Costa and Carnegie Medal-winning author Sally Gardner and news presenter George Alagiah are among the 29 writers, poets and illustrators shortlisted for this year's Society of Authors Awards.
The SoA has revealed the shortlists for the Betty Trask Prize, the McKitterick Prize, the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Awards, the Paul Torday Memorial Prize, as well as the inaugural Queen’s Knickers Award, which recognises an "outstanding children’s illustrated book for ages 0-7".
The Betty Trask Prize and awards are presented for a first novel by a writer under 35, and are judged by Ben Brooks, Elanor Dymott and Vaseem Khan, with a prize of £26,200. Four titles, including The Familiars by Stacey Halls (Zaffre), The Parisian by Isabella Hammad (Jonathan Cape), Hitch by Kathryn Hind (Hamish Hamilton) and The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu (Dialogue Books) are listed this year.
Dymott said of the selection: "These debut novelists are intensely engaged with their craft, conversing easily with their forbears at the same time as blazing exhilarating and beautiful trails into the future."
Past winners include Zadie Smith, David Szalay, Hari Kunzru and Sarah Waters.
The McKitterick Prize is awarded for a first novel by a writer over 40, and is judged by Susan Hill, Abir Mukherjee and Christopher Tayler. This year's shortlisted line-up features Golden Child by Claire Adam (Faber and Faber), Diary of a Somebody by Brian Bilston (Picador), Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Wildfire, Headline), The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins Collins (Viking), Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession (Bluemoose Books) and The Travelers by Regina Porter (Jonathan Cape). The winner will receive £5,250. Past recipients of the prize include Helen Dunmore, Mark Haddon and Petina Gappah.
The Burning Land by George Alagiah (Canongate Books), Madeleine by Euan Cameron (MacLehose Press), Reparation by Gaby Koppel (Honno Press), Find Me Falling by Fiona Vigo Marshall (Fairlight Books), As the Women Lay Dreaming by Donald S Murray (Saraband) and The Stranger She Knew by Rosalind Stopps (HQ) are all in the running for the Paul Torday Memorial Prize. Awarded to a first novel by a writer over 60, the prize includes £1,000 and a set of the collected works of Torday, who published his first novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen (Weidenfeld & Nicholson) at the age of 60. The inaugural prize was awarded to Anne Youngson for Meet Me at the Museum in 2019.
Judge Sarah Waters said of the shortlist: "There's a great range of novels on this exciting shortlist: some have the pace and punch of thrillers and detective stories, others have the lyricism of poetry or the disconcerting shimmer of dream and nightmare. What they all have in common, however, is an interest in tackling some of the big issues of our time-–issues like injustice and reparation, trauma and recovery. They are powerful books by really talented authors."
Six titles are up for the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust prize, which awards £1,575 to a short story writer. Ghillie’s Mum by Lynda Clark, High Water by Carol Farrelly, The Bird That Fluttered Free by Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, and Whale Watching by Diana Powell are shortlisted, alongside Eva at the End of the World by Wendy Riley and The Pier at Ardentinny by Catriona Ward.
Founded by author of The Queen's Knickers Nicholas Allan, the Queen's Knickers Award is given to the creators of an original illustrated children's book, who receive £6,000. Shortlisted this year are Umbrella written and illustrated by Elena Arevalo (Scallywag Press), Melville, Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon written by Sally Gardner, illustrated by Nick Maland (Zephyr), How to Light Your Dragon written by Didier Lévy, illustrated by Fred Benaglia (Thames & Hudson), One Fox written and illustrated by Kate Read (Two Hoots) and Child of St Kilda written and illustrated by Beth Waters (Child’s Play).
Judge Emily Gravett said: "There couldn’t be a more timely moment, whilst we have been restricted in so many ways, to celebrate the joy and freedom that great picture books bring. This fantastic shortlist reflects a diversity of subject and style and is a triumph of the authors’ and illustrators’ imaginations. Imagination being one freedom that can never be curtailed."
The SoA Awards is the UK’s biggest annual literary prize fund, worth £100,000 in total.
The judging panel for each award includes William Fiennes, Susan Hill, Vaseem Khan, Sarah Waters, Gary Younge and Korky Paul, who unanimously praised work which was "richly layered, supple and deft", and debuts that "leave you profoundly excited for the career that is to follow".
The winners will be announced online on 18th June, with a series of short films to celebrate this year’s shortlisted authors. As part of the SoA @ Home festival, a series of free online events focused on the awards will run throughout June, featuring shortlistees, judges (including Sarah Waters and Barney Norris), past winners, and an in-conversation event on the afternoon of 18th June with Waterstones children's laureate Cressida Cowell.
Further awards to be presented on 18th June are the Eric Gregory Award for a collection of poems by a poet under 30, the Cholmondeley Awards for a body of work by a poet, and the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography. Travelling Scholarships will also be awarded to British creative writers as part of the Somerset Maugham Awards for published by writers under 30.
At 4pm today (14th May), the Betty Trask Prize judge Vaseem Khan will take part in an online discussion about the shortlisted works, and the challenges of running a prize judging process during lockdown.