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Spotlight on new prizes

12 July 2010

Following on from our look at prizes and what effect they have last week, this week's column will be devoted to new prizes. There has been a proliferation of new prizes launched over the last few years, so there's quite a lot to evaluate. Some of them focus on new work but only a proportion of them are open for entries from unpublished writers.

A couple of fairly new prizes which have been going for some years have enough track-record to give some indication of their effectiveness. The Caine Prize for African Writing, now in its tenth year, has just been awarded to Sierrra Leone's Olufemi Terry. The winner gets £10,000 and this Prize has succeeded in throwing a spotlight on African writers and making their work more visible internationally.

Also worth £10,000 to the winner, the Desmond Elliott Prize for New Writers, which is awarded biennially and is now in its third year, is designed to support new writers. It has a commercial bent, in keeping with the work of the late agent/publisher whose will funded it, and seeks to ensure that the winner is liberated from financial worries and therefore free to write happily and securely. Books submitted for this one can only be entered by publishers and it does seem to have had a good effect on the careers of the winners.

Then there are three completely new prizes. The Walter Scott Prize is a brand new one and claims to be the fifth largest annual fiction prize in the UK after the Man Booker, the Orange and the Costa Book of the Year award. The prize of £25,000 for a historical novel is sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch. The Duke said: 'Walter Scott was the founding father of the historical novel. Waverley, published in 1814 and completed at Abbotsford, was the world's first bestseller, the first novel to make novel reading respectable for a mass audience... it is I believe a wonderful way of reminding the world of the profound importance of this great house and of the man who created it.'

The first winner is Hilary Mantel's Booker-winning Wolf Hall and the author said:

'Much the best thing that has happened for lovers of historical fiction is the founding of this Prize. When I first heard of it I couldn't quite believe it; it is such a startlingly generous and imaginative gesture, an appropriately old-fashioned act of patronage of the arts. In the years to come, this Prize will magnetise attention and stimulate debate.'

Certainly this prize has succeeded in throwing a spotlight on historical fiction and appears to be the only prize for this category.

The new DSC Prize for South Asian Literature celebrates the rich and varied literature from, and connected to, the subcontinent but written in English or translated into it. The prize will award US$ 50,000 to the winner starting from 2011. It's open to authors of any ethnicity from any country for a novel which predominantly features themes based on South Asian culture, politics, history, or people. South Asia is defined as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Afghanistan. Clearly this one is intended to put a spotlight on South Asian writing.

The Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets, set up last year, are eligible to self-published poetry pamphlets.

Finally, there's the new Picador Poetry Prize, which fortunately is eligible to unpublished writers. The prize is publication of a poetry collection with a small advance and this one has a strong focus on new poets, whom it is intended to find and encourage.

All these prizes seem to help writers, although unfortunately most of them will only accept entries from books which have already found publishers.

Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets