From family life at the margins of society to a mermaid in Georgian London, from an inspiring celebration of food and literature that grew out of anorexia to an epic voyage down the Yukon River – four outstanding writers have been named on the shortlist for The Sunday Times / Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick:
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (Harvill Secker)
The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite by Laura Freeman (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (John Murray)
Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey by Adam Weymouth (Particular)
The judges have chosen two novels and two works of non-fiction – written by three women and one man – to be in the running for the prize, which rewards the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35. All four shortlisted books are debuts. This year, the award-winning novelist Kamila Shamsie and the novelist and non-fiction writer Susan Hill are judging the prize, alongside Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of The Sunday Times.
This year’s shortlist shows the enormous versatility of this generation of writers: In The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, the Women’s Prize for Fiction-shortlisted debut novelist Imogen Hermes Gowar conjures up a Georgian London of illusion and fantasy, while The Reading Cure is a luminous memoir about recovery and how Laura Freeman discovered an appetite for food – and life more broadly – through reading. Fiona Mozley was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and won a Somerset Maugham Award and the Polari First Book Prize for Elmet, her Yorkshire-set debut about a family trying to find their place at the margins of society, while Adam Weymouth went on a four-month canoe odyssey through the untrammelled wilderness of the Yukon River for Kings of the Yukon, his lyrical portrait of the people and landscapes he encountered.
Kamila Shamsie said:
“The shortlisted books take us from the Yukon river to Georgian London via the Yorkshire woods and the pages of literature; for all their variety, they are united in their qualities of ambition, insight, and ability to surprise. Most excitingly, they all come from writers at the start of their careers who allow us to close the pages of their books and think with wonder: ’This is only the beginning’.”
Susan Hill said:
“Submissions to the prize were varied and the standard of both fiction, non-fiction and poetry was high. This shortlist represents unanimous choices: two brilliant but very different novels, and two works of non-fiction which also could not be less alike, but are both wonderfully well written and as absorbing and gripping as any thrillers. Selecting the winner is not going to be easy.”
The four writers on the shortlist are in the running to become the 20th winner of the award, which has consistently picked future greats at the beginning of their careers, from Robert Macfarlane to Zadie Smith, from Sarah Waters to Simon Armitage. Last year, the Irish writer Sally Rooney was awarded for her debut novel Conversations with Friends.
Generously sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop, the Young Writer of the Year Award is running in association with the University of Warwick – home to the acclaimed Warwick Writing Programme. The British Council is the international partner of the prize, opening doors for the shortlisted authors abroad.
Earlier this year, the prize, which is administered by the Society of Authors, extended its digital offer with high-profile authors and literary experts contributing to an engaging, accessible online hub for emerging and aspiring writers. Working with its associate sponsor, the University of Warwick, the prize is using its website, youngwriteraward.com, to build a free-to-all content programme in support of writers at the beginning of their careers. Anne Enright, Ian Rankin and Nick Hornby are among the authors writing articles, alongside ‘Top Tips’ and a monthly ‘How To’ series, written this year by AL Kennedy.
The 2018 winner will be revealed with a ceremony at the London Library on 6 December.
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
Imogen Hermes Gower
One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid. As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society.
At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost. Where will their ambitions lead? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess? In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.
‘A brilliantly plotted story of mermaids, madams and intrigue in 1780s London and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it become The Essex Serpent of 2018’ - The Pool
Imogen Hermes Gowar studied Archaeology, Anthropology and Art History before going on to work in museums. She began to write fiction inspired by the artefacts she worked with, and in 2013 won the Malcolm Bradbury Memorial Scholarship to study for an MA in Creative Writing at UEA. The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock was a finalist in the MsLexia First Novel Competition, shortlisted for the inaugural Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers’ Award and the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018, and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 and HWA Debut Crown 2018.
