Nights in the Asylum has been short listed for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Regional winners of the best first book award will be announced on 13th March, but it is such a thrill to be among the six finalists, no matter what happens in the end.

In a world awash with new books, first novels have a pitiably short shelf life. It is, perhaps, the most dispiriting aspect of the writing life -- that sudden absence of your book from the shelves, a book that has taken years to write, a book for which many sacrifices involving time, money and relationships have been made. It is bound to make you wonder if it was worth the effort.

Literary prizes, it seems to me, are never about the prize money, although few writers would actually turn it down. They are invaluable for drawing attention to the listed books, for keeping them in bookshops, in prominent displays, so that readers have a chance to find them. If the prize is a prestigious one, even reaching the shortlist can change a writer's life. Winning is, of course, the icing on the cake. Books are sold, careers established.

It is a thrill to know that Nights in the Asylum has been chosen as a contender and, no matter which book wins, I am grateful to Picador and Vintage, both wonderful publishers, for showing such faith in it from the start.