Young Writer of the Year Award Ceremony

It was great to be back at the London Library for last night’s Young Writer of the Year Award prize-giving ceremony. I got to meet Anne Cater (Random Things through my Letterbox) from the shadow panel, who’s coordinated a few blog tours I’ve participated in, as well as Ova Ceren (Excuse My Reading). It was also good to see shadow panelist Linda (Linda’s Book Bag) again and hang out with Clare (A Little Blog of Books), also on the shadow panel in my year, and Eric (Lonesome Reader), who seems to get around to every London literary event.

In case you haven’t heard, the shadow panel chose Salt Slow by Julia Armfield as their very deserving winner, but the official winner was Raymond Antrobus for his poetry collection The Perseverance. In all honesty, I’d given no thought to the possibility of it winning, mostly because Antrobus has already won several major prizes for the book, including this year’s £30,000 Rathbones Folio Prize (I reviewed it for the Prize’s blog tour). Now, there’s no rule saying you can’t win multiple prizes for the same book, but what struck me strangely about this case is that Kate Clanchy was a judge for both the Folio Prize and the Young Writer Award.

Antrobus seemed genuinely taken aback by his win and gave a very gracious speech in which he said that he looked forward to all the shortlistees contributing to the canon of English literature. He was quickly whisked away for a photo shoot, so I didn’t get a chance to congratulate him or have my book signed, but I did get to meet Julia Armfield and Yara Rodrigues Fowler and get their autographs.

Some interesting statistics for you: in three of the past four years the shadow panel has chosen a short story collection as its winner (and they say no one likes short stories these days!). In none of those four years did the shadow panel correctly predict the official winner – so, gosh, is it the kiss of death to be the shadow panel winner?!

In the official press release, chair of judges and Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate writes that The Perseverance is “both very personal and immensely resonant. The result is a memoir in verse very, very affecting and fresh.” Poet Kate Clanchy adds, “we wanted to find a writer who both speaks for now and who we were confident would continue to produce valuable, central work. … it was the humanity of the book, its tempered kindness, and the commitment not just to recognising difference but to the difficult act of forgiveness that made us confident we had found a winner for this extraordinary year.”

Also present at the ceremony were Sarah Moss (who teaches at the University of Warwick, the Award’s new co-sponsor) and Katya Taylor. I could have sworn I spotted Deborah Levy, too, but after conferring with other book bloggers we decided it was just someone who looked a lot like her.

In any event, it was lovely to see London all lit up with Christmas lights and to spend a couple of hours celebrating up-and-coming writing talent. (And I just managed to catch the last train home and avoid a rail replacement bus nightmare.)

Looking forward to next year already!

22 thoughts on “Young Writer of the Year Award Ceremony

    1. Ha ha! I did ask him how many literary events he goes to per week, as from his Twitter account it seems like it must be three or more nights each week. He said it’s not so much as that, and it all seems to clump together this time of year. (Plus his partner is in the film industry and is also out on lots of evenings, so they don’t miss spending time together.)

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  1. That is a bit weird about the Antrobus (and he seems like a brilliant person and a very good poet, so I don’t begrudge him, but I do think prize judges should keep the utility aspect of prizes in mind – Antrobus has already had a lot of coverage).

    Did you get to meet Sarah Moss? If so, I’m very jealous – I was asked recently who I’d invite to my ideal literary dinner party and I basically wanted fiction writers with an academic background in the humanities, so listed Sarah Moss, Sarah Waters and Fiona Mozley!

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    1. I told Yara I thought she should have won! She’s been nominated for a few prizes now but not won any.

      No, I didn’t say hello to Sarah Moss, though Ova did and got photos. I’ve seen her at a few ceremonies now (e.g. when she was shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize for The Tidal Zone) and she always seems slightly ill at ease — I guess it’s just part of being an introvert at such events. So I don’t want to add to her awkwardness by fangirling 😉 I think Eleanor has met her at an event, though. Btw, I hear Moss has a new book out next year.

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      1. Yes, I’ve seen her speak a couple of times and she seems like the sort of person who would not be thrilled by me going on about how much I like her books and her academic work, so it’s probably best I wasn’t there 🙂

        Really looking forward to reading both Salt Slow and Stubborn Archivist.

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      2. Last year I spotted Moss as we were both leaving the ceremony at the same time, and I proper door-stepped her: went up and said “Excuse me, are you Sarah Moss?” She looked genuinely flabbergasted to have been recognized. I told her how brilliant I thought her books were and she was utterly lovely about it. It was very nice.

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  2. Sounds like a very interesting evening, do wish I could have been there. I do like Antrobus’ work very much (feel a bit proprietorial about it, because I read him before this first collection was published and predicted a great future for him), so I was joyful he won. But I do agree with you that it’s nice to spread the prizes around a bit and raise the profile of some other authors as well.

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    1. He writes about disability (he was born deaf), being biracial (Jamaican / British), and his complicated feelings towards his father, who was an alcoholic and had dementia. So, there are a lot of chewy issues but it’s also very elegant poetry. ________________________________

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  3. Very sad to have missed it, though surprised that a poet (and a relatively high-profile one) won this time. I wish I’d been able to meet Yara R.F.—she’s a client! (We’re allowed to say that, btw. I’m just not allowed to tell you which books I sell to which people.)

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    1. It had been four years since a poetry book won, so perhaps there was a sense that it was time. But I do find these particular circumstances odd.

      Oh, how neat! She was lovely in person, and so chic in her new short haircut and flowery pantsuit. She remembered my blog review from February and told me how much she appreciated it.

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