Half of the 2023 shortlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction is made up of debut novels from older women – with the youngest among them aged 49.
Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks, Trespasses by Louise Kennedy and Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris are recognised alongside works by more established writers.
Former winners Maggie O’Farrell and Barbara Kingsolver are also celebrated with The Marriage Portrait and Demon Copperhead respectively.
The six-strong list is completed by Pod by Laline Paull, who was previously shortlisted in 2015.
The oldest author is Kingsolver at 68, while there are three writers in their 50s and two in their 60s.
Louise Minchin, chairwoman of the judging panel, said the life experience of each first-time novelist is evident in their “exquisitely written” works.
The 54-year-old broadcaster and writer told the PA news agency: “As an older writer I just think ‘Wow, that is just incredible’.
“It could have gone either way but we should be celebrating writers of all ages and not discriminating against either younger or older writers.”
Minchin said it is obvious how much “life experience” went into the novels to create their “texture”.
“You can tell in some ways that they have been working on this for a long time because it’s so accomplished, it’s so exquisitely written,” she added.
Three of the novels capture turbulent moments in modern history – the Troubles in Northern Ireland (1975) in Kennedy’s Trespasses, the Southall riots (1979) in Crooks’ Fire Rush, and the Siege of Sarajevo (1992–96) in Morris’s Black Butterflies.
Minchin said the works are “hugely ambitious” and described the mix as “brilliantly eclectic”.
She added: “They are very hard-hitting. They are very accomplished.
“For me, the theme that comes through them all is that they are an emotional rollercoaster in some way.
“They’re very engaging. I think they are important books and they really left me affected by the end of it, really touched by some of them, and moved by some of them.”
Minchin said the fact that many of the books are set during recent moments in history gives them “real insight and a real empathy” and allows people to “understand the impact of events through a personal story”.
The broadcaster is joined on the judging panel by novelist Rachel Joyce, journalist and writer Bella Mackie, novelist and short story writer Irenosen Okojie, and Labour MP Tulip Siddiq.
The 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction will be awarded on Wednesday June 14 at the Women’s Prize Trust’s Summer Party in central London.
The winner will receive an anonymously endowed cheque for £30,000 and bronze figurine known as a Bessie, created and donated by artist Grizel Niven.