New voices stake claims for book prizes

An exciting mix of debut and early career writers form the shortlist for Britain's oldest literary awards.

Among the contenders for the James Tait Black Prizes are novels based around the themes of globalism, war and politics, along with those exploring more intimate issues such as illness and adultery.

Books by debut novelists Smith Henderson, Matthew Thomas and Zia Haider Rahman join the latest book by Samantha Harvey to make up the shortlist for the £10,000 fiction prize awarded by the University.

Contenders for the £10,000 biography prize include accounts of Eleanor Marx - the pioneering feminist who emerged from the shadow of her famous father, Karl Marx; a memoir centred on a south Yorkshire mining community that offers an intimate portrait of working-class family life over the last hundred years.

A personal account of growing up in a Belgian town that illuminates the relationship between place, time and memory; and a revealing biography of the ‘life and lies’ of one of the most controversial figures of recent times, Jimmy Savile.

Annual awards

Two prizes are awarded annually for books published during the previous year - one for the best work of fiction and the other for the best biography.

The four novels competing for the fiction prize are:

  • Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
  • Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson (William Heinemann)
  • In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman (Picador)
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (Fourth Estate)

The shortlisted works for the biography section are:

  • The Valley: A Hundred Years in the Life of a Family by Richard Benson (Bloomsbury)
  • In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies (Quercus)
  • Eleanor Marx: A Life by Rachel Holmes (Bloomsbury)
  • Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory by Patrick McGuinness (Jonathan Cape)

Strong competition

Strong competition, once again, for the prestigious James Tait Black Prize is reflected in an exciting shortlist: these are moving, compelling novels, incisive and encompassing in their vision.

Fiction judge, Professor Randall StevensonProfessor of Twentieth-Century Literature

The James Tait Black Awards are awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh’s School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures - the oldest centre for the study of English Literature in the world, established in 1762.

More than 400 books were read by Edinburgh academics and postgraduate students, who nominated books for the shortlist.

A unique aspect of the prizes is that they are judged entirely by university English professors and postgraduate literature students.

Love of books

The prizes were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats, the widow of publisher James Tait Black, to commemorate her husband’s love of good books. In 2012, a third prize category was announced for Drama, with the first winner of this award announced in August 2013.

The four shortlisted titles showcase the range, innovation and excellence of biographical writing in 2014.

Biography judge, Dr Jonathan WildSchool of Literatures, Languages and Cultures

The winners of the prize will be announced in August at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, in the heart of the first UNESCO World City of Literature.

Distinguished winners

The winners will join the distinguished gallery of past winners including figures of global literary distinction such as, Angela Carter, Graham Greene, DH Lawrence, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Muriel Spark and Evelyn Waugh.

Equally distinguished names appear on the list of biography winners, including Peter Ackroyd, Martin Amis, Quentin Bell, John Buchan, Richard Ellmann, Kathryn Hughes, Hermione Lee, Lytton Strachey and Claire Tomalin.