Watson, Little Prize: Upmarket Fiction – Donald Winchester

This is part of a series launching the Watson, Little Prize. The prize is international, genre-specific, and in this inaugural edition of the prize – in celebration of the agency’s 50th year – it is dedicated to writers over 50 years of age. It aims to encourage those from older generations, from all backgrounds and from all nations and cultures, to apply. The 2021 prize will focus on upmarket fiction, and we look forward to seeing entries in this genre.

Want to know how to submit? Click here.

In each part of this series, a member of Watson, Little staff will offer favourite examples of upmarket fiction. Today, we begin with Donald Winchester.


HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, the brilliant novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, is my first pick. It’s historical, set in Nigeria, and proves that a story set in a particular time and place – one which was not so well known across the world – could become an international bestseller. It features a fully formed, multi-layered plot with accessible characterisation, all key features to my mind of this genre. This is a novel that sits close to the literary end of the upmarket genre, and in a way its shape reminds me of the Victorian novel, but it is also indebted to the work of the likes of Cyprian Ekwensi, a much-published Nigerian writer in this genre (and – incidentally – Watson, Little looks after his literary estate).
I also want to mention Penelope Fitzgerald, who published her first novel aged 60 and went on to write some of the best novels of the late twentieth century. My personal favourites are OFFSHORE – an off-kilter comedy set in Battersea surrounding the residents of houseboats in Battersea – and THE BEGINNING OF SPRING, a sumptuous historical feast set in Russia just before the onset of war and the October Revolution. She utilised contemporary humour and historical settings with great skill, characteristics which are wonderfully prevalent in the best upmarket fiction being written today.