Folio Prize seeks to make mark on literary landscape

Managing Director of the Folio Society Toby Hartwell (left) and Founder of the Folio Prize Andrew Kidd at a photocall announcing the Folio Society as new sponsors of the Literature Prize Managing Director of the Folio Society Toby Hartwell (left) and Founder of the Folio Prize Andrew Kidd

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Publisher The Folio Society has been unveiled as the sponsor of a new £40,000 literary award.

The Folio Prize, as the award will be known, will hand out its first accolade in March 2014.

"It's the first major book prize to have no barriers and no borders - it's truly international," prize founder Andrew Kidd told the BBC.

The prize will be awarded to a work of fiction written in the English language published in the UK.

It is backed by a 100-strong academy of authors and critics which includes Margaret Atwood and Philip Pullman.

Northern Lights trilogy author Pullman said: "I think The Folio Prize will be a great addition to the current range of literary prizes."

The inaugural panel of five judges will be announced in July this year and the shortlist in February 2014.

The judges will be drawn annually from the academy of writers and critics. At least two of the judges will have "an international profile".

Among the other academicians named at Wednesday's announcement at the British Library in London are AS Byatt, JM Coetzee, Sebastian Faulks, Mark Haddon, David Mitchell, Zadie Smith and Jeanette Winterson.

Haddon, author of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, said "If you're passionate about literary fiction and you were asked to design a literary prize from scratch, it would probably look very much like the Folio Prize."

The academy will also nominate the majority of the books which are considered for the prize.

"Some books go off with a loud bang when they first appear but many others do not," said Mr Kidd, who is managing director of literary agency Aitken Alexander Associates.

He said he hoped the academy would help identify books "that will be with us for the long haul" whether from the US, UK or elsewhere.

"If they can help us bring some of those gems to readers - who might not otherwise have a means of finding them - then the question 'Why another prize?' we feel will have been sufficiently answered."

He said that while most great books were not difficult or obscure, the prize "would not apologise for also getting excited about books that might first appear daunting".

Formerly known as the Literature Prize, the award was first announced in 2011 amidst a row in literary circles about the decision by Man Booker judges that year to focus on "readability". Mr Kidd admitted that he had been surprised by the "volume of noise" generated by the announcement.

The Folio Prize joins a literary awards landscape that already contains the £50,000 Man Booker Prize, the £30,000 Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) and the newly-announced £10,000 Goldsmiths Prize.

The Man Booker Prize, which is open to writers from the UK, the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland, announces its 2013 winner in October.

Mr Kidd said he didn't subscribe to the notion that the Folio Prize was a rival to other literary prizes.

"Its not a matter of how many prizes there are but how many prizes effectively get their message across and connect with the public and result in thousands of people buying these books. For me that's the key measure of success."

Author Anthony Quinn, an academician who was on the 2006 Booker jury, said: "Why shouldn't there be another prize? if you've got the FA Cup why not have the Premiership? It seems unequivocally a good idea to me."

Mr Kidd said organisers from other book prizes had been in touch with advice and had been "generally very supportive".

He said the Folio Society, founded in 1947 with the aim of celebrating the physical beauty of a book, was a "fantastic fit" as sponsor.

"Not only is there no conflict of interest, they are perfectly, philosophically aligned in that they are about recognising the books of today that will be in print in 50 or 100 years time."

Toby Hartwell, managing director of The Folio Society said he liked the idea of "recognising literature of enduring value" and it seemed a "natural extension" of the business.

Mr Hartwell said he was open to suggestions for a suitable venue for next year's prize-giving ceremony, but that it would not be a black tie event.

One other sure thing is that when the first prize-winner is announced in March 2014, it won't be going to Hilary Mantel, as she doesn't have a book out this year that will be eligible.

The author won the Booker Prize in 2012 and the Costa Book of the year in 2013.

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