Women & Song…

 …Novelist and Chair of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction board Kate Mosse gives us a behind the scenes look at the judging dinner for the ‘Best of the Best’ of our second decade.

OK, there wasn’t actually any singing… but there were women and there were thousands of words of the non-musical variety.

Picture this – 7.30pm on a Thursday evening in September.  Outside, in Soho, the street lights and theatre foyers spilling out into the road. Inside, a beautiful – if fading – dining room, venue for the judging dinner for the Twentieth Anniversary of the Prize.

In pride of place, the ten novels themselves.  I perched at one end of the table – as the non voting chair of proceedings – with Prize Managing Director, Harriet Hastings, at the other. Between us, seven of the ten chairs of judges of the past ten years of the Prize – Martha Kearney, Joanna Trollope, Kirsty Lang, Bettany Hughes, Fi Glover and Helen Fraser. Natasha Walter stood in for 2013 chair, Miranda Richardson (away filming) and Daisy Goodwin, Shami Chakrabati and Muriel Gray had dialled in their votes earlier.

Picture this – a free-flowing, relaxed, passionate, inspiring discussion between friends old and new, about each of the novels that had won the Prize in its second decade.  Each advocate, of course, supported ‘her’ winner, remembering what it was about the style, the story, the lyricism, the beauty that made it stand out.  But having read and re-read all the other winning novels too, the aim was to select the ‘Best of the Best – the one novel that most represented the values of the Prize.  Originality, excellence, imagination, accessibility.  That stood as testament to the women’s creative endeavour and delight.

Picture this – after three hours of conversation and discussion, a glass of Baileys to raise a toast to one another, to all ten winners and the one novel they’d chosen as first amongst equals.  It was a glorious evening, a chance to celebrate old friendship and exceptional novels.  Women supporting women.

Which book took the crown? Listen to our two weeks’ of dedicated programming on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and come to our exclusive live event on stage in London on Monday 2 November to hear each of the Chairs pitch their winner …..

Better still, read or re-visit all ten, and make up your own mind.