Sarah Brooks has won the £1,500 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize with her YA novel The Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands.
The prize celebrates unpublished female writers, aged 21 and over, with all shortlisted entrants granted a half-hour one-to-one consultation, with competition sponsors Peters Fraser & Dunlop, who will give editorial feedback and discuss the marketability of the work submitted. This year's prize saw a record 600 entries whittled down to a seven-strong shortlist.
Brooks was praised for her "remarkable and magical book" and was branded a "literary star in the making" for her middle grade/ YA novel, set near the end of an alternative 19th Century, in which Europe and Asia are divided by the Greater Siberian Wastelands.
"The novel follows the Trans-Siberia Company's youngest employee, 13-year-old Zhang Weiwei. A Rail Rat, she is tasked with the most menial jobs, but this gives her the opportunity to move freely around the train, unrestricted by the class divides which govern it," said Brooks. "It is a story about journeys and friendship and facing your fears, as well as exploring what monstrosity means and how it can raise questions about the human relationship with the natural world. The novel is inspired by my own travels and my PhD on monsters in classical Chinese anomaly tales."
Judging panel chair Allison Pearson said: "2019 has been another phenomenal year for the Lucy Cavendish Prize with a record number of entries from every genre. It is now the premier prize in the UK for unpublished women’s fiction. Agents and publishers pounce on the long list, which is a huge testament to the quality of the talent that the Lucy uncovers. We had seven fabulous authors on this year’s shortlist. Nearly all of them have already secured representation as a result of the fruitful partnership between Lucy Cavendish College and PFD.
"This year’s winner, The Cautious Traveller’s Guide to the Wastelands, is a remarkable and magical book which blew away the judges with its maturity and originality. We feel confident that Sarah Brooks is another literary star in the making."
The award is the latest in a series of prizes for Brooks who won the 2017 Bare Fiction Short Story Prize and the Walter Swan Short Story Prize 2017-18. A member of the Leeds Writers' Circle she is the co-editor of Samovar, a bilingual online magazine of translated speculative fiction, and works in East Asian Studies at the University of Leeds.
Jackie Ashley, political journalist, broadcaster and honorary fellow of Lucy Cavendish College, Viking editorial director Katy Loftus, PFD literary agent Nelle Andrew, editor and ghost-writer Gillian Stern, Emeritus fellow Lindsey Traub and poet, crime writer and honorary fellow, Sophie Hannah joined Pearson on the judging panel.
The prize was founded seven years ago by former Lucy Cavendish president, Janet Todd, to champion unpublished women writers and is the only official literary prize of the University of Cambridge. Various winners and shortlisted entrants have gone on to find publishing success, including Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine (HarperCollins) author Gail Honeyman.