23 March 2018
the Desmond Elliott Prize longlist

Three Penguin Random House titles have been selected for this year’s Desmond Elliott Prize longlist; making up over a quarter of the ten-strong list. Imogen Hermes Gowar’s widely-praised debut The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock  (Harvill Secker), which has also been longlisted for this year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, is the only title published in 2018 to make the final ten. She joins Carmen Marcus (How Saints Die, Harvill Secker) and Paula Cocozza (How to be Human, Hutchinson) on this year’s list, described as “exemplary” by the Chairman of the Prize’s trustees, Dallas Manderson. You can find out more about our three featured titles below.

The Prize, which is presented in the name of the late, acclaimed literary agent and publisher, Desmond Elliott, is an annual award for a first novel written in English and published in the UK. The winner is presented with a prize of £10,000.

When choosing the winner, a panel of three judges will look for a novel "which has a compelling narrative, arresting character, and which is both vividly written and confidently realised".

The Chairman of the Prize’s trustees, Dallas Manderson said: “It is a pleasure to reveal this exemplary longlist, containing such a powerful array of distinctive voices. We are extremely pleased to see that some publishers appear to be investing more in debut fiction, as evidenced from the success of several of the novels on our longlist. However, as the point of our prize is to help debut writers sustain their careers, we hope that investment continues to our authors’ second and third books.”

Judge for this year’s Prize and award-winning journalist, Samira Ahmed said: “I haven’t judged a book prize before but it has always been debut novels that have most intrigued me and provided some of my most fascinating conversations with writers. I’ve never loved anything more than reading so I can’t think of anything more delightful than being presented with so many titles by new talents.”

In alphabetical order, the full shortlist is as follows:

  • The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks (Salt)
  • How to be Human by Paula Cocozza (Hutchinson)
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (HarperCollins)
  • Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak (Piatkus)
  • Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (4th Estate)
  • How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus (Harvill Secker)
  • One Star Awake by Andrew Meehan (New Island)
  • Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)
  • We That Are Young by Preti Taneja (Galley Beggar Press)

You can learn more about the award and the other featured titles here.

Here's more information on our three longlisted titles:

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.

Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus

Ten years old and irrepressibly curious, Ellie lives with her fisherman father, Peter, on the wild North Yorkshire coast. It’s the 1980s and her mother’s breakdown is discussed only in whispers, with the promise ‘better by Christmas’ and no further explanation.

Steering by the light of her dad’s sea-myths, her mum’s memories of home across the water, and a fierce spirit all her own, Ellie begins to learn – in these sudden, strange circumstances – who she is and what she can become. By the time the first snowdrops show, her innocence has been shed, but at great cost.

This vivacious and deeply moving novel portrays adult breakdown through the eyes of a brightly imaginative child, sensitively explores questions of responsibility and care, and, above all, celebrates the power of stories to shape, nourish and even save us.

How To Be Human by Paula Cocozza

You’ve seen a fox.

Come face to face in an unexpected place, or at an unexpected moment.

And he has looked at you, as you have looked at him. As if he has something to tell you, or you have something to tell him.

But what if it didn’t stop there?

When Mary arrives home from work one day to find a magnificent fox on her lawn - his ears spiked in attention and every hair bristling with his power to surprise - it is only the beginning. He brings gifts (at least, Mary imagines they are gifts), and gradually makes himself at home.

And as he listens to Mary, Mary listens back.

She begins to hear herself for the first time in years. Her bullish ex-boyfriend, still lurking on the fringes of her life, would be appalled. So would the neighbours with a new baby. They only like wildlife that fits with the decor. But inside Mary a wildness is growing that will not be tamed.

In this extraordinary debut, the lines between sanity and safety, obsession and delusion blur, in a thrilling exploration of what makes us human.

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