The shortlist for the UK Society of Authors’ highly regarded Betty Trask prize 2017 includes a self-published novel for the first time.
Speak Its Name by Kathleen Jowitt is a coming of age novel set on a university campus in the UK. As well as publishing the novel herself, Kathleen Jowitt also designed the cover.
She’s already a winner as all the six shortlisted authors each receive a Betty Trask Award worth £3,000.
The winner of the prize, which is for debut novels by authors under 35, will get £10,000 and the choice will be revealed at the Society of Authors Awards on June 20 with the prize and awards to be presented by author Ben Okri.
The judges this year are authors Simon Brett, Michéle Roberts and Joanne Harris. Commenting on the shortlist, Michéle Roberts says, “The merchants of gloom keep declaring that the novel is dead but people do keep on writing them. The entries for this year’s Betty Trask Prize formed a particularly rich and varied collection.
“The shortlist features pleasingly original approaches to novel-writing and is characterised by diversity of subject, tone and voice, by the authors’ passion, intelligence and deep commitment to their art.”
The 2017 Betty Trask shortlist is:
Rowan Hisayo Buchanan — Harmless Like You (Sceptre / Hodder & Stoughton)
The judges said: “The author writes with a painterly eye; every sentence is suffused with light and shade and colour. And yet it’s a downplayed, subtle effect – no splashy, trying-too-hard, budget creative-writing class style, but the real thing, sparse and lovely and luminous.”
Elnathan John — Born on a Tuesday (Cassava Books Republic)
The judges said: “A tough, topical, directly-written book, devoid of sentimentality, and yet engaging, troubling and sad. The sense of place is wholly immersive, conjuring the villages and roads of troubled Nigeria with a deft and effortless touch.”
Kathleen Jowitt — Speak its Name (self-published)
The judges said: “An original, closely-observed, funny and often touching story with an unusual setting and a keen understanding of the interactions between members of small communities.”
Rob McCarthy — The Hollow Men (Mulholland Books / Hodder & Stoughton)
The judges said: “A tightly-written, confident thriller that manages to give the procedural an original medical twist. The author writes with a clear knowledge of his subject, and has created an engaging, interesting hero.”
Barney Norris — Five Rivers Meet on a Wooded Plain (Transworld)
The judges said: “A clever and compassionate book in which the lives of five very different characters eventually resonate with each other. A very skilfully controlled narrative told in a variety of voices.”
Daniel Shand – Fallow (Sandstone Press Limited)
The judges said: “Bleak; funny; alarming; sad; it works on so many levels, managing to be at the same time a road trip through Scotland, a modern Biblical parable and a tense psychological thriller with echoes of Iain Banks and Cormac McCarthy.”
About the Betty Trask Prize
The Betty Trask Awards are given annually to the best first novelists under the age of 35. Betty Trask left a bequest to the Society of Authors in 1983 to celebrate young authors writing in a traditional or romantic style. This year a total of £25,000 in prize money will be distributed. Previous winners include Zadie Smith, Hari Kunzru and David Szalay.