Will Hill has won The Bookseller’s YA Book Prize 2018 with his "engrossing, brilliantly realised" novel inspired by the Waco siege, After the Fire (Usborne Publishing).
He saw off competition from nine authors, including Philip Pullman and previous YA Book Prize winners Sarah Crossan and Patrice Lawrence, to claim the £2,000 award, which was presented by Marcus Brigstocke in a ceremony held at the Hay Festival.
After the Fire tells the story of teenage girl Moonbeam, who is trying to come to terms with her past and prepare for a new life after leaving behind the cult she grew up in. It is loosely based on the stand-off between the Branch Davidian religious sect and the American authorities in Texas, a conflict which led to the death of more than 80 people in 1993. Hill right told The Bookseller: "The novel isn’t a retelling of that event, but it was definitely the catalyst for writing it. I wanted to explore how someone would feel when their entire world ends, and how they would even start to think about moving forward afterwards." The book, currently shortlisted for the 2018 Carnegie Medal, marks a change of direction for Hill, who has previously written the Department 19 YA fantasy series for HarperCollins.
Author Louise O’Neill—winner of the inaugural YA Book Prize, in 2015, and one of this year’s judges—said: "After the Fire is an engrossing, brilliantly realised story which is almost impossible to put down. Both thoughtfully structured and fast-paced, it is one of the most sensitive portrayals of trauma that I have read in a long time." Fellow judges Akala, a hip-hop artist, writer and historian, and blogger and YouTuber Lucy Powrie described it as a "well-written book on a challenging subject" and "a perfect showcase of what UK YA should be" respectively.
The prize was also judged by: Julia Eccleshare, children’s director of the Hay Festival; actor, writer and co-host of books and pop culture podcast "Mostly Lit" Alex Holmes; Melanie Ramdarshan Bold, senior lecturer in publishing and book cultures at University College London; Waterstones Scottish buying manager Angie Crawford; and six teenagers from schools in Bradford, London and Hereford. The Bookseller’s web editor Caroline Carpenter chaired the panel.
The judges selected the winning title from a shortlist that also included: S.T.A.G.S. by M A Bennett (Hot Key Books); The One Memory of Flora Banks by Emily Barr (Penguin); It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne (Usborne); Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury); Indigo Donut by Patrice Lawrence (Hodder Children’s); Release by Patrick Ness (Walker Books); Things a Bright Girl Can Do by Sally Nicholls (Andersen Press); La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman (David Fickling Books/Penguin); and Straight Outta Crongton by Alex Wheatle (Atom). This year’s YA10 was whittled down from more than 100 submissions.
During the ceremony at Hay, The Bookseller also awarded a YA Book Prize Special Achievement Award to Stripes Publishing and the authors of its YA anthology A Change is Gonna Come, to recognise their work in tackling the lack of diversity in YA publishing in the UK and Ireland.
Hill is the first male winner of the YA Book Prize, which went to Lawrence for Orangeboy (Hodder Children’s) last year. Hill grew up in the north-east of England and worked in bookselling and publishing before becoming a full-time author. He is currently working on a YA thriller that unfolds over the course of six hours, which is also to be published by Usborne.
Watch a video round-up of the ceremony at Hay Festival and Will Hill's reaction to winning the prize here: