SoA Awards 2024 Winners Announced

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Benjamin Zephaniah is among the winners for this year’s Society of Authors (SoA) Awards, together with illustrator Nila Aye, for their children’s book People Need People (Orchard Books, Hachette Children’s Group). Described by judge Cerrie Burnell as ‘moving, humorous and lovely all at once’, the picture book in verse wins the Queen’s Knickers Award for an outstanding children’s original illustrated book for ages 0-7. Our judges were impressed by its ‘powerful message’ about people power and the importance of connecting with others.

Their awards will be celebrated at tonight’s SoA Awards ceremony at Southwark Cathedral, as two of 31 winners sharing a prize fund of over £140,000. The awards are for authors at all stages of their careers, for books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, across a variety of genres.

This year, SoA Management Committee Chair Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin will host the awards, with a keynote speech from bestselling author Kate Mosse. For those viewing from home, the awards will be livestreamed from 7pm.

This year’s Paul Torday Memorial Prize winner, Fire Rush (Jonathan Cape, Vintage/Penguin Random House), the debut novel from Jacqueline Crooks, was also shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize – an ‘ambitious novel about love and the power of music’ chronicling the lives of characters from the Windrush generation in 1970s Britain. Tom Crewe’s Betty Trask Prize-winning debut The New Life (Chatto & Windus) also reexamines an era of British life, looking at late nineteenth century London through the lens of historical debates about sexual mores. Judge Michael Donkor described it as ‘exquisitely crafted, multifaceted, luminous’.

The 2023 Forward Prize-winning collection Bad Diaspora Poems (Jonathan Cape, Vintage/Penguin Random House) by Momtaza Mehri won a Somerset Maugham Award, a collection which ‘works lightly and fiercely across registers, tones and possibilities’, for which our judges shared a ‘deep appreciation’. The manuscript for Bad Diaspora Poems also won an Eric Gregory Award last year. Wild Geese (Footnote Press) by Soula Emmanuel was this year’s Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize winner, a novel about the loneliness of immigration and the need for new beginnings. Judge Yara Rodrigues Fowler described it as ‘playful, erudite and completely unexpected’.

Speaking about the awards, keynote speaker Kate Mosse said:

‘All literary awards celebrate outstanding, exceptional, imaginative, ground-breaking work. What I love about the SoA Awards is that they honour many authors, working in a whole range of disciplines and at different stages in their writing careers.  Now, more than ever, books matter – they offer us the chance to stand in other people’s shoes, to hear about lives other than our own, they encourage empathy and conversation. I know that when we gather together on 20th June, we will do so in the spirit of every voice mattering, every story being something to celebrate.’

Paul Torday Memorial Prize winner and McKitterick Prize shortlistee, Jacqueline Crooks, said:

Society of Authors

‘This award means a great deal to me, as it validates my work and serves as a powerful recognition of the value of Afro-Caribbean artistry and the community’s contribution to the cultural capital of this country. I hope this award inspires more writers from the Fire Rush world to share their stories.’

The winners for each award are:

The ADCI Literary Prize 

Sponsored by Arts Council England, ALCS, the Drusilla Harvey Memorial Fund, and the Professional Writing Academy, the Authors with Disabilities and Chronic Illnesses  (ADCI) Literary Prize is awarded to a disabled or chronically ill writer, for an outstanding novel containing a disabled or chronically ill character or characters. Judged by Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Penny Batchelor, Rowan Hisayo Buchanan, Julia Lund, Karl Knights, Selina Mills, Vikki Patis and Chloe Timms.

Total prize fund: £2,000

THE ADCI LITERARY PRIZE WINNER: LORRAINE WILSON FOR MOTHER SEA (FAIRLIGHT BOOKS) AWARDED £1,250

Lorraine Wilson is an ex-conservation scientist who writes fiction influenced by folklore and the wilderness. With a third-culture heritage, she is drawn to themes of family, belonging and the legacy of trauma. Her debut novel This Is Our Undoing (2021) was shortlisted for the Kavya Prize and the British Fantasy Society’s Best Newcomer and Best Fantasy Novel awards, and longlisted for the British Science Fiction Association’s Best Novel Award. She has since published The Way the Light Bends (2022), Mother Sea (2023, shortlisted for Scotland’s National Book Awards Fiction Book of the Year) and The Last to Drown (2024). Her upcoming novel We Are All Ghosts in the Forest will be published in November 2024.

