Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine named public's favourite at BAMB Awards

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine named public's favourite at BAMB Awards

Gail Honeyman’s bestselling debut Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins) has scooped the Books Are My Bag Readers' Choice Award, while Philip Pullman and The Secret Barrister also scored prizes.

The Scottish author’s first novel took the BAMB Readers’ Choice Award, which is voted for by the public without an initial shortlist, at the prize-giving in central London ceremony on Tuesday evening (13th November). Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - which follows the struggles of a lonely and social awkward finance clerk who lives alone in Glasgow - is credited for the ‘Uplit’ trend seen dominating many of this year’s fiction deals, having already garnered a clutch of other accolades including Book of the Year at The British Book Awards. It has sold a staggering 858,385 copies in total, with the paperback shifting 757,915 copies, the bestselling book of 2018 to date (all figures according to Nielsen BookScan) while the e-book held The Bookseller's Weekly E-book Ranking number one for 19 weeks.

Fellow debut authors who triumphed included the anonymous author known as The Secret Barrister who took the Non-Fiction award for their book of the same name (Picador) and Stuart Turton, who won the Novel award, for his high-concept murder mystery The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Bloomsbury), and spoke to The Bookseller of the renewed thirst from readers for gothic and supernatural themes.

L-R Stuart Turton, Bea Carvalho, David Fickling and Fleur Sinclair

Turton said: “I think there is more of an appetite for high concept murder mysteries than before. When I was trying to find an agent, there were very few who I could submit to for this, and some rejected it because they wanted it either to be sci-fi and high concept or be a murder mystery. Now I think there are more authors writing books that combine the two.”

Turton has also noticed more of an interest in gothic themes across fiction than before, as the ghost and horror category in Nielsen BookScan recently reporting its highest sales in four years in 2017, with the genre up almost a third in value this year to date. “The industry always seems to be cyclical, and there is a big wellspring at the moment in the gothic and the supernatural," the London-based author told The Bookseller. "The trick – and what my editor Alison [Hennessey, editorial director of Raven Books] has done – is to see what is coming so as to commission and help create the trend. There is so much in gothic and supernatural to use in other fiction... It is not particularly new but over the last year we have definitely seen that gothic stories are increasingly of interest to readers.”

On the BAMB awards, Turton said: “There are so many reasons why awards like this are important for writers. It gives you confidence what you are doing… It promotes you and takes you to new readers and new eyes that wouldn’t have seen you before.”

L-R June Sarpong, Vivian Archer, Nic Bottomley and Sarah J Harris

Emma Bradshaw, head of campaigns at the Booksellers Association (BA), which coordinates the awards, acknowledged the dominance of debuts on the prize-list. "It’s hugely exciting to see such a large proportion of new writers on the list, showing just how much brilliant new writing talent readers have to enjoy,” she said.

Pullman won in the Young Readers – YA category for The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (David Ficking Books/ Penguin Random House), one of biggest publications of last autumn, while Catherine Doyle won in the Young Readers – Middle Grade category for The Storm Keeper's Island (Bloomsbury). Sarah J Harris triumphed in the Breakthrough Author category for her first adult novel The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder (HarperCollins) while the inaugural Poetry Award went to actress and author Pam Ayres for The Last Hedgehog, illustrated by Alice Tait (Picador). Picador was one of the three publishers, along with HarperCollins and Bloomsbury, to take home two prizes each on the night.

The Virago Modern Classics 40th anniversary series (pictured below), designed by Hannah Wood and illustrated by Yehrin Tong, won the Beautiful Book of the Year category, voted for exclusively by booksellers. Vivian Archer, manager at Newham Bookshop, was meanwhile honoured with the inaugural Outstanding Contribution to Bookselling award. The store in East London launched a crowdfunder last month to raise £25,000 as it is forced to move to a different location.

The awards, now in their third year, are curated by bookshops, with booksellers selecting the shortlists. The public is invited to vote for a winning title from each shortlist, apart from the Beautiful Book category which is decided purely by a bookshop vote and The Readers’ Choice category which is decided by an open public vote with no shortlist.

Bradshaw added: “From first time authors to literary giants, this year’s Books Are My Bag Readers Awards winners give an insight into bookseller’s and the public’s top books of the year." 

Last year Adam Kay won the Readers' Choice Award for his junior doctor diary memoir This is Going to Hurt (Picador).

The BAMB campaign was created in April 2013. Last week the BA announced it would not run Civilised Saturday this year, instead focusing on the BAMB scheme.