Shortlist announced for Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2023

The Authors’ Club is delighted to announce the shortlist for the 2023 Best First Novel Award, drawn up by a panel of Club members.

Lucy Popescu, chairing the judging panel, commented: ‘We are proud to recommend six exceptional debuts. These dazzling novelists cover a range of subjects from art and privilege, love and loss, knowledge and selfhood, the pursuit of power and the devastating consequences of war. We travel with them through Eastern Europe to the American Frontier, from England’s past to Trinidad today.’

The winning novel will be selected by this year’s guest adjudicator Louisa Young, and announced at a dinner at the National Liberal Club in London on 24 May. The shortlisted books, with the judges’ comments, are as follows:

The Dictator’s Wife, by Freya Berry (Headline Review)

One woman’s journey to unravel her past becomes a dark, brooding thriller and a profound meditation on who is complicit in the violence of a totalitarian regime. 

Tiepolo Blue, by James Cahill (Sceptre)
An immensely atmospheric novel charting the rites of passage of a middle-aged professor of art history. Cahill lovingly recreates 1990s London and an art world on the cusp of change.

My Name Is Yip, by Paddy Crewe (Doubleday)
A stunning evocation of a largely lawless society during the American Goldrush. Crewe has created a memorable protagonist and his skilful use of language evokes both character and landscape to terrific effect. 

When We Were Birds, by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo (Hamish Hamilton)
A haunted and haunting debut about love and loss. Lloyd Banwo’s lush prose and spell-binding imagery create a lyrical and beautifully crafted portrait of Trinidad.

Black Butterflies, by Priscilla Morris (Duckworth)
Set during the siege of Sarajevo, this is a powerful account of war and the toll it takes on civilians caught in the crossfire. A compelling blend of fact and fiction.

The Whalebone Theatre, by Joanna Quinn (Fig Tree)
An impressive and assured debut, Quinn’s multi-layered novel is a sweeping family saga set in Dorset and rich in period detail. Her nuanced characterisation, striking imagery and driving narrative are superb.

Key dates

Weds 3 May: Meet the shortlisted writers at Foyles bookshop, Charing Cross Road

Weds 24 May: The winner will be announced at a dinner at the National Liberal Club

About the prize 

The prize is open to any debut novel written in English and published in the UK between 1 Jan and 31 Dec 2022. The prize of £2500 exists to support UK-based authors, publishers and agents, so the novel must originate in the UK and not have been published anywhere else in the world before its UK publication.

Inaugurated in 1954, the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award is now in its 69th year, making it the longest-running UK prize for debut fiction and – except for the James Tait Black and the Hawthornden – the oldest literary prize in Britain.

Previous winners have included Brian Moore, Alan Sillitoe, Paul Bailey, Gilbert Adair, Nadeem Aslam, Diran Adebayo, Jackie Kay, Susan Fletcher, Anthony Quinn, Jonathan Kemp, Kevin Barry, Ros Barber, Hisayo Rowan Buchanan, Gail Honeyman, Guy Gunaratne, Claire Adam and Ingrid Persaud. Last year’s prize was awarded to Tish Delaney for Before My Actual Heart Breaks.

Past adjudicators have included Alex Wheatle, Andrew Miller, Louise Doughty, AL Kennedy, Vikram Seth, Philip Hensher, Joanne Harris, Deborah Moggach and, going back further, Kingsley Amis and Compton Mackenzie.

About the Authors’ Club

Established by Walter Besant in 1891, the Club has provided a social meeting place for writers for over 130 years.


Source: Shortlist announced for Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award 2023

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