ADCI Literary Prize judge Nii Ayikwei Parkes said:

‘Lorraine Wilson’s Mother Sea is a wonderfully realised, quietly political novel that speaks to some of the most urgent issues of our time – our rampant commercialism, our disregard of ancient wisdoms and the sinister machinations of colonial powers. That none of these things are overt, and the story is one of atmospheric allure and enduring human connection is testament to the author’s skill. We leave Brother Island at the end, but it never leaves us.’

THE ADCI LITERARY PRIZE RUNNER-UP: VIKTORIA LLOYD-BARLOW FOR ALL THE LITTLE BIRD HEARTS (TINDER PRESS, HEADLINE) AWARDED £750 

Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Kent, and has extensive personal, professional, and academic experience relating to autism. Like her protagonist Sunday in All the Little Bird-Hearts, Viktoria is autistic. She has presented her doctoral research internationally, most recently speaking at Harvard University on autism and literary narrative. Viktoria lives with her husband and children on the coast of north-east Kent. All the Little Bird-Hearts was longlisted for the Booker Prize for Fiction and shortlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award.

ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award

Sponsored by ALCS and Hawthornden Foundation, the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award is awarded for a short story by a writer who has had at least one short story accepted for publication. Judged by Sophie Haydock, Yan Ge, Brian Chikwava and Peter Hobbs.

Total prize fund: £4,500

THE ALCS TOM-GALLON TRUST AWARD WINNER: ALEXANDRA YE FOR ‘THIS STORY’

Alexandra Ye is an American writer living in Edinburgh, where she studied for a MSc in creative writing. Her short stories have been published in Gutter Magazine, The Offing and Extra Teeth.

ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award judge Peter Hobbs said:

‘This Story’ is a small miracle – perfectly crafted, funny and surprising, with everything in it ringing only of beautifully-observed truth. It’s written with great skill and humanity, and carries the weight and force of its themes effortlessly. I couldn’t have hoped for a better winner. 

THE ALCS TOM-GALLON TRUST AWARD RUNNER-UP: EDWARD HOGAN FOR ‘LITTLE GREEN MAN’

Edward Hogan’s most recent novel is The Electric, published by John Murray, and his previous books include Blackmoor, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize. His short stories have placed in the Manchester Fiction Prize and the Sunday Times Short Story Award. He won the Galley Beggar Press Short Story Prize in 2021. Ed is from Derby, and now lives in Brighton.

Betty Trask Prize

The Betty Trask Prize is presented for a first novel by a writer under 35. Judged by Anjali Joseph, Michael Donkor and Alex Preston.

Total prize fund: £26,200

THE BETTY TRASK PRIZE WINNER: TOM CREWE FOR THE NEW LIFE (CHATTO & WINDUS, VINTAGE)

Tom Crewe was born in Middlesbrough in 1989. He has a PhD in nineteenth century British history from the University of Cambridge. Since 2015, he has been an editor at the London Review of Books, to which he contributes essays on politics, art, history and fiction.

Betty Trask Prize judge Alex Preston said:

I was blown away by Tom Crewe’s The New Life. It’s a brilliantly complex and moving novel that does what the best historical fiction does: bringing the past alive in your head and your heart. It’s extraordinary to read a debut novel that has such subtlety, such range of both language and feeling. Rarely do I feel so certain of the truth of that first novel cliché: this is the start of a dazzling career.’

Cholmondeley Awards

Six winners each awarded £1,400.

The Cholmondeley Awards are awarded for contributions to poetry. Judged by Moniza Alvi, Malika Booker, Hannah Lowe and Lachlan Mackinnon.

Total prize fund: £8,400. 

The winners are Fiona Benson, Gerry Cambridge, Julia Copus, Leontia Flynn, Helen Ivory and Roger Robinson.

