By Georgia Appleyard and Olivia Ek
The shortlist for The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award has been announced. Since its inception in 1991, the award recognises the very best literary work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish writer aged 18–35. Keeping pace with the changing landscape of the publishing industry, the award was revitalised in 2015 with the help of the literary agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop, introducing two exciting and significant innovations: extending its reach to include writers from Ireland as well as self-published works.
Sponsored by the Charlotte Aitken Trust, the award is given annually, and has supported an exceptional line-up of defining new voices in British and Irish writing, from Zadie Smith to Simon Armitage, with recent winners including Sally Rooney, Max Porter and Sarah Howe.
This year’s judges are headed by the former Literary Editor of The Sunday Times Andrew Holgate and the new Sunday Times Literary Editor, Johanna Thomas-Corr. They’re joined by critic and journalist Stig Abell, poet Mona Arshi, author Oyinkan Braithwaite, and novelist and earlier winner of the prize Francis Spufford. This year’s shortlist is described as “immensely powerful” by Chair of Judges Andrew Holgate, while Johanna Thomas-Corr praises the authors who “have set themselves free of publishing conventions.”
The judges have chosen:
Tom Ben, Oxblood
In his novel Oxblood, Stockport-born author and screenwriter Tom Benn offers a poignantly rendered exploration of domesticity and violence that earned him a place on The Gordon Burn Prize 2022 longlist. Set in 1985 in South Manchester, the novel follows the Dodds family who once ruled Manchester’s underworld; now the men are dead, leaving three generations of women trapped in a house haunted by violence, harbouring an unregistered baby. The Dodds women must each confront the true legacy of the men who have defined their lives; and seize the opportunity to break the cycle for good. A blistering portrait of a family on fire, Oxblood lays bare the horror of violence, the exile of grief and the extraordinary power of love.
Lucy Burns, Larger than an Orange
Chatto & Windus
Larger than an Orange is the first offering from Manchester-born debut writer Lucy Burns and follows the narrator’s pain and confusion as she navigates an accidental pregnancy and subsequent termination. Part diary, part prose poem, part literary collage, this uncompromising and intimate memoir examines the dichotomy between the political statement of abortion and the individual experience, as the narrator discovers that the polarised public debate surrounding the procedure did not prepare her for the physical event or emotional aftermath. The work carves out a new space for complexity, ambivalence and individual experience, and was previously selected as one of The Sunday Times Books of the Year 2021.
Maddie Mortimer, Maps of our Spectacular Bodies
Picador, Pan Macmillan
This astonishing debut was longlisted for The Booker Prize 2022. London-born Maddie Mortimer’s Maps of our Spectacular Bodies is a story of coming-of-age at the end of a life. Something gleeful and malevolent is moving in Lia’s body. This disaster tourist shapeshifts as it travels down the banks of her canals. It’s spreading. With the diagnosis that upends Lia’s world, the boundaries between her past and present begin to collapse. What follows is a symphonic journey through Lia’s body, told in part by the very thing that is killing her, learning her from the inside out. Maps of our Spectacular Bodies is a wild and lyrical celebration of desire, forgiveness and the darkness within us all.
Katherine Rundell, Super-Infinite
Faber & Faber
The only non-fiction book on this year’s shortlist, Super-Infinite is a fleet-flooded “act of evangelism” by Katherine Rundell, exploring John Donne’s myriad lives. A Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, Rundell paints an illuminating and complex portrait of Donne; a man incapable of being just one thing. Winner of the 2022 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, Rundell’s biography shows the reader the many sides of Donne’s extraordinary life. Perhaps the greatest love poet in the history of the English language, this book also unveils John Donne as the most remarkable mind and as a lesson in living.
Unanimously described by the judges as exciting and innovative, all works on this shortlist have shown great attention to language and the use of form. “On this showing,” said Francis Spufford, “the future of writing is very strong - and incredibly various.” The judges now have the difficult task of choosing this year’s winner, which will be announced on 14 March 2023.
The winner of this year’s Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Author of the Year award will be awarded a prize sum of £10,000. The runners-up will be awarded £1,000.