The Commonwealth Foundation has announced the winners of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize and Commonwealth Short Story Prize. The awards were presented by John le Carré at Hay Festival in Wales.
Part of Commonwealth Writers, these two prizes unearth, develop and promote the best new writing from across the Commonwealth, developing literary connections worldwide. The three female winners of this year’s prizes have written stories set in Trinidad and Tobago, British Columbia and Glasgow’s Hazlehurst estate – a diverse range of geographies and backgrounds that reflects the global nature of the accolade.
Commonwealth Book Prize winner:
Lisa O’Donnell, UK, The Death of Bees
Lisa O’Donnell’s debut novel The Death of Bees has been awarded this year’s Commonwealth Book Prize. She has previously won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for her screenplay The Wedding Gift. The Death of Bees is a story of two young sisters living in Glasgow’s Hazlehurst estate, trying to hold the world at bay after the mysterious death of their parents.
“The Death of Bees emerged the overall winner virtually by acclamation. This coming-of-age novel is at once a grim, dark, entertaining story about gnawing emotional neglect in the lives of the young protagonists as they struggle to keep their deadly secret – the two young sisters bury their parents in their back garden – literally from being unearthed. The Death of Bees is effortlessly fresh and original; it is fiction that provokes and shocks; it is innovative in its narrative style and told in a natural convincing voice, maintaining the high standards of the Commonwealth Book Prize.”
Godfrey Smith, Chair, Commonwealth Book Prize
“I am incredibly proud to have won the Commonwealth Book Prize. It’s a huge leap for me in what seemed an impossible step. The prodigious voices I stood beside overwhelm me, so many towering stories out there.” Lisa O’Donnell, Commonwealth Book Prize winner
Commonwealth Short Story Prize winners:
Sharon Millar, Trinidad and Tobago, The Whale House
Eliza Robertson, Canada, We Walked on Water
“It is a measure of the quality we had to choose from in the shortlist, that we unanimously settled on two joint winners. It was impossible to decide between them, though each one is quite distinctly different from the other. Both fulfilled our criteria of excellence in style, originality and tone. The Whale House, by Sharon Millar, has lush descriptions of landscapes as well as emotion. It is striking how even minor characters are drawn vividly in quick, tightly written strokes. We Walked on Water, by Eliza Robertson, is an exhilarating story about the relationship between a brother and sister, both competitive swimmers. The descriptive writing is nothing short of strikingly beautiful, in terms of emotions felt, the natural environment and the structure. Both these stories stay in the imagination and the heart, long after they have been read.”
Razia Iqbal, Chair, Commonwealth Short Story Prize
The Whale House is a story of a woman recovering from a miscarriage, which in turn resurrects an old conflict and a long kept secret. Bush medicine, teenage sexuality, and difficult moral choices culminate in this uniquely Trinidadian story – one of marriage and the secrets we keep from the ones closest to us.
“When a story grows legs and begins to run, it’s both humbling and enormously exhilarating. It’s almost impossible to describe the delight and excitement of winning The Commonwealth Short Story Prize. I’d like to thank Commonwealth Writers for their continuing support of new and upcoming writers. For writers who live far from the metropolis prizes such as this are a dream come true. They also provide a powerful motivation to continue writing.”
Sharon Millar, Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner
We Walked on Water is about a boy who loses his twin sister during the Ironman competition in Penticton, BC. The story begins the year after Liv’s death, when the boy decides to compete again.
“I feel both grateful and not-quite-believing to be selected as one of the overall winners of this prize. I am thrilled and thankful for the opportunity to share my work.”
Eliza Robertson, Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner