Awards: Cal Flyn Wins the £10,000 Young Writer of the Year Honor

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Frequently on shortlists and longlists, Cal Flyn’s socio-ecological study ‘Islands of Abandonment’ wins Young Writer of the Year.

At the London Library announcement in St. James’ Square for Cal Flyn’s win of the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award. Image: Young Writer of the Year

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘We All Fell Hard for This Book’
Cal Flyn’s unusual socio-ecological study, Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape (HarperCollins UK/William Collins), has won the £10,000 (US$13,367) Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award. This, after many award regimes have recognized and honored it but without quite handing it the win.

In the United States, the book is published by Penguin Random House / Viking.

The Sunday Times award is one of the United Kingdom’s two main prizes specifically focused on younger writers, the other being Wales’ £20,000 (US$26,734) Dylan Thomas Prize from Swansea University, which announced its 2022 longlist earlier this month.

In the Sunday Times Aitken Trust award’s case, 2021 is the correct year for Flyn’s new win. This is one of the prize programs that consecrates a given year’s winner in the following year—the Costa Book Awards being another program of that ilk.

The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award, in its 30th year, is calling itself “the UK’s most influential prize for young writers.” And while a loud objection to that swagger may be heard from Swansea, it has made the move that some may have feared wouldn’t be made on behalf of Flyn and her Islands of Abandonment by handing the top honor to her.

HarperCollins’ UK cover

This book was:

There is a subtle change in subtitle from its English publication to its American publication from Penguin Random House.

  • In England, you’ll buy it as Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape
  • In the States, you’ll buy it as Islands of Abandonment: Nature Rebounding in the Post-Human Landscape

HarperCollins’ original promotional material is quite good at describing the book for those who have not yet encountered it. You’ll recognize immediately how unusual a work this is:

“This book explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live—or survive in tiny, precarious numbers—to give us a possible glimpse of what happens when mankind’s impact on nature is forced to stop. From Tanzanian mountains to the volcanic Caribbean, the forbidden areas of France to the mining regions of Scotland, Flyn brings together some of the most desolate, eerie, ravaged, and polluted areas in the world–and shows how, against all odds, they offer our best opportunities for environmental recovery.

“By turns haunted and hopeful … new ecological discoveries that together map an answer to the big questions: what happens after we’re gone, and how far can our damage to nature be undone?”

One of the jurors, Tahmima Anam, is quoted, saying, “‘We all fell hard for this book: the originality of thinking, the intellectual rigor, the love for all that is gone and yet not entirely lost, and of course the sheer magic of the prose.”

Young Writer of the Year 2021 Shortlist

Image: Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award

Reviewing here the shortlist for you, inclusive of Flyn’s winning book:

In addition to Anam, quoted above, the jurors Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate this time were:

  • The Chilean writer and Warwick Writing Program assistant professor Gonzalo C. Garcia
  • Sunday Times and Times Literary Supplement reviewer and novelist Claire Lowdon
  • Novelist Sarah Moss
  • Novelist and essayist Andrew O’Hagan

Here are past winners:

  • Jay Bernard, Surge (2020)
  • Raymond Antrobus, The Perseverance (2019)
  • Adam Weymouth, Kings of the Yukon (2018)
  • Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends (2017)
  • Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers (2016)
  • Sarah Howe, Loop of Jade (2015)
  • Ross Raisin, God’s Own Country (2009)
  • Adam Foulds, The Truth About These Strange Times (2008)
  • Naomi Alderman, Disobedience (2007)
  • Robert Macfarlane, Mountains  of  the Mind: a History of a Fascination (2004)
  • William Fiennes, The Snow Geese (2003)
  • Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2001)
  • Sarah Waters, Affinity (2000);
  • Paul Farley, The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (1999)
  • Patrick French, Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division (1998)
  • Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (1997)
  • Katherine Pierpoint, Truffle Beds (1996)
  • Andrew Cowan, Pig (1995)
  • William Dalrymple, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1994)
  • Simon Armitage, Kid (1993)
  • Caryl Phillips, Cambridge (1992)
  • Helen Simpson, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories (1991)

This is Publishing Perspectives’ 40th publishing awards and/or book awards report in the 41 publication days since our 2022 operations began on January 3.


More from Publishing Perspectives on publishing and book prizes is here, more on the Young Writer Award is here, more on the Dylan Thomas Prize is here, and more from us on the UK market is here

More on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson is a non-resident fellow of Trends Research & Advisory, and he has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.

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