2020 SoA Awards shortlists - celebrating the inclusive power of the written word

14 May 2020

Inclusive power of the written word celebrated as TV news presenter George Alagiah, and Costa Award winner Sally Gardner share Society of Authors' Awards shortlists with 'Banksy of Poetry' Brian Bilston and poet and activist Ani Kayode Somtochukwu.

The Society of Authors today (Thursday 14 May) announces the shortlists for the Betty Trask, McKitterick, ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Awards, the Paul Torday Memorial Prize, and inaugural Queen’s Knickers Award, a new accolade recognising a quirky, outstanding children’s illustrated book for ages 0-7.

The wide-ranging list of 29 shortlisted writers, poets and illustrators who seek to share an awards fund of £100,000 includes: TV news presenter and Royal Television Society Award winner George Alagiah OBE; Twitter’s unofficial Poet Laureate, Brian Bilston; Taffy Brodesser-Akner, New York Times Magazine staff writer and international bestseller; Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner, former bookseller and videogame producer, Lynda Clark; Costa and Carnegie Medal-winning author Sally Gardner; Gaby Koppel, a freelance TV Producer with credits including Crime Watch and Rip-Off Britain; illustrator Nick Maland, winner of the Book Trust Early Years Award; poet, biology student and activist Ani Kayode Somtochukwu; and Sunday Times bestselling novelists Stacey Halls and Sara Collins.

The diverse backgrounds and varied journeys to publication of the 2020 shortlistees showcases the inclusive power of the written word, by demonstrating there is no single route to becoming a successful author. The talent celebrated is also global with recognition for writers and illustrators from Guatemala, to Nigeria, Tobago and Australia, as well as acclaimed British names.

The judges for each award, including William Fiennes, Susan Hill, Vaseem Khan, Sarah Waters, Gary Younge and Korky Paul, praised the shortlisted work, including debuts that ‘leave you profoundly excited for the career that is to follow.’ Their chosen shortlists explore universal themes such as persecution – from 17th Century European witch trials to homophobia in present day Africa; humankind’s precarious relationship with the natural world; the joys and challenges of married life; and the meaning of community.

Betty Trask Prize and Awards judge Vaseem Khan will take part in an online discussion this evening about the shortlisted works and the challenges of running a prize judging process during lockdown. For more details and to sign up, visit www.societyofauthors.org/events

The winners will be announced online on Thursday 18 June, with a series of short films to celebrate this year’s winning and shortlisted authors. As part of the SoA @ Home festival, a series of free online events focused on the SoA Awards will run throughout June featuring shortlistees, judges (including Sarah Waters and Barney Norris), past winners, and a special in-conversation event on the afternoon of 18 June with Cressida Cowell.

Further awards presented on Thursday 18 June are the Eric Gregory Awards for a collection of poems by a poet under 30, the Cholmondeley Awards for a body of work by a poet, the Elizabeth Longford Prize for Historical Biography, Travelling Scholarships awarded to British creative writers to enable them to keep in contact with writing colleagues abroad, and The Somerset Maugham Awards 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.

The Society of Authors’ Awards has rewarded the early works of some of today’s most prominent literary figures such as Zadie Smith, Seamus Heaney, Helen Dunmore, Hari Kunzru, Carol Ann Duffy and Mark Haddon and honoured the careers of established figures including Dylan Thomas, Fay Weldon, William Golding and Margaret Drabble.

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The shortlists for each award are:

The Queen's Knickers Award (inaugural year)

This new annual prize, founded by Nicholas Allan, author of The Queen's Knickers, is awarded for an outstanding children's original illustrated book for ages 0-7. It will recognise books that strike a quirky, new note and grab the attention of a child, whether this be in the form of curiosity, amusement, horror or excitement. Judged by Alexis Deacon, Emily Gravett and Korky Paul.

  • Umbrella written and illustrated by Elena Arevalo Melville
  • Mr Tiger, Betsy and the Sea Dragon written by Sally Gardner, illustrated by Nick Maland
  • How to Light Your Dragon written by Didier Lévy, illustrated by Fred Benaglia
  • One Fox written and illustrated by Kate Read
  • Child of St Kilda written and illustrated by Beth Waters

Queen Knickers Award judge Emily Gravett says: “There couldn’t be a more timely moment, whilst we have been restricted in so many ways, to celebrate the joy and freedom that great picture books bring. This fantastic shortlist reflects a diversity of subject and style and is a triumph of the authors’ and illustrators’ imaginations. Imagination being one freedom that can never be curtailed.”

​Total prize fund: £6,000.

The ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award

Sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS), 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 Stuart Evers and  Michèle Roberts.