‘The Cholmondeley Awards have been, since they were introduced in 1966, important honorary awards that recognise poets’ sustained excellence across a body of work. Some of the recipients will already be well-known in the poetry world, while others may be deserving of wider recognition for the distinction of their writing. Many of them will have contributed to the genre in a variety of ways, through their performances and tutoring, for example. The Cholmondeley Awards prove that excellence can be perceived across a wide range of poetry from a diversity of poets. It is hoped that the recipients will feel valued, encouraged and truly celebrated.’ – Moniza Alvi

Roger Robinson is a writer who has performed worldwide, an experienced workshop leader and winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize 2019 and RSL Ondaatje Prize 2020.  Chosen by Decibel as one of 50 writers who have influenced the Black-British writing canon, his latest collection A Portable Paradise was a New Statesman book of the year. He was shortlisted for the 2020 Derek Walcott Poetry Prize, The OCM Bocas Poetry Prize, The Oxford Brookes Poetry Prize, highly commended by the Forward Poetry Prize and has toured extensively with the British Council. His work appears in anthologies like The Forward Book of Poetry 2024. Roger’s commissions include the BBC, Tate, Royal Mail and The National Portrait Gallery and his poem ‘A Portable Paradise’ appears in the GCSE English Literature syllabus.

Julia Copus has published five collections of poetry, the latest of which, Girlhood (Faber 2019), was winner of America’s inaugural Derek Walcott Prize for best collection by a non-US citizen. Other awards include the Forward Prize for ‘Best Single Poem’ and First Prize in the National Poetry Competition. She has mentored and tutored in poetry for The Arvon Foundation, The Poetry School, the British Council and Faber Academy, and is currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the V&A Museum in South Kensington.

Fiona Benson received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2006. Her collections are Bright Travellers, Vertigo & Ghost, and Ephemeron, all published by Jonathan Cape. Her recent work includes a poetry script for Wim Vandekeybus’ ‘Infamous Offspring’, which is currently in performance with his company Ultima Vez in Europe, and a fourth poetry book Midden Witch, due out in 2025.

Leontia Flynn’s fifth collection of poetry, Taking Liberties, was published with Jonathan Cape in 2023. Her previous collections have won the Forward prize for best First Collection, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy award for Irish poetry, the Irish Times Poetry Prize, and twice been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot prize. She was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2022 and is a Professor at the Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen’s University, Belfast.

Helen Ivory is a poet and visual artist who makes shadowboxes. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1999. She has published five collections with Bloodaxe Books – the sixth, Constructing a Witch, is forthcoming in October. Wunderkammer: New and Selected Poems was published by MadHat in the US in 2023.  She has work translated into Ukrainian, Polish, Spanish, Croatian and Greek for Versopolis.  A poem from chapbook Maps of the Abandoned City (SurVision, Ireland 2019) is a recent Poem on the Underground. She edits the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears and teaches online for the NCW Academy. She lives in Norwich.

Gerry Cambridge’s six books of poetry include Notes for Lighting a Fire (2012) and The Light Acknowledgers (2019), both from HappenStance Press. He founded The Dark Horse, Scotland’s leading poetry journal, in 1995. He is also an essayist, print designer, typographer, and former nature photographer. An Ayrshire caravan-dweller for twenty years, he became Brownsbank Fellow in MacDiarmid’s former home for 1997–1999. In his twenties he was one of the youngest-ever regular freelancers, specialising in nature articles, for the UK Reader’s Digest, which at the time (the 1980s) had a monthly circulation of 1.5 million copies. A prose memoir, The Ayrshire Nestling, is forthcoming in 2024 from Red Squirrel Press.

Eric Gregory Awards

Six winners each awarded £4,725

The Eric Gregory Awardsare presented for a collection of poems by a poet under 30. Judged by Raymond Antrobus, Caroline Bird, Eric Ngalle Charles, Wayne Holloway-Smith, Gwyneth Lewis and Joelle Taylor.   

Total prize fund: £28,350 

The winners are Will Barnard, Maia Elsner, William Gee, Yanita Georgieva, Nathaniel King and Francis-Xavier Mukiibi.

Eric Gregory Awards judge Gwyneth Lewis said:

‘Reading Eric Gregory submissions is always a mind-expanding experience and this year was no exception. The best manuscripts are utterly up-to-the-minute in their subject matter but, more importantly, in the texture of their poetic lines. Originality stands out a mile and becomes compelling when married with intellectual and emotional rigour. I left our final judges meeting feeling optimistic at seeing poetry breaking new ground and fully meeting the challenges of contemporary life.’ 

