Debuts by Imogen Hermes Gowar, Laura Freeman, Fiona Mozley and Adam Weymouth have been shortlisted for the Sunday Times/ Peter Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick.
Judges Kamila Shamsie, Susan Hill and Andrew Holgate chose two novels and two works of non-fiction – written by three women and one man – to be in the running for the prize, which rewards the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35.
Hermes Gowar is shortlisted for her literary historical fiction debut, The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock (Harvill Secker). Originally bought by Vintage in a 10-way auction for six figures, the novel has gone on to be longlisted for a number of prizes, including the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Set in 1785 Georgian London, it tells the story of a beautiful but haughty courtesan and a portly widowed merchant who are brought together by an unusual curiosity: a mermaid. It was inspired by an exhibit in the British Museum.
The second shortlisted novel on the list is Mozley’s rural noir Elmet (John Murray), about a family trying to find their place at the margins of society. The York bookseller’s debut, written during her commute, was shortlisted for 2017’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction and last month it won the Polari First Book for Fiction. It is not only Mozley’s first book but her first ever completed story and John Murray assistant editor Becky Walsh's first ever acquisition.
Non-fiction represented on the shortlist list includes Freeman's The Reading Cure: How Books Restored My Appetite (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), a memoir about recovery describing how its author discovered an appetite for food – and for life more broadly – through reading. Weymouth is in the running for the prize with his personal account of an epic four-month canoe trip down the 2,000-mile long Yukon River, entitled Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan River Journey (Particular).
Hill confirmed the shortlist selection had been unanimously decided. "This shortlist represents unanimous choices: two brilliant but very different novels, and two works of non-fiction which also could not be less alike, but are both wonderfully well written and as absorbing and gripping as any thrillers. Selecting the winner is not going to be easy," she said.
Shamsie said the "varied" books shared mutual qualities of "ambition, insight, and [the] ability to surprise", despite their differences. "The shortlisted books take us from the Yukon river to Georgian London via the Yorkshire woods and the pages of literature; for all their variety, they are united in their qualities of ambition, insight, and ability to surprise. Most excitingly, they all come from writers at the start of their careers who allow us to close the pages of their books and think with wonder: 'This is only the beginning’."
The 2018 winner will be revealed on 6th December in a ceremony hosted at the London Library.