Debut novelist Alex Christofi from Dorset has won the £10,000 Betty Trask Prize at the Society of Authors annual Authors' Awards this evening (21st June).
The Authors' Awards saw the organisation distribute £86,000 to writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry presented by poet, playwright and children’s writer John Agard during a ceremony held at the Army & Navy Club.
Christofi won the Betty Trask Prize, designed for first-time novelists under the age of 35, for his novel Glass (Serpent’s Tail), described as a "charming, off-beat comedy about a young man finding his way in the modern world”.
Author Joanne Harris, who judged the prize alongside radio presenter and crime writer Simon Brett OBE and novelist Michèle Roberts, called it “pitch-perfect writing” with "well-drawn and believable characters”. She added: "The narrative skates a narrow path between light and shade, laughter and tears with confidence and authority.”
The £5,000 Betty Trask Awards for young authors of “outstanding literary merit” was awarded to Irenosen Okojie for The Butterfly Fish (Jacaranda), UEA creative writing graduate Natasha Pulley for The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (Bloomsbury) and to Lucy Wood for Weathering (Bloomsbury), an “emotionally mature consideration of generational love loss and change”, according to Roberts.
Yorkshire-born Andrew McMillan, a co-founding editor of Cake Magazine, was awarded both a £2,000 Somerset Maugham Award, given to young writers to enable them to “enrich their work through foreign travel”, and an Eric Gregory Award for his poetry collection, physical (Jonathan Cape). The celebrated collection of "hymns to the male body” has also been shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Award, the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and the Costa Poetry Award, and won the 2015 Guardian First Book Award and Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize.
The four other winners of the Eric Gregory Award, for poets under 30 to encourage young poets, were PhD student Sam Buchan-Watts, named a Faber New Poet in 2015; copywriter Dom Bury, whose work was described by judge Daljit Nagra as “beautiful poetry of the British landscape that deepends the gaze with a focus on contemporary politics”; Jen Campbell, author of Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores, whose collection of work “fizzes with linguistic dexterity and original phrasing”, according to Ahren Warner; and Alex MacDonald, an editor of online magazine Poems in Which.
Jessie Greengrass's debut collection of short stories, An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It (JM Originals), received a Somerset Maugham Award along with Daisy Hay, for A Strange Romance (Chatto & Windus), Thomas Morris, for We Don’t Know What We’re Doing (Faber), and Jack Underwood, for Happiness (Faber).
Greengrass, whose stories were judged the sign of a “strong, curious mind at work”, was also made a runner-up for the Tom-Gallon Trust Award for her story “Dolphin”, which impressed the judges for its “elegant intelligence” and “luxuriant language”.
Claire Harman, better known as a celebrated literary biographer, won the £1,000 Tom-Gallon Award for her short story "Otherwise Engaged" that judges Paul Bailey and Sarah Taylor called “a subtle study of the abuse of friendship” and “full of subtext”, respectfully. She was previously a runner-up for the prize in 2014, and in 2015 she won the Forward Prize for Poetry and the John Llewelyn Prize for her first biography of Sylvia Townsend Warner.
Established authors to receive £1,875 for this year’s Cholmondeley Awards, presented to poets for their “contribution to poetry”, were: Welsh writer Iain Sinclair, whose forthcoming poetry collection Seeschlange publishes with Equipage in 2016; freelance writer Maura Dooley, who has twice been shortlisted for the TS Eliot Award; Carcanet author Peter Sansom; and, described as "one of our most exciting poets”, David Morely, professor of creative writing at Warwick.
The £4,000 McKitterick Prize, rewarding debut authors aged 40 or over, was awarded to Petina Gappah for The Book of Memory (Faber) - a novel judge France Fyfield said “crosses all boundaries and speaks clearly of endurance, intelligence, humour and survival” - with Nick Coleman recognised as a runner-up for Pillow Man (Cape).
Eton college history teacher Andrew Gailey was crowned the winner of the Elizabeth Longford Prize, rewarding historical biographies, for his “masterly portrait of a late Victorian grandee” The Lost Imperialist: Memory and Mythmaking in an Age of Celebrity (John Murray).
Travelling Scholarships went to Jamie Bartlett, David Crane, Peter Oswald and David Szalay.
Picture: Will Ablett.