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Surprise win for Bailey Women's Prize

9 June 2014

Eimear McBride's A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is having an extraordinary impact. Now that it's won the new Bailey Women's Prize (successor to last year's Women's Fiction Prize and the Orange Prize), there seems to be no stopping the author.

Talent will out and this is a novel which Helen Fraser, Chairs of the Judges, described as: ‘An amazing and ambitious first novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy. This is an extraordinary new voice - this novel will move and astonish the reader.' But it took the author nine years to find a publisher and then it was a tiny start-up, Galley Beggar Press, which quickly set up the book as a co-publication on the paperback and ebook rights with Faber, once it was shortlisted for the Folio Prize.

In winning the Bailey Women's Prize McBride came up against two strongly favoured titles, new books by Donna Tartt and Chimimanda Ngozi Adichie, both strong authors with plenty of back list.

It is a stream of consciousness novel with a bow to James Joyce, and clearly not the easiest of reads. The author really struggled with the book and, for all her talent, this is no obvious rags-to-riches story. The book is highly distinctive and that's probably what deterred publishers, who tend to prefer something familiar, preferably in a bestselling genre or resembling a well-known writer's work.

McBride says: "I feel there has been a cynicism about writing and risk-taking that seems so completely out of place with what publishing should be and I hope that the success of the book will instill a little more idealism back into our world-weary publishers.'

She is not very impressed with mainstream publishers: ‘They seem to think readers are passive, and that being a reader is the same as being a TV viewer, but it isn't. The constant regurgitation - ‘This was successful so let's have a bit more of it' has a very deadening effect on literature.'

With an author who is really good at saying controversial things and a string of prizes and shortlistings behind her, there's really no stopping Elmear McBride.