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First NZwriter to win Best Book award in 18 years

Strictly embargoed until
14,00 hours local time (20,00 hours BST), Sunday 27 May, 2007

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2007

Overall Best Book and Best First Book Winners Announced at the Calabash International Literary Festival

First New Zealand writer to win Best Book award in eighteen years

? Lloyd Jones of New Zealand wins Overall Best Book for Mister Pip
? D Y Béchard of Canada wins Overall Best First Book for Vandal Love

The overall winners of the 21st Commonwealth Writers’ Prize were announced today (Sunday 27 May) at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica.

Aloun Assamba, Jamaica Minister for Tourism, Entertainment and Culture awarded a cheque for £10,000 for The Overall Best Book Award to Lloyd Jones for his novel,Mister Pip, the first New Zealand writer to win best book since Janet Frame in 1989. The Overall Best First Book Award of £5,000 was awarded to Vandal Love byD Y Béchard of Canada.

The CWP, an increasingly valued and sought-after award for fiction, is presented annually by the Commonwealth Foundation. Speaking on behalf of the Pan-Commonwealth judging panel, the Hon Justice Nicholas Hasluck commented:

“ The judging panel had the pleasure of reading a remarkable array of works of fiction in the final phase of the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. The entries in each of the two categories offer a fascinating range of uncommon settings and seductive new voices.

“The winner of the best book award is Lloyd Jones from New Zealand for Mister Pip. This mesmerising story shows how books can change lives in utterly surprising ways. When a round up of suspects on a war-torn Pacific island leads to an attempt to seize a fictional character violence comes face to face with the power of the imagination.

The prize for best first book goes to Canadian writer D Y Béchard for Vandal Love. This book is an epic family tale, poetic and gritty, magical and yet believable, replete with misfits and boxers, giants and runts."

Mark Collins, Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, said, “Throughout the 21 years of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize we have witnessed how books, with varying degrees, directions, and perspectives, are able to capture the intricate cultural dimensions within the Commonwealth. Through the Prize, the Foundation is recognizing literature‘s ongoing strength and influence and its ability to raise awareness of individual, societal and global issues.

The Commonwealth Foundation is also extremely pleased to be able to announce the award at Calabash as this festival is an increasingly successful and vibrant celebration of culture with which we are happy to be associated.”

Colin Channer, organiser and founder of the Calabash International Literary Festival, commented, “The winner was chosen with a great degree of care and consideration, but most of all difficulty. The standard was extremely high as usual. The audience at the 2007 Calabash International Literary Festival was delighted to meet the finalists and hear them read from their work.”

David Clarke, Chairman of the Macquarie Foundation - the Prize’s supporter in the Europe and South Asia and South East Asia and South Pacific regions - said: “The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is a benchmark for literary excellence, that has recognised many of the world’s finest writers and developed a global audience for emerging talent. As a result, it has helped to enrich international literature, to the benefit of the reading public. The Macquarie Foundation is proud to be associated with a prize of this calibre.”

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize aims to reward the best Commonwealth fiction written in English, by both established and new writers, and to take their works to a global audience. The Prize is now in its 21st year. It is sponsored and organised by the Commonwealth Foundation with the support of the Macquarie Foundation.

The distinguished Pan-Commonwealth panel of judges was chaired by Hon Justice Nicholas Hasluck AM (Chair of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize), and comprised of the four regional chairpersons and Colin Channer, organiser and founder of the Calabash Festival. The four regional chairpersons were: Professor Arthur Gakwandi (Africa); Professor Aritha van Herk (Canada and the Caribbean); Professor Angela Smith (Europe and South Asia); and Dr Christine Prentice (South East Asia and South Pacific).

The Winners

Overall Winner – Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (Penguin)
Lloyd Jones’ novel is set mainly in a small village on Bougainville, where Matilda attends the school set up by the only white man in the village, Mr Watts. By his own admission he’s not much of a teacher and proceeds to educate the children by reading them Great Expectations. Matilda falls in love with the novel and the promise of the next chapter is what keeps her going; Pip’s story protects her from the horror of what is happening around her – helicopters menacing the skies above the village and rebel raids on the ground.
After several visits to the village by soldiers, the book goes missing and is then destroyed. Mr Watts encourages the children to retell the story, the whole being constructed from their remembered fragments. Later, when she has fled the island for Australia, Matilda reaches for a copy of Great Expectations in the school library and realises that Mr Watts was reading them his own version of the text, another ‘invention’ of the original.
Lloyd Jones was born in 1955 and lives in Wellington. He will spend a year in Berlin from August 2007 as recipient of the Creative New Zealand Berlin Writers’ Residency.
Penguin New Zealand: 09-4427438

First Book Winner – Vandal Love by D Y Béchard (Doubleday)
Vandal Lovefollows generations of a unique French-Canadian family across North America, and through the twentieth century, as they struggle to find their place in the world.
A family curse – a genetic trick resulting from centuries of hardship – causes the Hervé children to be born either giants or runts. Book I of Vandal Love follows the giants’ line, exploring Jude Hervé’s career as a boxer in Georgia and Louisiana in the 1960s, his escape from that brutal life alone with his baby daughter Isa, and her eventual decision to enter into a strange, chaste marriage with a much older man.
Book II traces a different kind of life entirely, as the runts of the family discover that their power lies in a kind of unifying love. François searches for years for his missing father; his own son, Harvey, flees from modern society into spiritual quests. But none of the Hervés can abandon their longing for a place where they might find others like themselves.
D.Y. Béchard was born in the mountains of British Columbia to French-Canadian and American parents, and has since lived throughout Canada and the United States. He currently resides in Montréal.
Doubleday Canada: 416-957-1569

Regional Winners

Best Book Award Best First Book Award

Europe and South Asia
The Perfect Manby Naeem Murr In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar

The Native Commissioner All We Have Left Unsaidby
by Shaun Johnson by Maxine Case

Canada and the Caribbean
The Friends of Meager Fortune Vandal Love by D.Y. Béchard
by David Adams Richards

South East Asia& South Pacific
Mister PipbyLloyd Jones Tuvaluby Andrew O’Connor

Previous Overall Winners: 2006-2001

Best book Best first book

2006Kate Grenville, The Secret River Mark McWatt
Suspended Sentences: fictions of atonement

2005Andrea Levy, SmallIsland Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Purple Hibiscus

2004Caryl Phillips, A Distant Shore Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

2003Austin Clarke, The Polished Hoe Sarah Hall, Haweswater

2002Richard Flanagan, Manu Herbstein, Ama, A
Gould’s Book of Fish Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade

2001Peter Carey, True History Zadie Smith, White Teeth
of the Kelly Gang


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