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24 January 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:27pm

Elif Shafak and Deborah Levy to judge the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize

Nicholas Lezard and Adam Mars-Jones complete the judging panel for the £10,000 prize for “fiction at its most novel”. 

By Tom Gatti

Elif Shafak has been announced as a judge for the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize for fiction. Shafak – an award-winning novelist who writes in both Turkish and English and is the most widely read female writer in Turkey – joins Deborah Levy and Nicholas Lezard on a judging panel chaired by Adam Mars-Jones.

The £10,000 prize, co-founded with the New Statesman, is for fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”. The 2017 prize was awarded to H(A)PPY by Nicola Barker, set in a “dystopic utopia” described by the chair of judges Naomi Wood as “an ingenious closed loop of mass surveillance, technology, and personality-modifying psychopharmaceuticals”. The book – Barker’s 12th novel – also won praise for its inventive take on contemporary language and use of coloured text and typographical design. Barker was the first English writer to win the award: until 2017 it had been dominated by writers from Ireland (Mike McCormack, Kevin Barry and Eimear McBride – whose debut A Girl is a Half-formed Thing won the inaugural prize in 2013, having taken nine years to find a publisher) and Scotland (Ali Smith).

Elif Shafak has published 15 books, and her 10th novel Three Daughters of Eve came out last year. She is a TED Global speaker, a member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy and a founding member of the European Council on Foreign Relations. Deborah Levy is the author of six novels including the Man Booker-shortlisted Swimming Home and Hot Milk which was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. The second part of her “living autobiography”, The Cost of Living, will be published in April. Nicholas Lezard has been a literary critic for over thirty years and was literary editor of the Modern Review in both its incarnations. He writes the long-running “Down and Out” column in the New Statesman (a collection, Bitter Experience Has Taught Me, was published in 2013). Adam Mars-Jones is Research Professor of Creative Writing at Goldsmiths. His books include the novel series Pilcrow and a memoir Kid Gloves: A Voyage Round My Father.

Unlike the Booker – which in 2014 changed its rules to allow all writers working in English to enter, and has awarded its last two prizes to Americans – the Goldsmiths is only open to novels written by authors from the UK and the Republic of Ireland. The launch of the sixth prize comes soon after a report from Arts Council England warning of a “crisis” in literary fiction, citing falling book prices, sales and advances, all of which, the report suggests, make it harder than ever to make a living writing fiction (the percentage of UK authors earning a full-time living solely from writing dropped from 40 per cent in 2005 to 11.5 per cent in 2013). Nicola Barker told the New Statesman that though “Many of us struggle to make ends meet”, literary fiction writers “aren’t special in that regard”. Figures like Jason Arthur, Barker’s editor at William Heinemann (part of the Penguin Random House conglomerate created in 2013) deserve credit, she said, for sustaining a “cultural ecosystem” in which “people like me (who don’t sell much) are supported by people like Tom Hanks . . . It isn’t about sales. It’s about love, inspiration, reputation. It’s about balance.”

Tim Parnell, literary director of the Goldsmiths Prize, added that although it was not a time for “complacency” about serious fiction, “the Goldsmiths Prize has shown that there’s an appetite among readers for the kind of challenging books that have traditionally been seen as belonging to a niche within in niche.” 

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“Contrary to calls for a return to the solid virtues of conventional fiction,” he said, “I’d like to see more novels which delight and engage by refusing to tread well-worn paths.”

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The Goldsmiths Prize is open for from 26 January to 23 March, 2018. The shortlist will be announced on 26 September and the winner on 14 November.