Unknowns contend for £60,000 award

Its £60,000 prize money makes it Britain's most lucrative literary award, but the 13 writers in contention for the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize - announced today - are all relative unknowns.

Its £60,000 prize money makes it Britain's most lucrative literary award, but the 13 writers in contention for the inaugural Dylan Thomas Prize - announced today - are all relative unknowns. This is less surprising than it might be for a major award, because the prize - which covers English language poetry and drama as well as fiction - is restricted to authors under 30.

Nick Laird, uniquely, has two shots at the prize, with both his debut novel Utterly Monkey and his poetry collection, To A Fault, catching the judges' eyes.

Other contenders include Kira Cochrane, women's editor of the Guardian, for her second novel Escape Routes for Beginners, and Talitha Stevenson, whose first novel An Empty Room was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel 2003, and whose second novel Exposure has now secured her a shot at the new award.

Announcing the longlist in Swansea, screenwriter Andrew Davies, who is chair of the judging panel, said: "We're not scared of having unknown writers on the list. I would be delighted if the prize were won by someone the London literati and book trade had never heard of.

"I don't mind if they're not too mature, they're going to grow into their writing. I like that passionate raw element to it. It's a real heap of money to give to one person but the idea is that they can spend the next few years working on a masterpiece."

To qualify for what will be a biennial award, works had to be published within an 18-month period specified in the rules. The deadline for submissions was April 28 2006, and around 60 books were entered.

Davies added: "The criteria are quite strict and some major works missed out. Londonstani would have been a very strong contender but it was published too late. However, it can be entered for the next competition. I'm very keen on writers who have a distinctive voice, rather than trying to imitate other, grander writers.

"People buy books written by middle-aged writers and you get the feeling that some authors are writing with the aim of getting onto some shortlist or another."

As well as work from English writers there are entries from the US, Wales, Zimbabwe, Northern Ireland, Australia and Scotland.

Rodney Troubridge, head of fiction at Waterstones, said: "It's a challenging list and there's a mix of different types of ficion. I haven't heard of many of these writers but they've come up on my radar.

"Publishers love prizes, they help to promote writers, and I'm all for prizes that encourage new, young talent. It's a lot of money, though."

The shortlist will be announced in September and the winner will be revealed in October.

In full, the longlist is:
James Scudamore, The Amnesia Clinic
Joey Goebel, Torture The Artist
Matthew David Scott, Playing Mercy
Lucy Caldwell, Where They Were Missed
Liza Ward, Outside Valentine
Rodge Glass, No Fireworks
Rachel Tresize, Fresh Apples
Kira Cochrane, Escape Routes for Beginners
Nick Laird [two entries] Utterly Monkey, To A Fault
Talitha Stevenson, Exposure
Emily Maguire, Taming The Beast
Susan Barker, Sayonara Bar
Ian Holding, Unfeeling

Riazat Butt

The GuardianTramp

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