Belfast Telegraph

Debut novelist in her 80s nominated for Society of Authors’ Awards prize

The annual awards is judged by writers and is the UK’s biggest literary fund.

A debut novelist in her 80s has been nominated in the Society of Authors’ Awards (Society of Authors)
A debut novelist in her 80s has been nominated in the Society of Authors’ Awards (Society of Authors)

A debut novelist in her 80s is among the nominees shortlisted for one of the prizes at the Society of Authors’ Awards.

Irish writer Norma MacMaster will see her debut novel Silence Under A Stone compete against others for the inaugural Paul Torday Memorial Prize, an award for a first novel by a writer over the age of 60.

She is the oldest in the category, which also includes best-selling author Heather Morris, who was 64 when her nominated novel The Tattooist of Auschwitz was published, and Anne Youngson, who was 70 when her novel Meet Me At The Museum was published.

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Norma MacMaster (Society of Authors)

The awards, judged by writers, is the UK’s biggest literary fund, with more than £100,000 awarded to new and established writers across all categories.

Previous recipients of the Society of Authors’ Awards prizes include Zadie Smith, Seamus Heaney, Helen Dunmore, Hari Kunzru and Carol Ann Duffy.

MacMaster, who lives in Dublin, was previously a secondary school teacher and counsellor in Canada and Ireland, before being ordained as a minster of the Church of Ireland in 2004.

Having previously published a memoir, her first fiction novel Silence Under A Stone – about a family ripped apart when a son falls for a woman with the wrong faith, and his now-elderly mother’s regret over allowing that to happen – was written “a bit now and a bit then” by MacMaster using two fingers to type it out in her attic.

She was 81 when the novel was published, making her the oldest nominee across all prizes for this year’s Society of Authors’ Awards.

MacMaster will compete against Morris and Youngson, as well as Su Bristow (Sealskin), Costa Short Story Award-shortlisted Sheila Llewellyn (Walking Wounded) and Sally Magnusson (The Sealwoman’s Gift) in the all-female category.

The winner of the prize will win £1,000 and a set of collected works by British writer Paul Torday, who published his first novel Salmon Fishing In The Yemen at the age of 60.

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Heather Morris (Society of Authors)

Judges of the prize Kate Mosse, Mark Lawson and Anita Sethi said: “This inaugural shortlist vitally reminds us that writing is a job with no mandatory starting date, demonstrated through excellent historical fiction alive with time and period, magical explorations of landscape and love, a devastating story about the hidden consequences of the brutality of wars, and an exploration of the archaeology of the human heart.”

Other categories include the Somerset Maugham Awards, which are for published works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by writers under 35 to enable them to enrich their work by gaining experience of foreign countries, and the McKitterick Prize, awarded to a first novel by a writer over 40.

Broadcaster and journalist Magnusson, who has written 10 books including her Sunday Times best-seller Where Memories Go, is also nominated for the McKitterick Prize for The Sealwoman’s Gift, as is Youngson for Meet Me At The Museum.

Other nominees for this year’s awards include Women’s Prize shortlisted Imogen Hermes Gower for The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, in the Betty Trask Prize and Awards category, presented for a first novel by a writer under 35, and 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize winner Claire Fuller.

Fuller’s Tiny And Pointed is up for the Tom-Gallon Trust Award, which is awarded for a short story by a writer who has had at least one short story accepted for publication.

The winners of the Society of Authors’ Awards will be unveiled at a ceremony at London’s Southwark Cathedral on Monday June 17.

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