  • Ghillie’s Mum by Lynda Clark
  • High Water by Carol Farrelly
  • The Bird That Fluttered Free by Ani Kayode Somtochukwu
  • Whale Watching by Diana Powell
  • Eva at the End of the World by Wendy Riley
  • The Pier at Ardentinny by Catriona Ward

ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award judge Stuart Evers says‘The broad and distinctive range of voices in this year's ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award made for a spirited and passionate debate, and one that showed the dynamism and singularity of these stories.’

​Previous winners include Benjamin Myers, Lucy Wood, Grace Ingoldby and Claire Harman. Total prize fund: £1,575.

Betty Trask Prize and Awards

The Betty Trask Prize and Awards are presented for a first novel by a writer under 35. Judged by Ben Brooks, Elanor Dymott and Vaseem Khan.

  • The Familiars by Stacey Halls
  • The Parisian by Isabella Hammad
  • Hitch by Kathryn Hind
  • The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu

Betty Trask Prize and Awards judge Elanor Dymott says: ‘The Betty Trask shortlist is a rich crop of extremely good books, each of which does something remarkably different, wonderfully new, and reassuringly authentic. These debut novelists are intensely engaged with their craft, conversing easily with their forbears at the same time as blazing exhilarating and beautiful trails into the future.’

​Past winners include Zadie Smith, David Szalay, Hari Kunzru and Sarah Waters. Total prize and award fund: £26,200.

McKitterick Prize

The McKitterick Prize is awarded for a first novel by a writer over 40. Judged by Susan Hill, Abir Mukherjee and Christopher Tayler.

  • Golden Child by Claire Adam
  • Diary of a Somebody by Brian Bilston
  • Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
  • Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
  • The Travelers by Regina Porter

McKitterick Prize judge Abir Mukherjee says: ‘Once again it’s been an honour to judge the McKitterick Prize and a pleasure to read the entries. What is wonderful is the diversity and quality of these debuts, and it proves that age and experience really can contribute to wonderful writing.’

Past winners include Helen Dunmore, Mark Haddon and Petina Gappah. Total prize fund: £5,250.

Paul Torday Memorial Prize

​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. Judged by William Fiennes, Catherine Johnson and Sarah Waters.

  • The Burning Land by George Alagiah
  • Madeleine by Euan Cameron
  • Reparation by Gaby Koppel
  • Find Me Falling by Fiona Vigo Marshall
  • As the Women Lay Dreaming by Donald S Murray
  • The Stranger She Knew by Rosalind Stopps​

Paul Torday Memorial Prize Judge Sarah Waters says:  “There's a great range of novels on this exciting shortlist: some have the pace and punch of thrillers and detective stories, others have the lyricism of poetry or the disconcerting shimmer of dream and nightmare. What they all have in common, however, is an interest in tackling some of the big issues of our time -– issues like injustice and reparation, trauma and recovery. They are powerful books by really talented authors.” 

The inaugural Paul Torday Memorial Prize was awarded to Anne Youngson for Meet Me at the Museum in 2019. Total prize fund: £1,000.

Thank you to the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) for supporting the SoA Awards.

The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a not-for-profit organisation started by writers for the benefit of all types of writers. Owned by its members, ALCS collects money due for secondary uses of writers’ work. It is designed to support authors and their creativity, ensure they receive fair payment and see their rights are respected. It promotes and teaches the principles of copyright and campaigns for a fair deal. It represents over 100,000 members, and since 1977 has paid around £500 million to writers (alcs.co.uk).

Share your support - #SoAwards

Show your support for the 2020 Society of Authors’ Awards on social media by downloading our banners – and get inspiration for tweets and posts. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #SoAwards!

Download celebratory shortlist banners for Twitter or Facebook:

Or for Instagram:

Suggested tweets:

Congratulations to the shortlistees in the Society of Authors’ Awards! Check them out here: https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2020/May/SoA-Awards-2020-shortlist #SoAwards @soc_of_authors

Brilliant line-up for the 2020 Society of Authors’ Awards – 29 authors shortlisted to share £100,000 prize fund. https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2020/May/SoA-Awards-2020-shortlist #SoAwards @soc_of_authors

Great to see this year’s shortlisted authors for the @soc_of_authors [award name – like McKitterick Prize]. Winner announced June 2020. Check them out: https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2020/May/SoA-Awards-2020-shortlist #SoAwards

Suggested Facebook posts:

The Society of Authors has announced the 2020 Society of Authors’ Awards shortlists, sharing in a total prize fund worth almost £100,000. Winners will be announced in June 2020. See the line-up here: https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2020/May/SoA-Awards-2020-shortlist

Congratulations to all the shortlisted writers and illustrators for the Society of Authors' Awards 2020 – including the inaugural Queen’s Knickers Prize for a quirky children’s illustrated book for ages 0-7. Check them out: https://societyofauthors.org/News/News/2020/May/SoA-Awards-2020-shortlist