Eimear McBride wins Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction

Eimear McBride spoke to the BBC's Rebecca Jones after her win

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Irish author Eimear McBride has won the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction with her debut novel, A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.

The judges described the stream-of-consciousness novel as "amazing and ambitious".

The novel tells of a young woman's relationship with a brother afflicted by a childhood brain tumour.

McBride, who spent nine years trying to get the book published, picked up the £30,000 prize at a ceremony in London.

Thanking her publisher, Galley Beggar Press in Norwich, for taking on the book after years of rejection, she said: "I hope that it will serve as an incentive to publishers everywhere to take a look at difficult books and to think again.

"There is a contract between publisher and reader that needs to be honoured and a reader must not be underestimated."

McBride's book beat the bookmakers' favourite - Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller The Goldfinch.

Start Quote

It was very unlike anything else we read”

End Quote Helen Fraser Chair of the judges

Helen Fraser, chairwoman of the judges, described McBride as "an extraordinary new voice" and said her novel had impressed the judges with its "inventiveness and energy".

"We felt that from the first time we read it - it stood out from the crowd. It was very unlike anything else we read," Ms Fraser told the BBC.

"It's incredibly original. It has a raw energy we all responded to. It has real lyrical qualities even though the subject matter can sometimes be so shocking."

Born in Liverpool in 1976, McBride moved to Ireland when she was two years old and grew up in Mayo and Sligo. She moved to the UK aged 17 and spent the next three years studying acting in London.

Published a year ago, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing has already built up an impressive literary track record.

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction shortlist

Baileys prize nominees
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah (Fourth Estate)
  • Hannah Kent - Burial Rites (Picador)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland(Bloomsbury)
  • Audrey Magee - The Undertaking (Atlantic Books)
  • Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing (Galley Beggar/Faber and Faber)
  • Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch (Little, Brown)

It won the £10,000 Goldsmith's Prize for original fiction, was shortlisted for the new Folio Prize, was named the Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year and is nominated for the Desmond Elliott Prize for first-time novelists.

McBride wrote the novel in six months a decade ago, aged 27, but it was rejected by publishers for being too experimental.

The book languished in a drawer for many years. It was only in 2011, after McBride moved to Norwich, that her manuscript came to the attention of the newly formed Galley Beggar Press, who published it in 2013.

It was one of three debut novels on the Baileys shortlist along with Hannah Kent's Burial Rites and Audrey Magee's The Undertaking.

Also shortlisted was Tartt's The Goldfinch, Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, whose Half of a Yellow Sun won the prize in 2007, and Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland.

The women's literary prize was known as the Orange Prize for Fiction between 1996 and 2012. Any woman writing in English - whatever her nationality, country of residence, age or subject matter - is eligible.

On the shortlist: Hannah Kent, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Audrey Magee and Eimear McBride On the shortlist: (L-R) Hannah Kent, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Audrey Magee and Eimear McBride

The prize was funded privately in 2013, with liqueur company Baileys announced as the new sponsor a year ago.

This year's judging panel included Cambridge classics professor Mary Beard, newsreader Sophie Raworth, columnist and author Caitlin Moran and writer Denise Mina.

Last year's women's fiction prize was won by US author AM Homes, who beat the double Booker-winning author Hilary Mantel with her satire May We Be Forgiven.

Homes was the fifth American writer in a row to win. The last British author to take the award was Rose Tremain, for The Road Home, in 2008.

Commenting on McBride's victory, Jonathan Ruppin, web editor for Foyles bookshop, said: "To paraphrase Brian Eno's legendary quote about the first Velvet Underground album, not many people have bought it so far but every single one of them will probably write a novel.

"It's bold, brilliant and beautiful, a book that will delight every reader concerned that the novel had nowhere new to go and reinforce every prejudice of those who dismiss literary fiction as pretentious."

Previous winners include:

  • Madeline Miller for The Song of Achilles (2012)
  • Tea Obreht for The Tiger's Wife (2011)
  • Barbara Kingsolver for The Lacuna (2010)
  • Zadie Smith for On Beauty (2006)
  • Lionel Shriver for We Need to Talk About Kevin (2005)

This year's awards took place at the Royal Festival Hall. In addition to the main prize, aspiring novelist Maia Jenkins was named as the winner of the Baileys Women's Prize/Grazia First Chapter Competition for unpublished writers.

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