McKitterick Prize Shortlist (and Other Society of Authors Awards)

As I announced back in November, I was one of the judges for the 2022 McKitterick Prize. This is one of several prizes administered by the Society of Authors, the UK trade union for writers, which awards various grants and prizes.

The McKitterick Prize has, since 1990, been awarded to a debut novelist aged 40 or over. It’s unique in that it considers unpublished manuscripts as well as published novels – Tom McKitterick, who endowed the Prize, was a former editor of Political Quarterly and had an unpublished novel at the time of his death.

My particular role in the process was helping to assess the unpublished manuscripts and whittling them down to a longlist, which then joined the traditionally published novels for overall judging. I can’t say too much about this process or the particular narratives that I read due to the judges’ nondisclosure agreement, but I’ll make a few general observations.

Almost all of the entries were capably written and would have done fine as self-published novels, but I was looking for a touch of greatness – something that could compete, as is, with published work. For the most part, it was clear which manuscripts were at a different level. In terms of serendipitous moments, I noted multiple “meet the parents” scenes and mentions of moss or witches. Switching between 2–4 time periods was a recurring feature. There were lots of thrillers and dystopian setups, too.

The shortlist was announced this morning. None of the manuscripts made it through, but I’m delighted to see Under the Blue on there. I’ve heard a lot about the Taddeo and Yoder, both of which seem to be divisive. The Mohammed was already on my radar, I’m interested in the Bennett, and the Annand is new to me but I’ll investigate further. Judge Anietie Isong says, “These are deeply engaging works that swell with vitality.”

 

I was also interested to note the shortlists for the

  • Betty Trask Award for a first novel by a writer under 35: it overlaps with the latest Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist on two authors, Nelson and Nolan. I’ve also read the Brown. But I’m rooting for Will McPhail’s In, the first graphic novel to be shortlisted for an SoA award.

  • Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize, new this year, for a novel focusing on the experience of travel away from home (in memory of Malcolm Lowry and endowed by Gordon Bowker, his biographer): I’ve read Asylum Road and I think I have Diving for Pearls from NetGalley. I’ve read a nonfiction work by McWatt and would be interested in trying her fiction.

  • Paul Torday Memorial Prize, awarded to a first novel by a writer over 60: I’ve only heard of one nominee, The Day I Fell Off My Island by Yvonne Bailey-Smith – that’s because she’s Zadie Smith’s mum.

Winners and runners-up will be announced at the SoA Awards ceremony, to be held at Southwark Cathedral on June 1st – I’ll be watching the livestream.

 

See any nominees you’ve read? Who would you like to see win?

13 responses

  1. I enjoyed the Taddeo well enough but had a few issues with it. I have had Checkout 19 on the TBR since it came out and really need to get round to reading it. Some really interesting books on these lists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I couldn’t get into Three Women so reading more by her hasn’t appealed. I’d really like to get hold of Checkout 19.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Congratulations on your role for the prize.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kay. It was good experience to have under my belt.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I rather loved the Yoder – but its style and subject won’t be for everyone! I bought Under the Blue after you enjoyed it so – hope to get to it soon. On the other prizes I have a couple in the TBR (including In again acquired on your recommendation), but I have read The Disciple which I reviewed for Shiny – very much auto-fiction which I enjoyed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We stayed with a friend in the USA for a few days in December while her sister was also visiting. I gave some book recommendations and we were discussing recent book club reads when the sister said, “whatever you do, don’t ever read Nightbitch!” So I must confess that has coloured my opinion!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. A difficult book for cat owners! You have been warned.

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  4. Really interesting to hear your experience of judging this prize. I noted on Twitter that, given the scope of the Society’s prizes, it seems a bit harsh if you happen to publish your debut between the ages of 35 and 39! But it’s great that unpublished MSS are considered – do you know if many have ever been shortlisted?

    I liked Three Women a lot but couldn’t get into Animal, and I haven’t tried any of the others on the list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, I guess that’s a gap you may end up falling into! Though you’d be eligible for the Dylan Thomas Prize 😉

      I don’t know whether manuscripts have been shortlisted in the past. A glance at previous shortlists and winners would suggest not. But I hope those who were longlisted would be encouraged and use that as a springboard for finding a publisher. I had a few fantastic manuscripts that I would love to see published.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha, I’ll probably be 40+ by the time I get published at this rate, so not especially worried on my own behalf but I’ve come to think age limits on prizes (upper or lower) are not helpful, except for young writers comps for under 18s.

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  5. I really liked Nightbitch (and I would also compare it to Murakami, who I don’t like at all), so I’d say give it a shot – it might surprise you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, that’s enticing. I’ll give it a read if it comes my way someday.

      Like

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