Granta list celebrates fresh crop of British novelists
International, majority-female list of 20 most promising authors under 40 includes Sarah Hall, Adam Foulds and Zadie Smit
by Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer
The Guardian, Monday 15 April 2013 20.00 BST
A decade later the exercise was repeated, and it was the turn of Jeanette Winterson and Alan Hollinghurst. In 2003, the list included Sarah Waters, Monica Ali and Zadie Smith.
Now the literary magazine has released its 2013 list, and for the first time there is a majority of women. It is also an extremely international list: the writers' backgrounds – and storytelling interests – include China, Nigeria, Ghana, the US, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Names that may be fresh to many include David Szalay, author of three novels and hailed by the Guardian as a rising star; Taiye Selasi, whose first novel was published to great acclaim only last month; and Sunjeev Sahota, who according to John Freeman, the editor of Granta, "had never read a novel until he was 18 – until he bought Midnight's Children at Heathrow. He studied maths, he works in marketing and finance; he lives in Leeds, completely out of the literary world."
Sahota's first novel, Ours are the Streets, was about the journey to radicalisation of a young British Muslim. His forthcoming work, said Freeman, "is like his ninth novel, it's such a huge leap forward".
Better-known names include Zadie Smith and Adam Thirwell, both of whom also appeared on the 2003 list. (Adam Mars-Jones, Kazuo Ishiguro and AL Kennedy, who was a judge this year, have previously managed the feat of being listed twice.)
Other established authors include Sarah Hall, who has already been shortlisted for the Man Booker; Kamila Shamsie, who is technically Pakistani but is likely to receive British citizenship in the coming months; and Ross Raisin, whose first novel, God's Own Country, made him the Sunday Times young writer of the year in 2009.
Ned Beauman's inclusion will not surprise fans of the precociously playful, genre-bending author of The Teleportation Accident; and Adam Foulds has impressed readers with novels including A Quickening Maze, about the poet John Clare.
According to Freeman, the judges – who also included the critic Stuart Kelly and the novelist Romesh Gunesekera – were looking for writers who were "fresh and bold – people with a sense of how to tell a story, a sense of the form and how to challenge it".
Although the writers did not represent a single literary tendency, said Freeman, "they are less wedded to nationality than writers have ever been before. Freeman said the decision-making – after panellists had read works by 150 authors – lasted about five hours, with half the list decided in the first hour, followed by "endless debate" about the remaining slots.
He agreed that the list would cause debate – indeed, it is already proving controversial. Reviewing the Granta anthology in which writing by all 20 authors appears, the Guardian critic Theo Tait said it offered "some exceptional writing" but was "mostly solid, old-fashioned storytelling or hit-and-miss, boil-in-the-bag postmodernism".
There are some notable absences. Jon McGregor, acclaimed author of Even the Dogs, had been heavily tipped by among others Freeman's predecessor as Granta editor, Alex Clark. Freeman said there had been fierce debate about McGregor.
"He was very close to the list. But in the end there were more people on the committee than not who weren't in love with his work. Another panel would have put him on. I admire him – we have published him in the magazine."
He added: "Joe Dunthorne, Peter Hobbes, Nick Laird are not on the list … a lot of people will doubtless flag up what they will argue are omissions."
Freeman also lamented the names that could not appear because the writers were just over 40. He mentioned another genre-bender, the fantasy writer China Miéville, who turned 40 in September, as well as Mohsin Hamid, Rana Dasgupta, Hisham Matar and Scarlett Thomas.
The panel considered whether to regard Shamsie as eligible. "She's in the middle of becoming a British citizen, and the work is so strong it would have been facetious not to include her," Freeman said.
The list in full
Naomi Alderman (born 1974), author of books including The Liars' Gospel and designer of computer games.
Tahmima Anam (1975), whose Bengal Trilogy charts Bangladeshi history from the war of independence onwards.
Ned Beauman (1985), who was longlisted for the Man Booker prize for The Teleportation Accident.
Jenni Fagan (1977), whose debut, The Panopticon, was published 2012. She is also a poet.
Adam Foulds (1974) won the Costa poetry prize for his poem about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. His novels include The Quickening Maze, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker.
Xiaolu Guo (1973) was shortlisted for the Orange prize for A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.
Sarah Hall (1974) has won and been shortlisted for many awards for her novels, which include How To Paint a Dead Man.
Steven Hall (1975) has published one novel, The Raw Shark Texts, which won the Somerset Maugham award.
Joanna Kavenna (1973), whose books include Come to the Edge, won the Orange prize for new writing.
Benjamin Markovits (1973) turned from professional basketball playing to writing, including a trilogy on the life of Lord Byron.
Nadifa Mohamed (1981) was born in Somalia and won the Betty Trask award for her debut, Black Mamba Boy.
Helen Oyeyemi (1984) is the author of three novels including White is for Witching.
Ross Raisin (1979) is the author of God's Own Country, shortlisted for the Guardian first book award, and Waterline.
Sunjeev Sahota (1981) is working on his second novel, The Year of the Runaways.
Taiye Selasi (1979) has just published her debut, Ghana Must Go.
Kamila Shamsie (1973) has written five novels; the most recent, Burnt Shadows, was shortlisted for the Orange prize.
Zadie Smith (1975) is the author of four novels. The latest is NW. She was on the Granta list in 2003.
David Szalay (1974) is the author of three novels: London and the South-east, The Innocent and Spring.
Adam Thirlwell (1974) has written two novels and was on the Granta list in 2003.
Evie Wyld (1980) publishes her second novel, All the Birds, Singing, in June.
The authors on the 2013 Granta list. L-R: Ned Beauman, Sunjeev Sahota, Naomi Alderman, Benjamin Markovits, Adam Thirlwell, Joanna Kavenna, Xiaolu Guo, David Szalay, Sarah Hall, Steven Hall, Adam Foulds, Tahmima Anam, Nadifa Mohamed, Jenni Fagan, Kamila Shamsie, Ross Raisin, Evie Wyld, Helen Oyeyemi and Taiye Selasi.