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No Worries for Female Writers as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Last night Chichester Copywriter attended Chichester Library’s Orange Prize for Fiction Evening where local writers Isabel Ashdown, Gabrielle Kimm and Jane Rusbridge voiced their opinions on this year’s shortlist…

It all began back in 1992 when a group of journalists, reviewers, agents, publishers, librarians, and booksellers gathered together in a London flat. They chatted about reading and publishing, reviewing and prize giving and soon an idea was born to set up a new kind of literary prize that would celebrate outstanding women’s writing. In 1996, after sponsorship deals were signed, it became known as the Orange Prize for Fiction.

The Orange Prize for Fiction celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world. It is the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by a woman and is one of the most respected, most celebrated and most successful literary awards in the world. The winner receives a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a ‘Bessie’, created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven.

Local author Kate Mosse was one of the Co-Founders of the Orange Prize so it has more connections with the Chichester literati than you first might think. Quite fittingly, to celebrate the Orange Prize’s 16th anniversary, three award winning Chichester-based authors, Isabel Ashdown (Glasshopper, Myriad Editions, 2009; Hurry Up and Wait, Myriad Editions, 2011), Gabrielle Kimm (His Last Duchess, Sphere, 2010; The Courtesan’s Lover, Sphere, 2011) and Jane Rusbridge (The Devil’s Music, Bloomsbury, 2010) gathered last night to discuss their thoughts about this year’s shortlisted books.

This year’s Orange Prize for Fiction shortlist was:

  • Emma Donoghue (Irish) – Room; Picador; 7th Novel
  • Aminatta Forna (British/Sierra Leonean) – The Memory of Love; Bloomsbury; 2nd Novel
  • Emma Henderson (British) – Grace Williams Says it Loud; Sceptre; 1st Novel
  • Nicole Krauss (American) – Great House; Viking; 3rd Novel
  • Téa Obreht (Serbian/American) – The Tiger’s Wife; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1st Novel
  • Kathleen Winter (Canadian) – Annabel; Jonathan Cape; 1st Novel

The Memory of Love was a clear favourite of the Chichester writers for its excellent combination of plot, characters and writing. Grace Williams Says it Loud and Annabel also came high on their recommendation lists. There were certainly mixed feelings about Room, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and Great House, which was deemed quite hard going.

The book that didn’t exactly get thumbs up and was abandoned half way through reading by some of the panel, however, was The Tiger’s Wife. This was the one book that our West Sussex Copywriter went to last night’s bookchat with the biggest desire to read. The inclusion of folk and fairytale elements was a big draw and it got some fantastic reviews on BBC2’s The Review Show. The fact that it wasn’t a favourite of the Chichester writers panel actually made it even more intriguing and Katy became eager to form her own opinion.

After each book had been discussed the winner of the 2011 Orange prize for Fiction was announced. There was resounding shock throughout the panel and the Chichester Library audience as The Tiger’s Wife was named winner. This demonstrates how much individual opinions differ, especially between writers of different genres, and how reading a novel is such a personal experience. Téa Obreht is just 25 years old and Chichester Copywriter was pleased that such a young female writer was recognised. The best thing about the announcement, however, was that it wasn’t the obvious choice; there’s nothing worse than prizes where the winner is the bookies favourite.  A bit of surprise not only adds to the sense of occasion but also restores faith that not all is transparent.

Perhaps your favourite book wasn’t picked by this year’s judges but do not fear. The fact that it made the shortlist usually means it will receive ample publicity to make it a rip-roaring success. The Orange Prize for Fiction might have been founded to recognise the best in women’s fiction but it’s possible to get caught up in all the glitz and glamour of awards and accolades. Surely, being the people’s choice and climbing those best-seller charts is one of the greatest achievements of all for a female writer. It’s certainly what Chichester Copywriter’s Katy Lassetter aspires to achieve one day!

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