Belfast-born author becomes first Northern Irish writer to win the Man Booker Prize

Anna Burns with the cover of her novel Milkman. Picture: Man Booker Prize/PA Wire
Anna Burns with the cover of her novel Milkman. Picture: Man Booker Prize/PA Wire
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A Belfast-born author has won Britain’s most prestigious literary award with a novel about a teenage girl being stalked by a middle-aged paramilitary.

Anna Burns has become the first author from Northern Ireland and the 17th female writer to win the Man Booker Prize.

The 56-year-old, who drew on her own experiences of the “Troubles” to write Milkman, was one of four female contenders for the award.

The six-strong shortlist included the youngest ever author, 27-year-old Daisy Johnson, and the Scottish poet, Robin Robertson, the first writer to have a “novel in verse” in contention.

Set in an unnamed city, Milkman is said to explore the dense atmosphere of suspicion, self-censorship, sexual policing, danger and betrayal of life in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.”

Kwame Anthony Appia, chair of the judging panel, which included the scottish crime writer Val McDermid, said: “None of us has ever read anything like this before.

“Anna Burns’ utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking and form in surprising and immersive prose.

“It is a story of brutality, sexual encroachment and resistance threaded with mordant humour. Set in a society divided against itself, Milkman explores the insidious forms oppression can take in everyday life.’

Discussing the book previously, Burns said: “I grew up in a place that was rife with violence, distrust and paranoia, and peopled by individuals trying to navigate and survive in that world as best as they could.”

Asked why she decided not to name either the city in the book or the main protagonist of Milkman, Burns said: “The book didn’t work with names. It lost power and atmosphere and turned into a lesser - or perhaps just a different - book.

“In the early days I tried out names a few times, but the book wouldn’t stand for it.

“The narrative would become heavy and lifeless and refuse to move on until I took them out again.

“Sometimes the book threw them out itself.”