Newcastle-based teacher Sammy Wright has won the Northern Book Prize for his début novel Fit. Wright receives a £5,000 advance, a contract for worldwide publication, distribution and representation from And Other Stories, and creative editorial support and career mentorship.
Wright is vice-principal of a secondary school in Sunderland and a member of the Social Mobility Commission; his short stories have been published in various anthologies. He said he was “beyond delighted” that his novel had been recognised by the judges, who declared it the unanimous winner of the biennial prize after receiving nearly 150 entries. Fit is set in a Britain where children starve and the gulf between rich and poor is vast. It follows the fallout from the fairytale success of Rose, plucked from her foster home to experience a new life in London as a model.
Wright revealed that the book started life as a short story inspired by his 20 years in teaching and a desire to “capture the intensity and nuance of young people’s lives [and] show the psychological costs of the divisions in our society”. He explained: “Originally it was called ‘Hunger’ and it all came from my shock that you could have kids so hungry they would steal from bins. I’d always been interested in fairytales, and how hunger was the state many of them are predicated on. The other key element of it—the contrast between London and the North— was from my own experience of moving to Newcastle in 2014, and the contrast I noticed in terms of the life choices of young people.”
The 2020 Northern Book Prize was judged by the prize’s inaugural winner Amy Arnold, alongside fellow writers Sunjeev Sahota and Daniel Trilling, as well as And Other Stories senior editor Tara Tobler. The panel commented: “Tender, tough, plainspoken and powerful, Sammy Wright’s Fit is a nimble début from a strong and wise new voice in British fiction. We were impressed by the vivid physicality of its setting and characters, by its simple yet arresting dialogue, by its dry and under- stated wit, and perhaps most by the sheer memorability of the thing: its portrait of teenage life and foster care in a marginalised Northern town remained with all of us long after we’d read it.”
The Northern Book Prize was founded by And Other Stories in October 2017 to mark the indie’s move to Sheffield and to celebrate literary talent in the North of England. The first recipient of the prize was Cumbrian resident Arnold’s Slip of a Fish, which went on to be published by And Other Stories and to be shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. Entry to the 2020 award was made free to increase accessibility and the submission criteria expanded to include to narrative and literary non-fiction. This year also saw the prize strike its first media partnership, with Big Issue North. And Other Stories is currently seeking long-term sponsorship for the prize in order to grow its profile and increase its impact.
Fit will be published on 21st October 2021 in the UK and the US by And Other Stories.