Writer, broadcaster and antiques expert Jeremy Cooper has won the inaugural Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize, worth £3,000, for his novel Ash Before Oak.
The new annual competition goes to a writer resident in the UK or Ireland, and also offers publication on Fitzcarraldo Editions’ fiction list. Cooper was awarded the prize for his fifth novel, which takes the form of a nature diary and obliquely charts the narrator’s slow return to health.
It is written in the form of a journal written by a solitary man living alone on a secluded Somerset estate over a period of four years. Described by Fitzcarraldo as a nature diary, chronicling the narrator's interest in the local flora and fauna, and the passing of the seasons, Ash before Oak is also the story of a breakdown told slantwise and subsequent recovery, following the narrator's slow return to health and reengagement with the world around him, culminating in a two-month trip to New Zealand. The title derives from an old country rhyme forecasting rain.
Cooper is a writer, journalist, and broadcaster who has written and published widely on art and antiques. He has appeared regularly on BBC’s "Antiques Roadshow" and was co-presenter of Radio 4’s "The Week’s Antiques". He is the author of four previous novels and several works of non-fiction. Ash Before Oak will be published by Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2019.
Initially made possible by an Arts Council Grant in 2017, the Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize aims to reward as-yet-unpublished novels which explore and expand the possibilities of the form, which are innovative and imaginative in style, which tackle subjects and themes relevant to the world we live in.
The winning novel was one of 181 submissions, and one of six to be shortlisted. Cooper beat off Semblance by author and translator Thomas Bunstead, a novel about an English translator’s trip at a literary festival in Mexico just after the untimely death of his father as well as The Cremation Project by artist and writer Andrea Mason, a novel charting, in reverse, the events leading to the untimely death of the 21st century art world star Carter Barnard.
Poet and performer Marianne Morris was also nominated for Tinder and the Moon, described by Fitzcarraldo as "a hybrid trash-literary/un-romance novel, Tinder critique, and astrology cheat sheet”, along with artist and writer David Musgrave for Total Abstraction, which details the inner collapse of an academic.
Never Connect by artist and research fellow Duncan White completed the shortlist, featuring fiction, essay and travelogue about an unnamed art historian who has lost his second child at birth, and loses himself in the precarious lives of 20th-century artists who addressed similar forms of absence or disappearance.