UK: Isabella Hammad Wins the Royal Society’s 2024 Encore Award

In News by Porter Anderson

The winner of the RSL’s Encore award, Isabella Hammad, says that it’s in writing a second novel that ‘a writer really becomes a writer.’

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

‘The Political Is Always Human’
A mighty book contest machine is the United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Literature. In a book publishing market bristling with awards, honors, and accolades, this charity produces:

  • The Encore Award
  • The RSL International Writers awards
  • Companions of Literature
  • The RSL Ondaatje Prize
  • The RSL Christopher Bland Prize,
  • The RSL Giles St Aubyn Awards for Nonfiction
  • The VS Pritchett Short Story Prize
  • The RSL Literature Matters Awards
  • The Sky Arts RSL Writers Awards
  • The Benson Medal

The growing plethora of British book and publishing honors, of course, means that our news medium and others must select and limit what to report. Having given you a look at the shortlist of the accolade called the Encore—for the writers of second novels—we’re now able to close the loop on that one with news of its winner.

Indeed, Enter Ghost by Isabella Hammad (Penguin Random House / Vintage) was shortlisted by the UK’s Women’s Prize for Fiction as well as by the Royal Society. The book has enjoyed high regard this season.

In the jury’s statement of rationale for its choice at the Royal Society, we read an eloquent case for the jurors’ conviction that the book is “as profound as it is powerful.

“Hammad tells the story of Sonia, a British Palestinian actress who flees a failed marriage and love affair in London to stay with her sister in the West Bank,” they write. “Family tensions, the haunting of lost love, and the impositions of the Israeli occupation build, quite literally, toward a dramatic conclusion: the denouement takes place during a production of Hamlet, staged in the presence of Israeli troops.

“In a voice that’s always original, Hammad takes one of the most intractable and polarizing conflicts of our time and creates a story braided through with compassion and wisdom. The political, she reminds us, is always human.”

Isabella Hammad. Image: Van Loan

And Hammad herself, in a comment on receiving this award, makes it clear what the concept of a “second novel” involves for a writer: “Second novels are, as I was repeatedly told,” she says, “notoriously difficult—not only to write, but also to sell.

“Everyone loves a debut, but I think it may actually be in the tricky transition from the first book to the second that a writer really becomes a writer.

“I’m happy to have made it to the other side, and really honored that my second novel has been recognized in this way.”

This time, the Encore award jury has comprised Fergal Keane, Malika Booker, and Maura Dooley.

A Fine Purse, and a Need for Market Reports

The Encore’s purse is considerably solid, providing £15,000 (US$18,932) to Hammad for her win (that figure is up from £10,000), and £1,000 for each of her four fellow shortlistees (that figure is up from £500).

This can help those new to the idea of reporting on market activity understand why it’s important to demonstrate that prize attention shifts copies on the high street. If so many awards are competing for attention—inevitably confusing and finally indistinguishable to consumers—then authors and publishers, as well as book readers, need to be able to determine a marketplace value to so many accolades, most of them certainly well-deserved by writers but eye-glazing to the public.

And that’s why, of course, many in book publishing would like to see the Royal Society join the Booker Prize Foundation, the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding, and the Baillie Gifford Prize for Nonfiction in reporting the effect its awards have on winning titles in the marketplace. Particularly since this charity operates 10 awards, this is a contest administration that could provide extensive sales data on a number of different sectors, both in fiction and nonfiction.

With so many contests battling each other for press and consumer attention, reporting on marketplace impact can relieve the industry of having to take on faith the notion that those “golden stickers” sell books.

And the more prize regimes that commit to reporting over weeks and months how a winning title has done in sales increase their own value, both to the industry and to the book-reading public.

Previous Winners of the ‘Encore’ Contest

An asterisk indicates that the prize was split between multiple authors in the year referenced.

  • 2023 Daisy Hildyard Emergency
  • 2022 Francis Spufford Light Perpetual
  • 2021 Caoilinn Hughes The Wild Laughter
  • 2020 Patrick McGuinness Throw Me to the Wolves
  • 2019 Sally Rooney Normal People
  • 2018* Andrew Michael Hurley Devil’s Day
  • Lisa McInerney The Blood Miracles
  • 2017 Ian McGuire The North Water
  • 2015 Sunjeev Sahota The Year of the Runaways
  • 2014 Neel Mukherjee The Lives of Others
  • 2013 Evie Wyld All the Birds, Singing
  • 2012 Ned Beauman The Teleportation Accident
  • 2011 Joe Dunthorne Wild Abandon
  • 2010 Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze
  • 2009 Julia Leigh Disquiet
  • 2007 M.J. Hyland Carry Me Down
  • 2005 Nadeem Aslam Maps for Lost Lovers
  • 2004 Michelle de Kretser The Hamilton Case
  • 2003 Jeremy Gavron The Book of Israel
  • 2002 Ali Smith Hotel World
  • 2001 Anne Enright What Are You Like?
  • 2000* John Burnside The Mercy Boys
  • Claire Messud The Last Life
  • Matt Thorne Eight Minutes Idle
  • Phil Whitaker Triangulation
  • 1999 Christina Koning Undiscovered Country
  • 1998* Alan Warner These Demented Lands
  • Timothy O’Grady I Could Read the Sky
  • 1997 David Flusfeder Like Plastic
  • 1996 A.L. Kennedy So I Am Glad
  • 1995 Dermot Healy A Goat’s Song
  • 1994 Amit Chaudhuri Afternoon Raag
  • 1993 Colm Tóibín The Heather Blazing
  • 1992 Iain Sinclair Downriver
  • 1991 Carey Harrison Richard’s Feet
  • 1990* Paul Watkins Calm at Sunset, Calm at Dawn
  • Peter Benson A Lesser Dependency

More from Publishing Perspectives on book and publishing contests is here; more on some of the many Royal Society of Literature prizes is here; and more on the award-avid UK book publishing market is here

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson 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 International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, 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.