William Gee is the author of Rheuma (Bad Betty Press, 2020) and Trust fall (Out-spoken Press, 2023). His work has been selected as the Poetry Book Society Pamphlet choice, and has been featured in journals including Poetry Review, Poetry London, bath magg, Sick and Tentacular, and on BBC Radio 4.

Yanita Georgieva is a poet and journalist. She was born in Bulgaria, raised in Lebanon, and now lives in London. Her debut pamphlet Small Undetectable Thefts was published by Broken Sleep. In 2022, she received the Out-Spoken Prize for Page Poetry and was shortlisted for the Ivan Juritz Prize. She is an alumna of the Southbank New Poets Collective and a member of the London Library Emerging Writers Scheme. You can find her work in The London Magazine, Poetry Wales, bath magg, The Cardiff Review and elsewhere.

Will Barnard is a poet and writer from Cheshire with an MA in creative writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. 

Nathaniel King Nathaniel King is a poet from Cornwall, UK. His work has appeared in bath magg, Berlin Lit, Butcher’s Dog, Eggbox Press and Lighthouse. His debut, Ghost Clinic, was published by Broken Sleep Books. He is currently completing his PhD in folklore and hauntological poetics at Royal Holloway, and lives and teaches in London.

Maia Elsner’s debut poetry collection Overrun by Wild Boars (flipped eye, 2021) won a Somerset Maugham Award and was listed as one of the best books of 2021 by The Telegraph. Her debut non-fiction book, Dante Elsner (Guillemot Press, 2023), recounts through interview, archival material and 300+ colour images of paintings and ceramics, the life story of her paternal grandfather, who survived WW2 by hiding in the forests after his parents and brother were murdered and later found in art a reason to survive. The non-fiction book is the twin butterfly wing to an ekphrastic poetry-postcard project, Colours of Mourning (Guillemot Press, 2024), which responds to her grandfather’s artwork. Maia holds an MFA from the Helen Zell Program at the University of Michigan, where her writing has won the John S Wagner Prize and the Hopwood Award for non-fiction. Her multimedia collaborations include a poetry-film What Else But Incantate From Wreckage, premiered at the Barbican in London in 2021 and the poetry-music composition, ‘Attempts at Endings’, premiered at Kerrytown Concert Hall in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2023.

Francis-Xavier Mukiibi is a poet and spoken word performer of Ugandan heritage from North London. He is an alumnus of the Barbican Young Poets programme, the Roundhouse Poetry Collective and the Obsidian Foundation retreat. He produced one of 40 short poetry films in early 2024 as part of Apples and Snakes’ Future Voices programme. His poems appear or are forthcoming with Under the Radar, Magma, Propel, Poetry Wales, Ink Sweat & Tears, Zindabad Zine, Broken Sleep Books and Flipped Eye Publishing.

Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize

The Gordon Bowker Volcano Prize is awarded to a UK or Irish writer, or a writer currently resident in those countries, for a novel focusing on the experience of travel away from home. In memory of Malcolm Lowry and endowed by Gordon Bowker, his biographer, and Ramdei Bowker. Judged by Aamer Hussein, Yara Rodrigues Fowler and Kerry Young.

Total prize fund: £2,750

THE GORDON BOWKER VOLCANO PRIZE WINNER: SOULA EMMANUEL FOR WILD GEESE (FOOTNOTE PRESS)

Soula Emmanuel is a trans writer who was born in Dublin to an Irish mother and a Greek father. She attended university in Ireland and Sweden, graduating with a master’s in demography which she likes to think inspired her interest in society’s outliers. She has written for IMAGE magazine, Rogue Collective and the Project Arts Centre, and has had fiction published by The Liminal Review. She was longlisted for Penguin’s WriteNow programme in 2020, took part in the Stinging Fly fiction summer school in 2021 and was a participant in the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency’s mentorship programme for 2021-22. She currently lives on Ireland’s east coast.

Volcano Prize judge Yara Rodrigues Fowler said:

Wild Geese starts when Phoebe, a trans Irish woman living in Denmark receives a surprise visit from her kooky ex. Every sentence is a joy. Emmanuel’s prose is second to none – playful, erudite and completely unexpected. Wild Geese makes a powerful, moving case for the pursuit of newness in the world and in life. Not only does Emmanuel convincingly transport the reader to Copenhagen, she reveals to us the possibility at the heart of travel to a new place: that it might show us a different way of living.’

