In a world in which women feature prominently in general book award like longlists, shortlists and winner announcements there are some that may question the need or relevance of the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction 2015, but from our point of view it’s still got a lot to add. It’s probably true that if there were a Famous Grouse or Guiness Men’s Prize for fiction it would inevitably be derided for being masogonistic as a result of it’s very existence, but that doesn’t in itself invalidate the women only prize.
Instead, it reiterates the origins of its necessity in the first place as a means of championing the written work of women on the back of historical sexual inequality. As a result, the recent announcement of the 2015 shortlist stands as a testimony to the continued importance of sexual equality in modern day society and a reminder that without it we will always have division and dissatisfaction, making it just as relevant now as it was when it was first introduced in 1996 to recognise the contribution of female writers. Hopefully, one day the biggest instance of sexism will be a female only book prize, but sadly that day is a long, long way away.
This year, the six shortlist finalists are made up of Rachel Cusk for Outline, Laline Paull for The Bees, Kamila Shamsie for A God in Every Stone, Ali Smith for How to be Both, Anne Tyler for A Spool of Blue Thread and Sarah Waters for The Paying Guests. You can find out more about each of the writers and their books below, but just looking at the overall split, the final list of potential winners of the 2015 prize includes an Athenian narrative odyssey, the inner workings of a bee hive, the connected lines of artists separated by time, 1920s romantic intrigue, the ins and outs of family life and an unusual connection, so there’s a lot of diversity to immerse yourself in before the winner is announced on the 3rd June 2015 at London’s Southbank Centre.
The judging panel this year is made up of Shami Chakrabarti, who will be chairing the panel, Director of Liberty (The National Council for Civil Liberties), Channel 4 news presenter Cathy Newman, columnist, author and broadcaster Grace Dent, novelist, poet, short-story and children’s writer Helen Dunmore and Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, a collection of over 80,000 people’s experiences of sexism, harassment, discrimination and abuse.
Women’s Prize For Fiction 2015 author shortlist:
Rachel Cusk, Outline
Canadian-born novelist Rachel Cusk is no stranger to award nominations having picked up the Whitbread First Novel Award back in 1993 for debut fiction, Saving Agnes. She subsequently won the 1998 Somerset Maugham Award for her third novel, The Country Life, along with shortlist places in the 2003 Whitbread Novel Award for The Lucky Ones and the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction for Arlington Park, so it’s no surprise to see her featured in the Bailey’s Award this year.
In her latest novel, Outline, she follows a female writer who moves to Athens in the blistering heat of the Mediterranean summer to teach a writing course. It’s shaped around the people she meets along the way and the story of their lives as they give her a little window into the things that make them tick. Out of it all come themes that seem to link them all together, including loss, family, intimacy and creativity.
Laline Paull, The Bees
Breaking into the world of modern day fiction with left-field aplomb in her debut novel The Bees, Laline Paull is about to become the latest new name to look out for in the book shop. She’s the daughter of first-generation Indian immigrants and read English at Oxford University, before working in the film industry as a receptionist, trainee financier and latterly a screenwriter working and living in Los Angeles, New York and London, so inevitably her first novel was always going to be about the personified life of bees?!?
Her debut novel is an inventive twist on the dystopian critique, taking place in a bee colony as a lowly classed cleaner bee Flora 717 discovers she has talents that can propel her up through the echelons of the Hive hierarchy. When she makes her way all the way up to the inner circle of the queen bee she attracts powerful enemies, leaving her in a sticky (sorry) situation with some big choices to make.
Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every Stone
Having written her first novel, In The City by the Sea published in 1998, while still studying at the University of Massachusetts, Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie has gone on to have a fairly prolific literary career racking up a total of seven books. In addition to being in with a shout of the 2015 Women’s Prize For Fiction, her latest novel A God in Every Stone has also picked up a shortlist nomination for the 2015 Walter Scott Prize.
The book is about the relationship that is formed between an Englishwoman and a Pathan member of the British Indian Army during and following the events of the First World War. It intersects their young lives as they are drawn together for the dramatic end chapters.
Ali Smith, How To Be Both
Perhaps the most recognisable name on the Women’s Prize For Fiction 2015 shortlist, Ali Smith is also no stranger to critical acclaim and book award places, having picked up numerous Orange Prize For Fiction (the previous name for this award) and Booker Prize shortlist spots. In fact, How To Be Both was in the 2014 Booker Prize shortlist, as well as winning the Goldsmiths Prize and of the Novel Award in the 2014 Costa Book Awards.
The book looks at two tales of love and injustice separated by centuries; one a 15th Century renaissance artist and the other a 16-year-old girl living in modern day Cambridge.
Anne Tyler, A Pool Of Blue Thread
Pulizer-prize winning writer, Anne Tyler, has been a published writer since her debut in 1964 with If Morning Ever Came and she’s gone on to carve a pretty hefty zig-zagging mark down the decades with nineteen novels preceding her latest, A Pool Of Blue Thread. If you know little about the author, you can probably learn a lot about her work from our favourite of her quotes as she once wrote, “Aren’t human beings intriguing? I could go on writing about them forever.”
Her latest novel looks at the secrets and unguarded moments that sit behind family life. In this case it’s the Whitshank family, who have gathered together on the porch of their home to work out how to protect it and its inhabitants as the story of the past swirls through the decisions of the present.
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests
Another big name in the shortlist is Sarah Waters who has become famous for featuring lesbian protagonists in her previous novels, Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, with the latter previously picking up the 2002 Orange Prize For Fiction. She’s also picked up a couple of Booker Prize shortlist nominations in the past for The Night Watch in 2006 and The Little Stranger in 2009.
The Paying Guests is set in the years that followed the First World War in a quiet South London as the widowed Mrs Wray and her daughter, Frances, take in lodgers to keep the wolves from the doors. However, in opening their home to newcomers they welcome in a whirlwind of change and new possibilities.