Debut author Imogen Hermes Gowar has been nominated for this year's The Times Breakthrough Award in the Books category for her novel The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock (Harvill Secker).
The Times Breakthrough Award is part of the The South Bank Sky Arts Awards which celebrate the "very best of talent" in the British Arts.
Kamila Shamsie is also up for a South Bank Sky Arts Award for Home Fire (Bloomsbury), Philip Pullman is nominated for La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One (David Fickling, PRH Children’s) and Craig Brown for Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret (Fourth Estate).
According to the judging panel, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is a "roistering, swaggering, bawdy novel" with a "creepy, weird streak".
The rich historical novel was fought over by 10 publishers at auction before Harvill Secker won it offering a a six-figure advance. Since publication in January, the novel has been longlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction and the Desmond Elliott Prize. Set in Georgian London in 1785, it centres on the unlikely relationship between a haughty courtesan and a portly widowed merchant who are brought together by some strange ship's cargo: a mermaid.
The judges praised Gowar's "confident and accomplished" debut, and added that the 30-year-old "shows that popular appeal does not mean second-rate writing."
Gowar has been nominated alongside acts such as musician Nubya Garcia, actor Alex Lawther and artist Heather Agyepong. The full list of nominees is available here.
The ceremony will be hosted by Melvyn Bragg and take place on 1st July 2018. Bragg condemned the cuts to arts in schools while announcing the shortlist.
“The Creative Industries generate £92 billion a year, and yet the funding cuts in the arts in schools are very worrying,” he said. “A recent study of 1,200 secondary schools found that 90% had cut back on arts teachers, facilities and equipment. Since 2010, there has been a 28% drop in pupils taking arts GCSEs, with a corresponding drop in the number of arts teachers being trained. This means that the future of everything we stand for and everything we’re good at is being threatened. But what we also stand for are events like these awards, which show how rich and diverse the arts in this country are.”
Phil Edgar-Jones, director of Sky Arts, added: “With funding for the arts and arts education facing challenging times, Sky Arts’ work supporting artists and the creative industries is more important than ever. We are proud to host The South Bank Sky Arts Awards which reflect the breadth and diversity of talent and voices in the creative industries.”
Previous nominees for The Times Breakthrough Award include novelists Joseph Knox, Rachel Joyce and Barney Norris, as well as Stormzy, Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton, Billie Piper, Ben Whishaw and Everything Everything. Ten nominees are chosen by The Times, each in a different area of the Arts and each representing the most exciting young talent in the British Arts.
The Times Breakthrough Award will be decided by a panel of Times judges. The South Bank Sky Arts Awards will take place on 1st July and will be broadcast on Sky Arts.