The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
At the age of fourteen, Laura Freeman was diagnosed with anorexia. She had seized the one aspect of her life that she seemed able to control, and struck different foods from her diet one by one until she was starving. But even at her lowest point, the one appetite she never lost was her love of reading. As Laura battled her anorexia, she gradually re-discovered how to enjoy food - and life more broadly - through literature.
Plum puddings and pottles of fruit in Dickens gave her courage to try new dishes; the wounded Robert Graves’ appreciation of a pair of greengages changed the way she thought about plenty and choice; Virginia Woolf’s painterly descriptions of bread, blackberries and biscuits were infinitely tempting. Book by book, meal by meal, Laura developed an appetite and discovered an entire library of reasons to live. The Reading Cure is a beautiful, inspiring account of hunger and happiness, about addiction, obsession and recovery, and about the way literature and food can restore appetite and renew hope.
‘[A] beautifully written hybrid of memoir and literary criticism … This book is about the anguish of anorexia, written by a bookworm unfurling her wings as a writer of considerable power’ - Cathy Rentzenbrink, The Times
‘A miraculous memoir… Anyone who has encountered anorexia, either first hand or in someone they love, will recognise this harrowing yet heartening portrait. The Reading Cure is a book for the bookish, for those hungry for self-knowledge, or for those who are just hungry’ Daniel Johnson, Standpoint
‘Enchanting and original… an illuminating and highly engaging way to think about all kinds of literature’ Amanda Craig
Laura Freeman writes for the Spectator, The Times, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, TLS, Evening Standard and Apollo. She was shortlisted for Features Writer of the Year at the 2014 British Press Awards. She read history of art at Cambridge, graduating with a double first in 2010. The Reading Cure is her first book.
Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned menacing and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them in the woods with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted.
Cathy was more like their father: fierce and full of simmering anger. Daniel was more like their mother: gentle and kind. Sometimes, their father disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home, he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.
Brutal and beautiful in equal measure, Elmet is a compelling portrayal of a family living on the fringes of contemporary society, as well as a gripping exploration of the disturbing actions people are capable of when pushed to their limits.
‘A quiet explosion of a book, exquisite and unforgettable’ - The Economist
‘A work of troubling beauty . . . Brutal, bleak, ethereal’ - New Statesman
‘An impressive slice of contemporary noir steeped in Yorkshire legend . . . Elmet possesses a rich and unfussy lyricism’ - The Guardian
Fiona Mozley grew up in York and went to King’s College, Cambridge, after which she lived in Buenos Aires and London. She is studying for a PhD in medieval history. Elmet is her first novel and it won a Somerset Maugham Award and the Polari First Book Prize. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 and the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize and longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the International Dylan Thomas Prize.
Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey
A captivating, lyrical account of an epic voyage by canoe down the Yukon River.
The Yukon River is almost 2,000 miles long, flowing through Canada and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Setting out to explore one of the most ruggedly beautiful and remote regions of North America, Adam Weymouth journeyed by canoe on a four-month odyssey through this untrammelled wilderness, encountering the people who have lived there for generations. The Yukon’s inhabitants have long depended on the king salmon who each year migrate the entire river to reach their spawning grounds. Now the salmon numbers have dwindled, and the encroachment of the modern world has changed the way of life on the Yukon, perhaps for ever.
Weymouth’s searing portraits of these people and landscapes offer an elegiac glimpse of a disappearing world. Kings of the Yukon is an extraordinary adventure, told by a powerful new voice.
‘The best kind of travel writing ... An outstanding book’ Rob Penn, author of The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees
‘Enthralling’ Luke Jennings, author of the books behind the BBC series Killing Eve
Adam Weymouth’s work has been published by a wide variety of outlets including the Guardian, the Atlantic and the New Internationalist. His interest in the relationship between humans and the world around them has led him to write on issues of climate change and environmentalism, and most recently, to the Yukon river and the stories of the communities living on its banks. He lives on a 100-year-old Dutch barge on the River Lea in London. This is his first book.