The National Centre for Writing has today announced the three titles shortlisted for the 2022 Desmond Elliott Prize, an annual award for a first novel written in English. The Prize is named after the literary agent and publisher, Desmond Elliott, in memory of his passion for discovering and nurturing emerging authors.

In the running to win the £10,000 award and be named the year’s best first novel from across the UK and Ireland are (alphabetically by author surname):

  • Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy (Bloomsbury)
  • Keeping the House by Tice Cin (And Other Stories)
  • Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer (Pan MacMillan)

All three titles on the shortlist feature female protagonists who have been dealt a difficult hand, from heartbreak to economic deprivation to a devastating medical diagnosis.  

Each book is inventive, transportive and elicits that feeling of awe

The 2022 judging panel is chaired by former Desmond Elliott Prize winner Derek Owusu, who won the award in 2020 for his debut That Reminds Me. Owusu is joined by award-winning journalist and author Symeon Brown and Cheltenham Literature Festival’s Programme and Commissioning Manager, Lyndsey Fineran. Collectively the three judges are tasked with deciding which title to crown as the best first novel of the last 12 months. 

Of the shortlist, Derek Owusu said:

‘This was a difficult shortlist to pull together as there were so many incredible books to choose from, but the three that we have chosen we feel best reflect the spirit of the Desmond Elliott Prize. Each book is inventive, transportive and possesses the ability to elicit that feeling of awe that every reader recognises when they’re reading a profound piece of literature.’

Iron Annie

In Iron Annie, Luke Cassidy tells the tragic yet hopeful story of Aoife, a woman who knows almost everyone in Dundalk’s underworld. When Aoife meets Annie, a beautiful whirlwind of a person, Aoife’s desire to learn more quickly becomes a need, and then an obsession – to know this dangerous woman, to love her, to keep her.

About the novel, Owusu said:

‘Luke Cassidy takes us on a road trip through the gritty underworld and complicated elements of friendship, love and society. With a language all his own, Cassidy has produced an incredible debut, filled with energy, oddball characters and a lot of compassion.’

Keeping the House

In Keeping the House, Tice Cin offers a fresh take on the machinery of the North London heroin trade, lifting the lid on a covert world thriving just beneath notice. Spanning three generations, it is the story of the women who keep their family – and their family business – afloat, juggling everything from police surveillance to trickier questions of community, belonging and love.

About the novel, Owusu said:

Keeping the House is lyrical, poetic, and music-like in its rendering of the life and times of north London’s working class. Almost acting as an archivist, Tice Cin gives us a view of Tottenham and its inhabitants that will leave some speechless, but all will be enriched.’

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies

Rounding off the shortlist is Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer, in which a sudden diagnosis upends Lia’s world and the boundaries between her past and her present begin to collapse. As the voice prowling in Lia takes hold of her story, the reader is taken on a symphonic journey through one woman’s body.

About the novel, Owusu said:

‘Precocious, heart-breaking and stunningly innovative, Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies plays with form, art, language and our emotions as it tells the story of declining health, carefully detailing the realities of sickness, but never robbing us of our hope.’

The Early Career Awards portfolio also includes the University of East Anglia (UEA) New Forms Award, worth £4,000, for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction, and the Laura Kinsella Fellowship, also worth £4,000, to recognise an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances. The shortlistees for the UEA New Forms Award are Vida Adamczewski, Rachel Cleverly and Jasmine Farndon. The shortlistees for the Laura Kinsella Fellowship are Alice Franklin, Kathy Hoyle and Cate West. 

Peggy Hughes, Executive Director at the National Centre for Writing, said:

‘We’re delighted to reveal the shortlisted names for the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Laura Kinsella Fellowship and the UEA New Forms Award: a hugely exciting and talented set of writers all in the early days of their writing careers.  It is never an easy task for our judges to whittle the longlists down to shortlists of three and we very much enjoyed hearing Derek, Lyndsey and Symeon’s thoughts on these highly imaginative and original books.’

The winners of all three awards will be announced on Friday 1 July, and all will benefit from a tailored programme of support from the National Centre for Writing, supported by Arts Council England. 

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