THE GORDON BOWKER VOLCANO PRIZE RUNNER-UP: CECILE PIN FOR WANDERING SOULS (HARPERCOLLINS UK, 4TH ESTATE)

Cecile Pin grew up in Paris and New York City, and is now based in London. Her debut novel Wandering Souls was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction, the Prix Femina Etranger, and shortlisted for the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize.

McKitterick Prize

Sponsored by the Hawthornden Foundation, the McKitterick Prize is awarded for a first novel by a writer over 40. Judged by Anietie Isong, Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott, Rebecca Foster, Gonzalo C. Garcia and Rónán Hession.

Total prize fund: £10,000

THE MCKITTERICK PRIZE WINNER: WENYAN LU FOR THE FUNERAL CRYER (ATLANTIC BOOKS, ALLEN & UNWIN)

Wenyan Lu is a novelist from Shanghai, China, represented by Kemi Ogunsanwo. Wenyan holds an MSt in Creative Writing and Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. She is also a literary translator, and teaches Creative Writing. Her novel The Funeral Cryer won the SI Leeds Literary Award before publication in the UK (Allen & Unwin), North America (Harper Collins) and Italy (Garzanti). The Funeral Cryer was Books Are My Bag’s Fiction of the Month and one of Kobo’s Best Fiction of the Month for May 2023. Wenyan is currently working on the submission of her second novel. She lives with her husband and two children in Cambridge.

McKitterick Prize judge Rónán Hession said:

‘Wenyan Lu has created an unforgettable debut, brimming with personality and written with a sense of consummate ease. The Funeral Cryer is such a funny, warm and original book. An absolute gem of a novel.’

THE MCKITTERICK RUNNER-UP: CHIDI EBERE FOR NOW I AM HERE (PAN MACMILLAN/PICADOR)

Chidi Ebere was born and raised in Oxford and spent part of his childhood in Nigeria before returning to the UK. His short stories have appeared in UK Cosmopolitan, Ambit and West 8. He has also written on architecture and urbanism for Archis, Harvard Design Magazine, the Journal of Architecture and others. He now lives in Amsterdam. Now I Am Here is his first novel.

Paul Torday Memorial Prize

Sponsored by the Hawthornden Foundation, the Paul Torday Memorial Prize is awarded to a first novel by a writer over 60. The prize includes a set of the collected works of British writer Paul Torday, who published his first novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at the age of 60. It is indebted to Weidenfeld & Nicolson Fiction for generously providing these books. Judged by Trevor Wood, Gaby Koppel and Anni Domingo.

Total prize fund: £4,000

THE PAUL TORDAY MEMORIAL PRIZE WINNER: JACQUELINE CROOKS FOR FIRE RUSH (JONATHAN CAPE, VINTAGE/PENGUIN RANDOMHOUSE)

Jacqueline Crooks grew up in 70s and 80s Southall, part of London’s migrant community carving out a space through music, culture and politics. Immersed in the gang underworld as a young woman, she later discovered the power of writing and music to help her look outwards and engage differently with the world – a power that has driven her ever since, from her work with charities to her short stories, which have been nominated for The Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Jhalak Prize, Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize, and the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction.

Paul Torday Prize judge Trevor Wood said:

‘An exemplary debut novel that somehow manages to combine politics, romance, thrills, music and a coming-of-age story into one entirely cohesive whole. It takes you from London to Jamaica, via Bristol, each setting beautifully drawn, and captures the sheer exhilaration of both dub reggae and the dance scene it inspired. A musical, lyrical and enchanting treat.’

THE PAUL TORDAY MEMORIAL PRIZE RUNNER-UP: FRAN HILL FOR CUCKOO IN THE NEST (LEGEND PRESS)

Fran Hill is a 62-year-old retired English teacher from Warwickshire who published a memoir about the teaching life in 2020. Cuckoo in the Nest is her first full-length work of fiction and is inspired by her own experience of being in care in the 1970s.

Queen’s Knickers Award

Sponsored by its founder Nicholas Allan, the Queen’s Knickers Award is an annual prize for an outstanding children’s original illustrated book for ages 0-7. It recognises books that strike a quirky, new note and grab the attention of a child, whether in the form of curiosity, amusement, horror or excitement. Judged by Salomey Doku, Chris Haughton and Cerrie Burnell.

