How to life

'Overnight success' in line for Desmond Elliott prize

An unemployed civil servant who sparked a bidding war with his first novel is one of three debut novelists up for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

Stephen Kelman is nominated for Pigeon English, which tells of a young boy living on a rough London estate.

Two other novels, both by journalists, are also in contention for the prize, named in honour of the distinguished late publisher and literary agent.

They are Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman and Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph.

London-based Beauman has written for Dazed and Confused and The Guardian, while Joseph was once commissioning editor of Elle’s Indian magazine.

Alternating between the 1930s and the present, Boxer, Beetle tells a complex story involving Nazism, eugenics and selective breeding.

Set in the suburbs of Mumbai, Saraswati Park tells of a married couple and the 19-year-old nephew who comes to live with them.

Broadcaster Edward Stourton, who chairs this year’s judging panel, said the shortlisted books "stood out for very different reasons".

"Anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction should read them all," he added.

Pigeon English was the subject of a bidding war between 12 of the country’s top publishers, resulting in a six-figure advance, international sales and a two-book deal.

It tells the story of 11-year-old Ghanaian immigrant Harri, caught up in gang warfare on a south London estate.

Last year’s prize went to Ali Shaw, a former bookseller from Dorset who spent almost five years writing his debut novel, The Girl with Glass Feet.

BBC News
May 25, 2011