Novels by Rebecca Watson, AK Blakemore and Eley Williams have been shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.
Named after the literary agent and publisher Desmond Elliott, the annual award goes to a first novel written in English and published in the UK.
Watson’s Little Scratch, The Manningtree Witches by Blakemore and Williams’ novel The Liar’s Dictionary are the three books in the running for the £10,000 prize.
“All three titles on the shortlist explore themes of self-discovery and language, as well as the nuances of British history and culture, through the lens of female experience,” a statement from the organisers of the prize said.
Lisa McInerney, who won the prize in 2016, is chair of this year’s judging panel, which also features journalist Chitra Ramaswamy and blogger Simon Savidge.
McInerney said: “Chitra, Simon and I are delighted to announce a shortlist we feel is characterised by invention, playfulness and above all, joy.
“Each of these books stood out not only because of their writers’ distinctive voices, but because they feel vital in the way great literature should: defiant in theme and tone, curious, and utterly lovable.”
The Manningtree Witches is a first-person story that explores witch trials in 17th century England.
McInerney described it as “startlingly empathetic, stirring and certain from the first page”.
The Liar’s Dictionary tells the story of two lexicographers who wrote fictitious entries to an encyclopaedia in 1899.
A young intern is then tasked with uncovering these untruths when digitising the book for modern readers.
Little Scratch tells the story of a day in the life of an unnamed woman who is processing her recent experience of sexual violence.
The winner of the award will be revealed on July 1.
Last year’s prize was won by Derek Owusu’s That Reminds Me, which was published by Stormzy’s imprint #MerkyBooks.