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Orange no more

4 June 2012

It’s been a big week for the Orange Prize for Fiction.

First there was the announcement that Orange will no longer be sponsoring it after this year’s Prize.  This was certainly a big surprise, as it’s generally been regarded as one of the most successful  of all sponsorships and there had been no indication, in public at least, that anything had changed. It has been the longest-running arts sponsorship in the UK.

The Prize itself has always been surrounded by a bit of controversy. It doesn’t seem to matter so much any more, but when it was originally set up 17 years ago it was regarded as crusading because of the determination of its founders to make it a women- only Prize. The fact that this seems less necessary now must in large part be due to the Prize itself. It’s also been international, which is why so many American writers have won it.

The Prize has always stood for good writing but something which is readable too. It is rather less self-consciously literary than the Booker, but has been less often criticised for its shortlists and winners. Its history has coincided with the huge growth of reading groups and the Prize has supplied many of the titles which have been read by these groups.  It’s been a perfect fit in a way for these female-dominated groups.

This year’s winner is a bit of a surprise too.  In a field which included a number of big names -  Ann Patchett, Cynthia Ozick and Anne Enright amongst them, it was won for the second time running by a debut novel by an American writer. Madeline Miller’s winning novel, The Song of Achilles, is about the love affair between Achilles and Patroclus and the author said that she hopes it will help to inspire a love of the classics, which had always inspired he. ‘My mother read me the Iliad when I was five, although she edited out the gory parts’, she said.

Miller’s publisher Bloomsbury has ordered a 35,000-copy reprint and the book was already the strongest seller on the shortlist.  They anticipate reprinting again soon. Editor-in-chief Alexandra Pringle said: "We've already had absolutely massive interest from the retailers. It is the popular choice. I expect the sales to be pretty stratospheric."

So what of the future of this Prize which is beloved by readers, writers and the book trade alike? Kate Mosse, Co-Founder & Honorary Director of the Prize, has this to say: ‘We are in active discussions with a number of potential new brand partners and look forward to the start of another exciting chapter for the Prize.’ Let’s hope this happens soon.