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Sian Hughes

Pearl by Siân Hughes has been named in a longlist of 13 “original and thrilling” books in contention for the 2023 Booker Prize. 

Siân grew up in a small village in south Cheshire where the story of Pearl is set. Returning to live there after her mother’s death, she borrowed from the medieval poem Pearl to write a story set in an old house she cycled past every day as a child. 

A story of grief, coming to terms with the past and healing, it is grounded in eight-year-old Marianne’s memories of her mother’s love after she disappears, and moving on with her own future as a mother.  

Described as “haunting, compelling” and “gripping”, Siân was supported in the development of the novel while studying a PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy) in Creative Writing at the University of Chester, from 2019 to 2022. 

She is among four debut novelists on the Booker Prize longlist and ten authors recognised by the Prize for the first time.  

Siân said: “Being on the Booker list is the ultimate acceptance into the world of novels, a world that has given me a lifetime of pleasure as a reader, and one which I always hoped one day to join as a writer as well. I cannot thank the judges enough for reading my book with such attention and thoughtfulness and bringing it to a wider audience. I hope other people will enjoy it too.” 

Novelist Esi Edugyan, twice-shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is the chair of the 2023 judging panel and is joined by actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Shakespeare specialist James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb.  

The judges said: “Pearl, an exceptional debut novel, is both a mystery story and a meditation on grief, abandonment and consolation, evoking the profundities of the haunting medieval poem, Pearl. The degree of difficulty in writing a book of this sort - at once quiet and hugely ambitious - is very high. It’s a book that will be passed from hand to hand for a long time to come.” 

Praise has previously included: “Haunting, compelling, beautifully written; translates mythic and literary undercurrents into a modern setting” (Bernard O’Donoghue) and “An utterly gripping psychological mystery” (Maureen Freely). 

On her time at the University and its part in her growth as a writer, Siân said: “I had a wonderful three years at Chester studying with Ian Seed, the prose poet, who helped me stay on task and supported my writing with such insight that when the book was accepted for publication the publishers said, 'this doesn't need much work’. All credit to the Creative Writing teaching at Chester.” 

Dr Ian Seed, Visiting Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Chester, and Senior Lecturer during Siân’s studies, shared how he and colleagues across the Department of English were overjoyed for Siân: “Congratulations to Siân on her truly deserved success with Pearl. It was a great honour and privilege to be her main supervisor, and to be able to give feedback on early drafts of the novel. The Department is extremely proud of Siân’s fantastic achievement.” 

Siân’s first collection of poetry The Missing (Salt, 2009) was longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, shortlisted for the Felix Dennis and Aldeburgh prizes, and won the Seamus Heaney Award.  

Looking ahead, she added: “I am now working on another novel inspired by another poem from the same medieval manuscript, called Purity or Cleanness. The original poem has a lot of detail about laundry and clothes in it, so my new narrator is a woman who works in a dry cleaner's shop and who notices every detail of people's clothes because she is well trained in it.” 

To find out more about, and purchase a copy of Pearl, published by Indigo Press, please visit: or

The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English-speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for more than five decades. It is sponsored by Crankstart, a charitable foundation. Currently, the judges are looking for the best work of long-form fiction, selected from entries published in the UK and Ireland between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023. 

The longlist of 13 books - the ‘Booker Dozen’ - was announced earlier this month (August) with the shortlist of six books to follow on September 21. The winner will be announced at an event in London, on November 26, 2023. 

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