Dylan Thomas prize 2013 shortlist picks young writers 'going for big themes'

Independent publishing houses sweep the board in award for under-30s

Seven debuts by "young writers going for the big themes" have been shortlisted for the £30,000 Dylan Thomas prize, in a year in which books from independent publishing houses have swept the board.

Three novels, two short-story collections and two collections of poetry make up the Dylan Thomas shortlist, which has been hailed by chair of judges Peter Florence as the best in the prize's seven years. "We had such a strong shortlist this year that we had to include a seventh title, as they are all contenders. In all my years on the judging panel of the prize, I've never seen a higher standard of entry from young writers," Florence said.

The three novels in the running are Tim Leach's The Last King of Lydia, "a take on the ancient world", Marli Roode's Call It Dog, which "tackles South Africa at the time of the truth commission", and Majok Tulba's Beneath the Darkening Sky, about child soldiers in South Sudan. "People say that out of the creative writing courses you get fine, delicate prose and well-chosen metaphors," said said Peter Stead, chair of the prize. "We've gone well beyond that: this is young writers going for the big themes. The Dylan Thomas is unique in being for aspiring writers in their 20s."

The story collections are Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins and Prajwal Parajuly's The Gurkha's Daughter, which tackles "how minorities are treated in India and America", while the collections of poetry are James Brookes's Sins of the Leopard, on themes of "England and the empire", and The Shape of a Forest by Jemma King.

All seven are published by independent houses - not a purposeful decision, said Stead, but one that reflected the submissions they received.

"There has been a mushrooming of literary prizes. When we set up the prize we thought the books would tumble in, and they did, but we found out that publishers make a gamble [when they choose submissions]. They can't afford for a book that is shortlisted for another prize to be passed over for our prize." In previous years there had been "a degree of embarrassment" when a book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize missed out on the Dylan Thomas, with the announcements coming in the same week.

Stead added that the reason the publishers of Eleanor Catton, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas prize and the Guardian First Book award for her debut The Rehearsal in 2010, did not enter her latest book, The Luminaries, may have been because they were positioning it for the 2013 Man Booker prize instead. "You have to look at prizes as an open market - publishers do look at their options. Eleanor Catton has been on the shortlist previously, and it's maybe why she wasn't entered this year," Stead said.

The Dylan Thomas prize is sponsored by Swansea University and is open to any published author in the English language under the age of 30.


Liz Bury

The GuardianTramp

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