The Wellcome Book Prize 2019 Awards Ceremony

The winner of the 10th anniversary Wellcome Book Prize is Murmur, Will Eaves’s experimental novel about Alan Turing’s state of mind and body after being subjected to chemical castration for homosexuality. It is the third novel to win the Prize. Although it fell in the middle of the pack in our shadow panel voting because of drastically differing opinions, it was a personal favorite for Annabel and myself – though we won’t gloat (much) for predicting it as the winner!

Clare, Laura and I were there for the announcement at the Wellcome Collection in London. It was also lovely to meet Chloe Metzger, another book blogger who was on the blog tour, and to see UK book v/blogging legends Eric Karl Anderson and Simon Savidge again.

The judges’ chair, novelist Elif Shafak, said, “This prize is very special. It opens up new and vital conversations and creates bridges across disciplines.” At a time when we “are pushed into monolithic tribes and artificial categories, these interdisciplinary conversations can take us out of our comfort zones, encouraging cognitive flexibility.” She praised the six shortlisted books for their energy and the wide range of styles and subjects. “Each book, each author, from the beginning, has been treated with the utmost respect,” she reassured the audience, and the judges approached their task with “an open mind and an open heart,” arriving at an “inspiring, thought-provoking, but we believe also accessible, shortlist.”

The judges brought each of the five authors present (all but Thomas Page McBee) onto the stage one at a time for recognition. Shafak admired how Sandeep Jauhar weaves together his professional expertise with stories in Heart, and called Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner a “strangely life-affirming and uplifting book about a remarkable woman. … It’s about transitions.”

Doctor and writer Kevin Fong championed Amateur, his answer to the question “which of these books, if I gave it to someone, would make them better.” McBee’s Canongate editor received the recognition/flowers on the author’s behalf.

Writer and broadcaster Rick Edwards chose Arnold Thomas Fanning’s Mind on Fire for its “pressability factor” – the book about which he kept saying to friends and family, “you must read this.” It’s an “uncomfortably honest” memoir, he remarked, “a vivid and unflinching window, and for me it was revelatory.”

Writer, critic and academic Jon Day spoke up for Murmur, “a novel of great power and astonishing achievement,” about “what it means to know another person.”

Lastly, writer, comedian and presenter Viv Groskop spoke about Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation, which she described as “Jane Eyre meets Prozac Nation.” The judges “had a lot of fun” with this novel, she noted; it’s “caustic, feminist … original, playful, [and] strangely profound.”

But only one book could win the £30,000 10th anniversary prize, and it was one that Shafak predicted will be “a future classic,” Murmur. Will Eaves thanked Charles Boyle of CB Editions for taking a chance on his work. He also acknowledged Alan Turing, who, like him, attended King’s College, Cambridge. As he read Turing’s papers, Eaves reported, he was gripped by the quality of the writing – “there’s a voice there.” Finally, in a clearly emotional moment, he thanked his mother, who died several years ago and grew up in relative poverty. She was a passionate believer in education, and Eaves encouraged the audience to bear in mind the value of a state education when going to the polls.

Photo by Eric Karl Anderson.

After the announcement we found Sarah Krasnostein, our shadow panel winner, and got a photo and a signature. She gave us the scoop on her work-in-progress, which examines six case studies, three from Australia and three from the USA, of people with extreme religious or superstitious beliefs, such as a widow who believes her husband was abducted by aliens. She’s exploring the “cognitive dissonance” that goes on in these situations, she said. Can’t wait for the new book!

Laura, Sarah Krasnostein, me, Clare.

I also congratulated Will Eaves, whose book I’d covered for the blog tour, and got a signature. Other ‘celebrities’ spotted: Suzanne O’Sullivan, Ruth Padel and Robin Robertson. (Also a couple of familiar faces from Twitter that I couldn’t place, one of whom I later identified as Katya Taylor.)

I again acquired a Wellcome goody bag: this year’s limited-edition David Shrigley tote (I now have two so will pass one on to Annabel, who couldn’t be there) with an extra copy of The Trauma Cleaner to give to my sister.

Another great year of Wellcome festivities! Thanks to Midas PR, the Wellcome Book Prize and my shadow panel. Looking forward to next year already – I have a growing list of 2020 hopefuls I’ve read or intend to read.

See also: Laura’s post on the ceremony and the 5×15 event that took place the night before.

21 responses

  1. This sounds like a lovely evening. I’m intrigued by that work-in-progress.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Us too! She said the book may be a hard sell — but then again, The Trauma Cleaner had an unusual premise and has been very successful. Sarah was lovely.


      1. It did and my squeamishness put me off but this one sounds fascinating and I’m sure will do well. The research must have been eye-opening!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m really excited about Krasnostein’s new book!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Me too! (Did I get her synopsis right?)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ahh, Sarah Krasnostein’s new book sounds great! A very interesting winner choice, too–am I wrong or did no one really expect that?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Annabel and I predicted it; I thought with a novelist chairing the judges’ panel this year, a novel like this would win for its literary style. I wouldn’t have been surprised by either Amateur or The Trauma Cleaner winning, though. Any of the other three would have been a big upset.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aha. Well predicted, then! Murmur sounds gnarly but also worth a try.


      2. Exactly my thoughts too Rebecca. I do want to re-read Murmur now, as I know there are depths to it that I missed on my first reading.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I don’t think you’re one to shy away from experimental fiction (I usually am, but loved it anyway!), so I imagine you’d appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great write-up of a great evening!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad you had fun, and congrats on your fave winning! I still haven’t read any of these other than the Moshfegh, but Murmur sounds fab, I really need to get a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds a great evening. I wish I could have been there, but Wednesdays are the worst work day for me for getting into London afterwards. Love the picture with Sarah Krasnostein.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder when I’ll next see you to give you the tote bag…


  7. Great post, Rebecca! Murmur and Amateur both sound good to me. (I like what Kevin Fong said about Amateur.)

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Really annoyed that I couldn’t make it. Glad you had another good evening

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bledwina Blighty Pudfish | Reply

    Thank you for this fascinating account of The Wellcome Prize evening, definitely a prize I will follow in future. Still eagerly awaiting Trauma Cleaner via library reservation.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. buriedinprint | Reply

    What fun: and a tote too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yup, they give one out every year as a leaving present. I already had one of this design so will pass the extra on to one of my shadow panel.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. […] in the absence of the Wellcome Book Prize, which has been on hiatus since the announcement of the 2019 winner, I’m delighted that there is a new prize with a health slant, particularly one that will lead to […]


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