Total prize fund: £6,000

THE QUEEN’S KNICKERS AWARD WINNER: BENJAMIN ZEPHANIAH AND NILA AYE FOR PEOPLE NEED PEOPLE (ORCHARD BOOKS, HACHETTE CHILDREN’S GROUP)

Benjamin Zephaniah was a performer, musician, actor, and one of the UK’s best-known poets. Born in Handsworth, Birmingham, Benjamin began writing and performing at the age of 11, and had his first collection of poetry published when he was 22. He wrote more than 30 books for adults and children and was known all over the world for his powerful writing and performances.

Benjamin was a founding member of Artists Against Apartheid, and in 1996 he hosted the President’s Two Nations Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London, at the request of Nelson Mandela. On August 29th 2007, he was the Master of Ceremonies at the unveiling of the statue of Nelson Mandela, again at his request, in Parliament Square. Benjamin was also a musician and was the first person to record with the Wailers after the death of Bob Marley.

As well as writing poetry, novels, screenplays and stage plays, Benjamin also wrote and presented documentaries for television and radio. His poetry show Life & Rhymes won a BAFTA for ‘best entertainment programme’ in 2021. He was awarded 13 honorary doctorates in recognition of his work and a wing at The Ealing Hospital in West London was named after him

Nila Aye was born in Rangoon, Myanmar, arriving in the UK at the age of three and spent most of her childhood dreaming and drawing pictures. She studied graphic design at Central St Martins in London, graduating in 1995. Nila is an award-winning illustrator, collaborating on many well-loved children’s books including Nature Trail, People Need People, Story Soup and the Little Bugs Big Feelings series. Her love of visual storytelling and collaboration with authors continues to energise Nila in her mission to bring beautifully illustrated books to a new generation of young readers around the world.

Queen’s Knickers Award judge Salomey Doku said:

People Need People stood out to us as a book that delivers a truly heartfelt message in a really digestible, friendly and succinct way. We all felt that Benjamin’s words were simple and effective, but also poignant and possessing of a permanent relevance. Paired with Nila’s superbly detailed and diverse illustrations, which encourage children to spend time with each scene and character. This is the kind of book that we could see both children and adults returning to again and again – a book that is uniquely, intentionally, beautifully global in its approach and personality.’

THE QUEEN’S KNICKERS PRIZE RUNNER-UP: YOKO MORI FOR TEDDY’S MIDNIGHT ADVENTURE (PUSHKIN CHILDREN’S BOOKS)

Yoko Mori was born in Tokyo in 1959 and is a painter, author and illustrator. She specialises in pencil drawings of nostalgic scenes of Tokyo life in the 1960s of her childhood. Teddy’s Midnight Adventure is the first of her books to be published in English.

Somerset Maugham

Five winners each awarded £3,200.

The Somerset Maugham Awards are for published works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by writers under 30, to enable them to enrich their work by gaining experience of foreign countries. Judged by Akeem Balogun, Bhanu Kapil and Ardashir Vakil.

Total prize fund: £16,000

The winners are Iona Lee, Cecile Pin, Phoenicia Rogerson, Momtaza Mehri and Katherine Pangonis.

The judges said:

‘This year’s Somerset Maugham Award shortlist was made up of young voices who used poetry, non-fiction, fiction, or other forms entirely, to explore history in unique fashions and to tell stories that document the present, reveal the author’s psyche, delve deep into our emotions and take us down roads of imaginative brilliance. We encourage more presses and imprints to submit works next year, to expand the possibilities of this prize.’

Iona Lee is a writer, artist, music-maker, storyteller and spoken-word performer from Edinburgh. She has been a prominent member of Scotland’s live poetry scene for the past ten years, appearing on radio and television and reading her work in venues and on festival stages all over the UK and Europe. In 2022, Iona won the John Byrne award for her poetry film, Away with the Fairies – a retelling of the Tam Lin ballad, and she appeared on Young Woman Scotland’s 30 Under 30 list. Her debut poetry collection, Anamnesis, was shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, and appeared on SNACK Magazine‘s list of the top ten books to be published in Scotland in 2023.

Cecile Pin grew up in Paris and New York City and is now based in London. Her debut novel Wandering Souls was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for fiction, the Prix Femina Etranger, and shortlisted for the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize.

