Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction

Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction

Event: Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction: Best of the Best Live

Location: Piccadilly Theatre

Report by Eleanor Baggley

For the last twenty years the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction (under various guises depending on the sponsor), has been shining a light on outstanding novels that risk being overlooked. Having followed the prize for a number of years I was delighted to hear that for the twentieth anniversary the judges from the past ten years of the award would be picking their ‘best of the best’.

In the lead up to the event on Monday at the Piccadilly Theatre, BBC Radio 4’s ‘Women’s Hour’ had been featuring and discussing each of the winning novels from the past ten years. Their listeners were then asked to join in and vote for their ‘best of the best’. It was not surprising to learn that the result of the listener vote was the same as the judges’ – it is a truly deserving winner.

The evening was introduced by author and co-founder of the prize, Kate Mosse, before moving on to the real treat: the readings. Prior to the announcement of the overall winner the audience were spoilt by readings from each novel, with witty and heartfelt introductions from the head of each year’s judging panel. Actors Stanley Tucci, Sheila Hancock, Prasanna Puwanarajah and Sia Kiwa read the extracts with such passion that they had the audience in fits of giggles or on the verge of tears. Kiwa’s reading of Half of a Yellow Sun and Tucci’s reading of May We Be Forgiven were two I found particularly memorable.

Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘A benchmark for excellence in fiction writing’

It was clear even from those short extracts which novel stood out far beyond the rest so it came as no surprise when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun was declared the best of the best. The novel, set in the 1960’s during the Biafran war, was described by the judges in 2007 as ‘highly readable, engaging, gripping, and heart-stoppingly moving’.

Muriel Gray, who chaired the judging panel in 2007 when Adichie won the award, said Half of a Yellow Sun is an ‘important’ book. She admitted that claiming a book is important is typically quite pompous, but she felt this novel worthy of the description. Gray continued: ‘Chimamanda’s achievement makes Half of a Yellow Sun not just a worthy winner of this most special of prizes, but a benchmark for excellence in fiction writing.’

Adichie was not able to be at the event to receive the award, but in a video clip projected after the announcement she said it was a honour to have been selected. She regretted not being able to attend and encouraged the audience to drink her share of celebratory champagne!

After this announcement and multiple rounds of applause, the evening drew to a close and I left the event feeling elated and excited to discover the winning novels that I have yet to read. The Bailey’s Prize is such a wonderful example of an award that aims to bring talented and deserving authors to a wider readership. For that reason I will continue to follow it with anticipation and will devour not only the winning novel or even the shortlist, but the entire longlist too.

By Eleanor Baggley

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