Ali Smith's How to be Both Novel Wins 2015 Bailey's Prize

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In a week when research revealed that books about women's stories are less likely to win prizes, the 2015 Baileys Prize, in its 20th year, and the winner, Ali Smith, was a much-needed celebration of good story-telling by inspiring women. Anna James recaps the night.

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Despite the depressing data about how few women win literary awards, the Baileys Prize remains a rare celebration of women writers — and a break from the straight, white, male point of view — a fact reflected in the upbeat mood at last night's party, which had a starry crowd that included Caitlin Moran, Jameela Jamil and Sophie Ellis-Bextor.

In addition to Smith's storytelling, a part of the appeal of her winning book, How to be Both, is its format: the novel is split in two and printed both ways round so readers won’t know which half they’re reading first. One part tells the story of a 16-year-old girl living in Cambridge today and the other of an artist in the 1560s.

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It was my personal pick for book of 2014 on my own blog, not just because it broke boundaries in the way it explored identity, creativity and gender, but because it revealed new possibilities for good storytelling. The book was shortlisted for last year’s Man Booker as well as this year’s Folio and won the Goldsmiths Prize for boldly original fiction. Smith's writing manages to be both playful and intellectual, challenging but never pretentious. Shami Chakrabarti, the chair of the judges and director of civil rights advocacy group Liberty, praised the book for being “a tender, brilliant and witty novel of grief, love, sexuality and shape-shifting identity". In short, it's the kind of book that could change the way you read and makes an even stronger case for the publishing world to do a better job at promoting, and recognising, the women authors out there. 

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