By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
‘Propulsive, Bountiful, Fearless’Overnight in London, screenwriter and novelist Tom Benn has been named the 2023 winner of the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award, which honors writers aged 35 and younger.
Benn’s winning book, Oxblood (Bloomsbury Publishing)—turning on issues of masculine violence “and fractured female agency”—is his fourth novel. Previously, the book was shortlisted for both Swansea’s Dylan Thomas Prize and the Portico Prize focused on the North of England, two awards programs with which Publishing Perspectives‘ international readership is familiar.
Again this year, Andrew Holgate—former literary editor of the Sunday Times—led the jury. He was joined by:
- Johanna Thomas-Corr, the Sunday Times’ new literary editor
- Journalist Stig Abell
- Poet Mona Arshi
- Author Oyinkan Braithwaite
- Author Francis Spufford, a former winner of the Young Writer of the Year honor
The program has benefited from its sponsorship by the Charlotte Aitken Trust, the purses again being set at £10,000 (US$12,015) for the winner and £1,000 for each shortlisted author. Benn also receives a two-year membership with the London Library, and his fellow trio of shortlistees each get a one-year membership.
In addition to the trust’s support, the program works with Waterstones as a retail partner, and with the British Council. The award is another of the many administered by the Society of Authors.
Oyinkan Braithwaite has been particularly strong in his juror’s comments on Benn’s book, saying, “Oxblood is a propulsive, bountiful, fearless work of literary art. The female characters at the heart of Benn’s tale are single-minded, dogged, and so completely convinced of themselves and their actions that the reader is persuaded to be stirred by them and to remember them.
“It’s clear that this is only the beginning for Tom Benn. His work is a vehicle for that rare unflinching look at our rawness, our brutality, and our vulnerability.”
Thomas-Corr at the Sunday Times, says, “Tom Benn is one of publishing’s best kept secrets. His story about the struggles of three generations of women in a Manchester crime clan has been rendered with such care and specificity that it feels wholly original. The result is a rich, dark, atmospheric family saga that contains so much buried love and anger and grief and sexual jealousy and bitter disappointment.
“In fact, it ’s one of the best contemporary novels about disappointment that I have ever read. Yet somehow I emerged from it exhilarated. I’m thrilled that we are rewarding a young writer who has been working below the radar for a while and is now finally getting the attention he deserves.”
And Holgate is on record saying, “What a voice Tom Benn has got, what a feel for character and place, and what an uncompromising approach he has to his subject and material. He’s gritty but totally empathetic, and inhabits his milieu of 1980s Manchester with total conviction and no attempt to soften the voices of his characters
“We were bowled over as a judging panel by Oxblood, and feel confident too that Tom is a talent who will grow and grow.”
The 2023 Young Writer of the Year Shortlist
Repeating for you the admirably disciplined (four-titles) shortlist from the Young Writer of the Year competition here:
- Tom Benn, Oxblood, Bloomsbury Publishing
- Lucy Burns, Larger Than an Orange, Penguin Random House/Chatto & Windus
- Maddie Mortimer, Maps of our Spectacular Bodies, Pan Macmillan/Picador
- Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite: The Transformations of John Donne, Faber & Faber
Speaking for the Charlotte Aitken Trust, Sebastian Faulks was quoted, calling the program, “a showcase for the vitality and range of talent in a younger generation. Tom Benn’s novel Oxblood is a worthy winner, though the prize could have gone to any of the shortlist—which must have made the judges’ task especially hard.
“We warmly congratulate all four authors and look forward to watching their careers blossom.”
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 United Kingdom’s market is here.