It may have one of the longest prize names around, but it’s always exciting to follow The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with Warwick University to see what exciting new writing talent is highlighted and celebrated. Past winners include great authors such as Zadie Smith, Sarah Waters, Naomi Alderman, Adam Foulds, Sarah Howe, Sally Rooney and Max Porter (who won the main prize in 2016 when I was on the official shadow panel.) It’s quite unique how eligibility is open to authors whose first book is fiction, non-fiction or poetry so there’s always a diversity of disciplines included in the shortlist.
This year’s prize is particularly exciting since one of the judges is Kamila Shamsie (who has had a very busy year around book awards winning the Women’s Prize and also judging The Golden Man Booker Prize). The 2018 shortlist includes two novels and two books of non-fiction. Unsurprisingly (since I mostly read fiction) I’ve read the novels but not the other two. I was entranced by the rich, imaginative journey of Imogen Hermes Gowar’s “The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock” and captivated by the intimate familial and social struggles at the heart of Fiona Mozley’s “Elmet”. Both authors are very different in their choice of style and subject matter but equally talented and I hope they’ll have long careers as novelists. Having listened to the authors speak at a special event for the prize, I’m very intrigued to read Laura Freeman’s memoir about overcoming an eating disorder and Adam Weymouth’s book about an Alaskan river journey.
The Shadow Panel this year has written really engaging reactions to all the books and it’s exciting to see their winner is Imogen Hermes Gowar. However, The Shadow Panel decision doesn’t always sync with the actual judges’ decision. When I participated in this we chose Jessie Greengrass’ story collection as our winner. Although I’d be delighted to see Gowar or Mozley win the prize, I wonder if one of the non-fiction books might take the prize this year since it’s been some time since a non-fiction book has won. The winner will be announced this evening, but whatever author the judges select as the winner I’m glad that this award continues to encourage some of our best modern writers.