive hatches a ramshackle plan to befriend his idol, although Webster proves to be in no mood for discussing the past. But the pair quickly realise they have things in common neither could have realised, forcing both to revisit a period they thought they’d left behind: the sweat, feedback, T-shirts, stage-dives, hitch-hikes, snakebites and hangovers of British alternative rock at the start of the Nineties.
Tim Thornton was born in 1973. Despite a boarding-school education and a degree in drama, his adulthood has largely been spent playing the drums, most recently for indie/folk artist Fink. Along the way he has delivered daily newspapers in Copenhagen, changed light bulbs at Shepherd’s Bush Empire, and pulled one of the first rickshaws in London.
About the Judges
Candida Lycett Green (Chair) is the author of sixteen books including English Cottages, Goodbye London, The Perfect English House, Over the Hills and Far away and The Dangerous Edge of Things. Her television documentaries include “The Englishwoman and the Horse” and “The Front Garden”. She has also edited and introduced her father John Betjeman’s letters and prose in three volumes, to critical acclaim. She was a commissioner of English Heritage for nine years, is a member of the Performing Rights Society through her song-writing lyrics and has been a Contributing Editor to Vogue since 1987. She was part of the original team who started Private Eye and has written a regular column called Unwrecked England for The Oldie since 1992.
Suzi Feay is a journalist, broadcaster and critic specialising in books, theatre and the arts. She has judged the Whitbread Novel Prize, the Impac Prize, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial prize and the Orange New Writers Prize, and was chair of judges for the National Poetry Prize in 2002 and the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2007. She was the Literary Editor of the Independent on Sunday for twelve and a half years.
Rodney Troubridge began his life as a bookseller eighteen years ago with the chain Dillons in a long-defunct branch in Kensington High Street. Dillons turned into Waterstone's and, aside from a brief spell at the Pan Bookshop, he has stayed with the chain and now works at their head office in marketing. Apart from reading, his leisure interests include walking in overseas countries and classical music. He usually reads about ten books a month and is in the fortunate position of receiving proofs of forthcoming books from publishers.
About Desmond Elliott
Desmond Elliott’s life reads like a page-turning rags-to-riches story. From humble beginnings in an Irish orphanage he came to England in 1947 at the age of 16, with just £2 in his pocket, to start his publishing career at Macmillan. After a colourful career in-house, Desmond set up as an agent and subsequently went on to establish his own publishing company, Arlington Books, in 1960.
This dedication, coupled with creative business sense, was key to the building up of a list of hugely successful blockbuster novelists: Jilly Cooper, Leslie Thomas and Penny Vincenzi, to name but a few. Respected and loved by his authors, in the words of Candida Lycett Green, Desmond was simply “magic”.
Charismatic, witty, and waspish, Elliott lived his life with verve. He drank only champagne, always crossed the Atlantic on Concorde and used Fortnum & Mason as his local shop. His office was in Mayfair and he had homes in London’s St. James’s and New York’s Park Avenue. Desmond Elliott died in August 2003 at the age of 73.
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