Posted on 6th August 2015

Posted by Sophie

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Backlist: Grace McCleen


The Land of Decoration

Winner of the Desmond Elliot Prize

Winner of the Betty Trask Award.


Blissfully inventive, brilliantly written, with a huge heart, and a tense, pulsing plot: The Land of Decoration introduces a young heroine who will change the way you see the world.

My name is Judith McPherson. I am ten years old. On Monday a miracle happened.

Judith doesn’t have much. The house she shares with her devoutly religious father is full of dusty relics, reminders of the mother Judith never knew. Bullied at school, she finds comfort in creating a miniature world in her bedroom – a world of wonder she calls The Land of Decoration. Perhaps, she thinks, if she makes it snow in The Land of Decoration there will be no school on Monday.

Sure enough, when Judith opens her curtains the next day, the world beyond her window has turned white.

And that’s when her troubles begin.



“This is an intensely personal story, but told with a lightness of touch and air of magic. But most of all, the novel is – clearly and excitingly – the work of a major new writer, which promises much more to come.” (Nigella Lawson Mail on Sunday)

“Book of the year – both sinister and sharply intriguing, with a completely convincing 11-year-old narrator caught in fundamentalism, school persecution and the edge of the miraculous.” (A S Byatt The Guardian)

“Grace McCleen’s writing is deep, fantastical and powerful … She has been able to observe a fascinating world with generosity, wonder and spirit. A wonderful gem of a debut” (Viv Groskop Independent on Sunday)

“This extraordinary tale of one little girl’s End Times grabbed me by the throat. The Land of Decoration is part social observation and part crazy mysticism, held together by a brutally real story of parent-child love” (Emma Donoghue, author of ‘Room’)

“Loveable, unique and thrillingly uncatergorisable… This is an extraordinary and peculiarly haunting novel” (Chris Cleave Financial Times)

‘A tremendously affecting novel, skillfully and arrestingly written, and one that packs a big emotional punch’ Sunday Times

‘Bursting with tension and tenderness, this novel is a small miracle in itself’ Daily Mail




The Professor of Poetry

Shortlisted for the Encore Award.

Elizabeth Stone, a respected academic, has a new lease on life. In remission from cancer, she returns to the city where she was a student over thirty years ago to investigate some little-known papers by T. S. Eliot, which she believes contain the seeds of her masterpiece; a masterpiece that centres on a poem given to her when she was eighteen by the elusive Professor Hunt…

But as the days pass in the city she loves and her friendship with Professor Hunt is rekindled, her memories return her to a time shadowed by loneliness, longing and quiet despair, and to an undeclared but overwhelming love. Paralysed by the fear of writing something worthless, haunted by a sense of waste, Elizabeth Stone comes to realise she is facing the biggest test of her life.

As in her acclaimed debut The Land of Decoration, Grace McCleen gives an intense evocation of place, an unflinching portrayal of a character by turns comic, absurd, and disturbing, and a powerful sense of the transcendent within the ordinary. Profound and hypnotic, The Professor of Poetry devastates even as it exhilarates and echoes long after it has been closed.



An astonishing and luminous novel . . . every line is newly felt and freshly experienced. The reader is kept guessing: is this an emotional farce and an intellectual tragedy, or is it the opposite? The novel’s ironies are multiple and stinging . . . Grace McCleen is an author who, with only her second novel, is setting her own clever agenda. She is a finished artist, but performs on the page with all the aerial grace of someone who senses no limits to what she can do. (Hilary Mantel)

Moving and beautiful . . . this is a remarkable piece of work, empathetic, intelligent and genuinely poetic (Spectator)

Enchanting . . . An utterly fascinating piece for poetry-lovers, and also an extremely poignant read. (Book of the Month, Image)

A grand tragedy with an intimate focus . . . for those who readers sympathetic to Anne’s regrets in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, or who find richness in the academic wrangling of AS Byatt’s literary sleuths and lovers in Possession, there is much here to adore. McCleen’s manipulation of suspense is extraordinary – hope for Elizabeth’s enlightenment lurks in the shadows of her insecurities and emotional blind spots, and exploration of these dark places renders the novel sinewy with tension . . . her Prufrock-like world is painted with bewitching vitality . . . the narrative sweeps with a sumptuous musicality. (Financial Times)

Her new novel catapults her into the literary big league . . . McCleen invests this ostensibly dry subject matter with enormous poignancy and eroticism (Mail on Sunday)

An intricate tapestry in which past and present mingle to mesmerising effect . . . what eloquence! There are sentences here of such agile cleverness, charged with wit and beauty and enchantment. (Observer)

It’s McCleen’s unflinching dedication to detail that will enchant readers. This novel has obviously been pored over, cherished and perfected . . . [her] graceful weaving through the present and past of her main character produces an intriguing – and original – story. (Stylist)

McCleen doesn’t make Elizabeth easy to like and this is part of the professor’s charm. She doesn’t “do” summer, most definitely does not do love poetry, and would like to teach Virginia Woolf a thing or two about semicolons . . . an intricate tapestry in which past and present mingle to mesmerising effect . . . what eloquence! There are sentences here of such agile cleverness, charged with wit and beauty and enchantment. (Guardian)



Grace McCleen’s first novel, The Land of Decoration, was published in 2012 and was awarded the Desmond Elliott Prize for the best first novel of the year. It was also chosen for Richard & Judy’s Book Club and won her the Betty Trask Prize in 2013. Her second novel, The Professor of Poetry, was published by Sceptre in 2013 and was shortlisted for the Encore Award. She read English at the University of Oxford and has an MA from York, and currently lives in London.


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