Sally Rooney has been awarded The 2017 Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick for her fearless, sensual novel Conversations With Friends (Faber & Faber), at a special ceremony in The London Library on the evening of Thursday, 7th December.
Acclaimed as a remarkably fresh, clever and self-assured novel, Conversations With Friends has been one of the biggest debuts of 2017, and Rooney’s writing has been compared with that of JD Salinger and Bret Easton Ellis. 26-year-old Rooney, born in the west of Ireland and now living in Dublin, is the first Irish winner of this prestigious award, founded in 1991, and joint youngest winner with Zadie Smith (White Teeth, 2001).
The intimate story of high-risk relationships, youth and love was shortlisted for the award alongside four other writers, rather than the usual three, as a testament to the strength of submissions this year. Featuring two other novels, a collection of linked short stories and a biography, the shortlist showcased the extraordinary breadth of young British and Irish writing: Minoo Dinshaw’s debut Outlandish Knight is the biography of the great and strange British historian Steven Runciman; with The End of the Day, Claire North has written a novel of life, death and everything in between; The Lucky Ones, Julianne Pachico’s debut collection of stories, mostly set in Columbia, brings together the fates of guerrilla soldiers, rich kids, rabbits and drug dealers; and The Lauras by Sara Taylor, whose first novel was shortlisted for the award in 2015, explores identity and relationships, set against a rolling backdrop of the North American landscape.
This year’s prize was judged by the award-winning novelist and political commentator Elif Shafak and the acclaimed cultural historian and biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett alongside The Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate, who said:
‘Choosing this year's winner from five such outstanding writers was immensely difficult, but for line by line quality, emotional complexity, sly sophistication and sheer brio and enjoyment, Sally Rooney's Conversations With Friends really stood out. To have produced a novel which nods all the way back to Jane Austen's Emma, while being so thoroughly modern in feel, is quite something, and Rooney proves herself with this debut to be a really worthy addition to the extraordinary list of past winners of the Young Writer Award.’
Elif Shafak said: ‘From the very beginning till the end, it has been a fascinating journey to judge this prize and spot upcoming literary stars across disciplines and genres. We are very proud of our shortlist – diverse, powerful and utterly exciting. And even though it has not been easy at all to let go of such a shortlist, Sally Rooney’s extraordinary debut, Conversations With Friends, quickly won our hearts and our votes. I salute Rooney’s intelligent prose, lucid style, and fierce intensity – all of which will stay with the readers even long after they have finished reading this wonderful book.’
Lucy Hughes-Hallett said: ‘It was never going to be easy to choose our winner from such a strong shortlist. Young they may be, but all of these writers are mature talents with distinctive voices and bold imaginations. This book stood out for its glittering intelligence, its formal elegance and its capacity to grip the reader. At first reading II was looking forward to bus journeys so that I could read some more. Second time round I was still delighted by the sophistication of its erotic quadrille.'
Generously sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop, the prize is awarded annually to the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between18 and 35, either published or self-published, and has gained attention and acclaim across the publishing industry and press for its uncanny ability to pick future greats. £5,000 is given to the overall winner and £500 to each of the four runners-up.
This was also the first year that the award has run in association with the University of Warwick, who are offering the winner a bespoke 10-week residency, and providing a year-round programme of on-campus and digital support for awar alumni an the shortlisted authors. On 29th November, they also held a free one-day festival of events and workshops entitled freeflow, bringing together inspirational thinkers, authors, journalists and performers.
In addition, the British Council was this year announced a the international partne of the award. The British Council – which works with over 100 countries across the world in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society – will be supporting the shortlisted writers in exploring international opportunities. Through the partnership, the organisation will pursue travel opportunities for the shortlisted writers, and provide access to the British Council network and exposure to international audiences through its online platforms.
For the second year running, the award was chronicled by an official shadow judging panel made up of some of the country’s leading book bloggers: Dane Cobain (socialbookshelves.com), Rebecca Foster (bookishbeck.wordpress.com), Eleanor Franzen (ellethinks.wordpress.com), Annabel Gaskell (shinynewbooks.co.uk / gaskella.wordpress.com), and Clare Rowland (alittleblogofbooks.com). On 29th November, the group gave their Shadow Award to Julianne Pachico for her shortlisted collection of short stories The Lucky Ones.
Since it began in1991, the award has had a striking impact, boasting a stellar list of alumni that have gone on to become leading lights of contemporary literature. After a seven year break, it returned in 2015, awarding debut poet Sarah Howe the top prize for her phenomenal first collection, Loop of Jade, which then went on to win the T.S. Eliot Prize. Last year, Max Porter won for his experimental novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which also took the Dylan Thomas Prize.
Other past winners are: Ross Raisin, God’s Own Country (2009); Adam Foulds, The Truth About These Strange Times (2008); Naomi Alderman, Disobedience (2007), Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination (2004); William Fiennes, The Snow Geese (2003); Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2001); Sarah Waters, Affinity (2000); Paul Farley, The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (1999); Patrick French, Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division (1998); Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (1997); Katherine Pierpoint, Truffle Beds (1996); Andrew Cowan, Pig (1995); William Dalrymple, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1994); Simon Armitage, Kid (1993); Caryl Phillips, Cambridge (1992); and Helen Simpson, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories (1991).
Keep up to date with the award and join the conversation, via: youngwriteraward.com | twitter.com/youngwriteryear