Lisa McInerney wins £10,000 Desmond Elliott Prize

Author hailed as ‘major literary figure’ as debut novel The Glorious Heresies wins major award a fortnight after it won £30,000 Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction

Lisa McInerney won her second major award in a fortnight tonight when her novel, The Glorious Heresies, was named winner of the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016, worth £10,000 for the best debut novel of the year, at a ceremony in London.

Earlier this month, the Galway author won the £30,000 Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction. Reflecting on that win, the author said: “It feels shocking, validating and very humbling and I’m not sure yet what it means, except that it’s a boost, for me and I think – I hope! – for working-class stories, for stories that aren’t always centre-stage in literary fiction.”

Biting, moving and darkly funny, The Glorious Heresies explores salvation, shame and the legacy of Ireland’s twentieth-century attitudes to sex and family. Set in Cork’s seedy underbelly, and rich in local dialect, it is the story of how one messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society.

Joseph O’Connor wrote in his Irish Times review. “This is a big, brassy, sexy beast of a book... McInerney is a truth-speaker and a powerful storyteller who writes with exactly the sort of furious energy this novel needs... an accomplished, seriously enjoyable and high-octane morality tale, full of empathy, feeling and soul.”

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The Elliott prize runners-up were Mrs Engels by fellow Irish author Gavin McCrea and The House at the Edge of the World by Julia Rochester. The judges, novelist Iain Pears, The Pool’s Sam Baker and Katy Guest, former literary editor of the Independent on Sunday, were unanimous in their decision.

Pears said: “We knew we had found a major literary figure of the next generation when we made our choice last month – it’s good to see other prize judges have subsequently agreed with us. Lisa is a genuinely exciting writer – there is electricity running through her prose.

“This is a complex, unusual, violent book, bleak but with welcome humour, and she manages a huge cast with confidence; there is never any doubt that she is in complete control, right to the unexpected but perfect ending. I know what it is to try and control a complicated text, and spent years learning my trade. She has done it on her first outing, and that is close to astounding.”

Pears called on publishers not only to continue to support new writers, but also their editors too: “We should never forget that editors and authors work in partnership; each must support the other. Authors need time to grow and develop, but editors need the encouragement to stick with them during this long – and sometimes erratic – process and they deserve our applause when they do – applause the Desmond Elliott Prize is happy to deliver. With luck, all the authors on our shortlist will get that support, as they have already shown what they can achieve, and have given a hint about what they might be able to accomplish in the future.”

Mark Richards, McInerney’s editor at John Murray, asked by The Irish Times what attracted him to her work, said: “The first thing was its energy – the novel starts with a bang, and doesn’t let up. It’s also very funny, a quality that’s both underrated and sadly missing in far too much fiction. And she’s got the most brilliant way with characters; all of them leap off the page and stay in your head (and heart).

“I suppose, on the freedom with words and big characters, there are obvious comparisons with Patrick McCabe and Irvine Welsh. But if I’m honest the work I’ve most frequently compared her novel to is Shameless. Though set in Cork and with more violence, it’s just as funny and just as true.”

McInerney, at 34 the youngest of the shortlisted authors, wrote the award-winning blog, Arse End of Ireland, which led to her being named “the most talented writer at work today in Ireland” by The Irish Times. Her short story, Saturday, Boring, was included in Faber’s Town and Country anthology of new Irish short stories in 2013, edited by Kevin Barry, an early champion of her work. She is currently finishing off her second novel, which she describes as “a sort-of-sequel to Heresies in that it works with some of the same characters and it’s set in Cork”.

Dallas Manderson, chairman of the prize trustees, said: “The mission of our judges is not just to find the best debut novel of the year, but also to identify a writer who will go on to write more and even better novels. This is what Iain, Sam and Katy have done this year in choosing Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies. It is a supremely confident and compelling work and leaves one in no doubt that we will hear much, much more from this wondrously talented young writer. After two major prize wins in just a fortnight, there is no doubt that The Glorious Heresies is an absolutely great book which transcends category or criteria.”

The prize is presented in the name of the late Irish publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, whose passion for finding and nurturing new authors is perpetuated by his prize, for which he left his entire estate. Now in its ninth year, the award has an established record for spotting up-and-coming novelists in the UK and Ireland and propelling them to greater recognition and success. Last year’s winner was Claire Fuller, author of the bestselling Our Endless Numbered Days, while in 2014, Eimear McBride won for A Girl is a Half-formed Thing.