We are delighted to announce Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies (Picador) by Maddie Mortimer as the winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2022.
The book — a lyrical exploration of one woman’s body and the illness that inhabits it — was described by judges as a ‘precious and personal’ work from a ‘new and spectacular talent’. Mortimer’s debut has been selected as the best first novel published in the UK and Ireland this year from a strong shortlist of three, which also featured Iron Annie by Luke Cassidy and Keeping the House by Tice Cin.
In addition to the £10,000 prize money, Mortimer will receive tailored, year-round support and mentorship from NCW, which runs the Desmond Elliott Prize as part of its Early Career Awards portfolio.
Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is a coming-of-age story at the end of a life. It’s the story of Lia, her husband and daughter as they deal with a terminal illness diagnosis that rewrites the family’s history from the inside out. Moving between Lia’s past and her present, the inside and outside of her body, Mortimer stretches the limit of the novel’s form, weaving poetry into her prose throughout. The novel was inspired by Mortimer’s mother, who died of cancer in 2010.
The book was chosen as the best debut of the year by a judging panel chaired by author and previous Desmond Elliott Prize winner, Derek Owusu. He was joined by journalist and author, Symeon Brown and the Programme & Commissions Manager for Cheltenham Literature Festival, Lyndsey Fineran.
Chair of judges, Derek Owusu said:
‘With Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies, Maddie Mortimer has penetrated the body and spirit of literature, taking an experience, one familiar to so many of us, and making it completely unique. The experimentation with language, form and ideas, offers us something that is precious and personal to each writer: human truth. It’s a courageous feat, and one executed with the wisdom of a sagacious observer.
This is a book full of poetry and wonder, interior and exterior examination, sadness, though without the pessimism that sometimes accompanies it, love, and through all things, hope. You’ll re-read passages like pulling a song back to its start, wanting to evoke and experience those chills, or be enlightened again and again. Though not easy to choose a winner – we went back and forth for days after the decision was due – when we finally came to an agreement, we felt confident that we would be assisting with, and bearing witness to, the launching of a new and spectacular talent.’
Maddie Mortimer was born in London in 1996 and received her BA in English Literature from the University of Bristol. Her writing has featured in The Times, her short films have screened at festivals around the world and, in 2019, she completed the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is her first novel, published by Picador on 31st March, 2022.
Judge Lyndsey Fineran added:
‘Even in a very strong list, Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies was a standout read. To craft both a coming of age and a death narrative in one; create a moving and astute portrait of a family dealing with terminal illness in a way that is both sensitive and wise beyond the author’s years, and employ dazzlingly inventive elements that push the form of the novel, and yet remain in complete command of the narrative in hand would be hugely impressive even for an author much further in their career. Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies marks Maddie Mortimer as a major new literary voice, and I Iook forward to seeing her career flourish.’
Judge Symeon Brown said:
‘It’s an incredibly inventive and, at times, genius novel, seamlessly blending competing values from science and religion to bluntness and subtlety. The style of Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is incredibly creative and literary, really taking form and pushing it to its limits in a way that remains still easily consumable for readers.’
‘Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies marks Maddie Mortimer as a major new literary voice’ – Lyndsey Fineran
The Early Career Awards portfolio also includes the University of East Anglia (UEA) New Forms Award for an innovative and daring new voice in fiction, and the Laura Kinsella Fellowship, which recognises an exceptional writer who has experienced limiting circumstances or is currently underrepresented in literary fiction.
The UEA New Forms Award was judged by Andrew Cowan, Imogen Hermes Gowar and Hannah Jane Walker. It was awarded to Vida Adamczewski, who was born in Peckham and read Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University. While studying, Vida was diagnosed with Hypermobility Syndrome and Chronic Fatigue, conditions that render her frequently bed bound. Her writing has appeared in Ambit Magazine, Document Journal, The Byline Times, and The Mays. In July 2021, a staged reading of Vida’s lyric play Amphibian was performed at the Playmill New Writers Festival at the King’s Head Theatre in Islington.
The Laura Kinsella Fellowship was judged by Alice Jolly and Ashley Hickson-Lovence. It was awarded to Cate West who trained in Fine Art and graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2019. She was shortlisted for York Festival of Writing’s Friday Night Live and longlisted for Mslexia’s Novel Competition the same year.
Running in parallel to the Early Career Awards is an online digital programme providing free resources for anyone, anywhere wanting to progress with their writing. NCW regularly releases bespoke support packages with advice from established and new voices. Supported by the Arts Council England, this element of the Early Career Awards aims to widen the impact of literary prize culture.