Shortlist for Young Writer of the Year Award

You may have seen the announcement yesterday about the Shortlist for the Young Writer of the Year Award. Just in case you have missed it (and admittedly, there has been a lot of newsy stuff to push it off the front page), here it is in its full beauty:

I have to admit that I am quite excited about this shortlist. You’ll probably think that I have to say that if I am part of the Shadow Panel, but the truth is I haven’t read any of them, so am curious and very much looking forward to becoming better acquainted with them.

First of all, I always like to see some poetry on a shortlist, and this time we have two volumes of poetry, both of them debut collections. Tongues of Fire by Sean Hewitt has been described as elegiac, moving, perceptive and lifting the spirits with simple language and complex thought. Meanwhile, Surge by Jay Bernard is an exploration in poetry of the New Cross Fire of 1981, linking that tragic event with Grenfell and more generally with the experience of being black in the UK nowadays.

Catherine Cho’s book Inferno is non-fiction, a memoir of the author’s time in a psychiatric ward in America, following a severe case of post-partum psychosis. Motherhood is a topic that endlessly fascinates me, and this book seems to express our deepest, darkest fears about becoming possibly a bad mother and harming our child.

Naoise Dolan is a young Irish writer, so obviously she has been compared with Sally Rooney. This is a novel about a young Irish expat stuck in a dead-end job in Hong Kong, and it has been described as a milennial love story hovering between deadpan and sincerity. I am a sucker for expat stories and cross-cultural observations, so this should do the trick for me.

Finally, Marina Kemp’s Nightingale is also a story about displacement, and sounds rather more conventional, according to the blurb at least. A young nurse is running away from her past and ends up in a remote Languedoc village, looking after a bedridden old bully of a man.

Poetry, motherhood, expat community and France – what more could I wish for? The list is tailor-made for me! I also find it interesting that all of these are debuts. I wonder if this has always been the case with this prize, or if it just happened to be a particularly strong year for debuts in 2020. While I like to think that debut writers are encouraged, I sometimes wonder if it’s been even harder for young writers on their second book to see it disappear without trace in a year of delayed publication dates, closed libraries and bookshops, and no in-person literary festivals.

So, which of these are you most excited about reading and why? Can I tempt you to read along at least one or two of these?

10 thoughts on “Shortlist for Young Writer of the Year Award”

    1. You prefer the novels, don’t you? Yes, I like that about the prize, that it’s not just about novels, it’s about any genre. Although it does make it very difficult to compare the different books!

  1. Naoise Dolan’s book would most attract me because of my own childhood growing up in Hong Kong before the Cultural Revolution caused upheaval in that part of the world. I have, unfortunately, a couple of memoirs set in the island which I’ve yet to tackle but maybe a bit of fiction will help ease me back in! 🙂

    1. That must have been a fascinating childhood – and of course a lost world now, I suppose! I’ve started the book and already have come across some interesting observations about how the children are taught English.

  2. There were also five on the shortlist in my year, but one was a doorstopper biography! You’re lucky to have the two short poetry books 🙂 Exciting Times is great — Dolan’s themes and outlook are very similar to Sally Rooney’s, but her voice is so funny that I almost preferred this to Conversations with Friends. By chance, I’m halfway through Cho’s memoir and have been enjoying it very much. I’m interested in mental health anyway, but I especially like the way she tells her story. I DNFed Surge last year but would happily try again as my library has a copy. So that leaves two more to discover; I hope the Award admins might be able to get me review copies. Enjoy your reading!

    1. So you’ve done more reading than me! Yes, I have to admit that I am not a huge Sally Rooney fan, but I’ve started the Dolan and am finding her very funny and wry.

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