Phoenicia Rogerson is altogether mortal with a rather less checkered past than Hercules. After a decade of not being able to find his complete story on bookshelves, she decided to pull her socks up and write it herself. She’s had two short stories published in the UCL Publisher’s Prize. She lives and works in London. Herc is her first novel.

Momtaza Mehri is a poet and researcher working across criticism, education, and radio. She is a former Young People’s Poet Laureate for London and Frontier-Antioch Fellow at Antioch University (Los Angeles). She has completed residencies at St. Paul’s Cathedral and the British Library and is now the new Poet-in-Residence at Homerton College, University of Cambridge. She is a columnist for Tate Etc, the arts magazine published by the Tate network of galleries. Her debut poetry collection Bad Diaspora Poems recently won the 2023 Forward Prize for Best First Collection, as well as an Eric Gregory Award.

Katherine Pangonis is a writer and historian specialising in the Mediterranean and Middle East. She is the author of two books, Queens of Jerusalem and Twilight Cities, and has two more in the works. She holds degrees in literature and history from Oxford University and University College London. Katherine has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women and minorities, and re-examining understudied areas of history and bringing her findings into the public eye. Her journalism has appeared in the Economist, The Times, the Fuller Project, BBC History and British Vogue, among others. Travel is central to her research process, and that is how she spends most of her time.

Travelling Scholarships

Six writers each awarded £5,800

The Travelling Scholarships are awarded to British writers to enable engagement with writers abroad. Judged by Emily Barr, Gabriel Gbadamosi, Alvin Pang, Louise Jury and Philip Terry. 

Total prize fund: £34,800

The winners are Hannah Lowe, Zoë Skoulding, Peter Kalu, Liz Hoggard, Katya Balen and James Byrne.

Hannah Lowe is a poet, memoirist and academic. Her latest book, The Kids, won the Costa Poetry Award and the Costa Book of the Year, 2021. Her first poetry collection Chick (Bloodaxe, 2013) won the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection. In September 2014, she was named as one of 20 Next Generation poets. Her family memoir Long Time, No See (Periscope, 2015) featured as Radio 4’s Book of the Week. She is a Reader in Creative Writing at Brunel University.

Zoë Skoulding’s sixth and most recent collection of poems is A Marginal Sea (Carcanet, 2022), following Footnotes to Water (Seren, 2019) and A Revolutionary Calendar (Shearsman, 2020). She is co-editor, with Katherine Hedeen, of Poetry’s Geographies: A Transatlantic Anthology of Translations (Shearsman, 2022), and her critical publications have explored poetry’s relationships with place, listening, translation and ecology. She is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Bangor University, and lives on Ynys Môn / Anglesey.

Peter Kalu writes short stories in styles ranging from the realist to the surreal to the carnivalesque. They can be found in anthologies including Glimpse & Closure (Peepal Tree 2024, 2023, 2015), Seaside Special (Bluemoose 2018) and Want me want me want me (Lancashire Libraries 2022). His novel, One Drop, was published in 2022 by Andersen Press. Until recently, he ran a carnival band, The Moko Jumbies. 

Liz Hoggard is a journalist, author and interviewer, covering books, theatre, film, design and travel. She has written for The Daily Telegraph, The Times, Evening Standard, Observer, Radio Times, The Stage, You magazine and Selvedge. Her books include Making Slough Happy and Dangerous Women: The Guide to Modern Life. She was nominated for the 2018 British Journalism Awards – Arts and Entertainment Journalism. And in 2023, she was a judge for the Comedy Women in Print Prize (Unpublished).

Katya Balen is a children’s writer from London. She writes mostly about nature, birds, home, and hope. Her second novel, October, October won the Carnegie Medal and the UKLA award, and was highly commended for the James Copper Wainwright Nature Writing Prize. She lives with her partner and their whippet, Mouse.

James Byrne is a poet, editor, translator and visual artist. His most recent poetry collections are Places you Leave (Arc Publications, 2022) and Of Breaking Glass (Broken Sleep Books, 2022). Byrne has worked with Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar and has given readings in places such as Libya and Syria. The Overmind (Broken Sleep, 2024) and his Selected Poems, Nightsongs for Gaia are forthcoming.

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