Wednesday 22 April 2009

Orange Prize Behind Bars

The announcement of the Orange Prize Short List brings to my mind my experience last year at this time. That was when,in prison, we set up our own Orange Prize Project. Week by week, we read the books on the short list,reviewed and scored them, and posted our reviews on a board. Some people read whole books; those who couldn't manage that read large extracts and joined in the discussion. The discussions were very lively.

We had voted and found our winner before we were visited by a rather grand member of the judges' panel who gave us the low down on the judging process and distributed her own books to the women. Asking which novel she fancied to win, - this was before the final judging - she proposed The Outcast by Sadie Jones. Our choice was The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

Our discussion of The Outcast had been quite searching but we rejected it because its ultimate revelation of domestic abuse did not seem authentic to this group of people - some of whom, in real their lives, had had first hand experience of abuse and its consequences. Our group went on chose the Rose Tremain novel because the writing was clear and humane, the characters rang very true and the driving narrative kept them interested.

Ironically, in the subsequent months we were both proved right. While the Rose Tremain novel actually won the Orange Orize, The Outcast generally stayed ahead of The Road Home in the lists of best sellers.

This year I'll have to read the shortlisted novels on my own, probably in France between bouts of writing (and walking, and eating, and drinking wine). I'll be posting opinions here which might be of some interest to reader friends who are doing their own Orange Prize Inside.

At present I fancy Molly Fox's Birthday by Dierdre Madden. Don't ask me why. I'm not sure! I'll tell you later when I've read it.

What do you fancy of the list? Let me know.

Happy reading (and writing)


Orange Prize for Fiction finalists:
Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman
The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey
The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden
Home by Marilynne Robinson
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie


  1. Wendy I too remember the Orange Prize inside and our wonderful discusions and deliberations. Something particularly remarkable about our Orange Prize reading group was that it included not just prisoners but also staff - our librarians - Charlie and Jaquie, the Learning Shop Manager- Lesley, Security Governor Richard Phelan and a also a visit, to one of our evening events, from the number one Governor Paddy Fox -who was always so supportive.
    Whenever we sat around the table, whoever we were, we did so as equals and that was very special indeed

    Avril -(former head of Learning and Skills HMP Low Newton)

  2. What an interesting project - and unique, in terms of the special insight posessed by many of the women in your reading group.I look forward to hearing what you think about this year's shortlist.




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