"The transformative power of the written word" - announcing the 2021 SoA Awards shortlists

18 May 2021

Celebrating the transformative power of the written word, in deeply personal stories of Scottish gang culture and addiction, ordinary lives in wartime, the complexity of modern India, alongside an educational illustrated exploration for young readers into the lifecycle of plastic.

The Society of Authors has announced the shortlists for the Betty Trask Prize and Awards, the McKitterick Prize, the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, the third Paul Torday Memorial Prize, and in its second year the Queen’s Knickers Award for illustrated children’s books.

The wide-ranging list of 34 shortlisted writers, poets and illustrators, all with a chance to share an Awards fund of over £100,000, includes: Booker Prize and British Book Awards winner Douglas Stuart for Shuggie Bain; Heartbeat and Holby City actor Sophie Ward for Love and Other Thought Experiments; Nigerian writer and Ph.D. student Nneoma Ike-Njoku for her unpublished novel The Water House; winner of the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and British Book Awards Children’s Book of the Year Kiran Millwood Hargreave; lawyer turned children’s author Rashmi Sirdeshpande; 76-year-old debut novelist Elfan Jones; painter, academic, and former editor Karen Raney whose debut novel All the Water in the World is shortlisted for both the McKitterick Prize and the Paul Torday Memorial Prize; and Graeme Armstrong who after battling addiction and spending his teenage years involved in North Lanarkshire gang culture, now joins the shortlist for the Betty Trask Prize and Awards with his debut novel.

Each year, in an exceptional and broad line-up of prizes, the Society of Authors’ Awards showcases inclusivity in writing. Never limited by celebrating only one author for a single work, the Awards demonstrate that successful authors’ careers can and should begin anywhere at any time, regardless of background or age.

The 2021 shortlists celebrate a global pool of talent, with recognition for writers and illustrators from Nigeria, New Zealand, the United States and the Republic of Ireland, as well as from all corners of the UK.

The judges for each award, including Claire Fuller, Roopa Farooki, Vaseem Khan, Patrice Lawrence and Paul Bailey, praised ‘erudite and linguistically nimble’ debuts, and work that is ‘beautifully crafted, quirky, atmospheric and touching’. Their chosen shortlists explore the human condition from a vast array of perspectives, including adolescent angst, the evocation of life in a country at war, lives blighted by drink and drugs, the complex realities of modern India, alongside topics explored for children, ranging from pirates and dinosaurs to a timely exploration of the positive and negative impacts of plastic on our world.

The winners will be announced online on Wednesday 9 June 2021, in an online ceremony presented by novelist Joanne Harris, sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing & Collecting Society (ALCS).

As part of the SoA @ Home festival, a series of free online events themed around the SoA Awards will run from 25 May to 18 June, featuring shortlistees, judges (including Fred D'Aguiar, Claire Fuller and Roseanne Watt) and past winners.

Further awards presented on Wednesday 9 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, the 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, Linton Kwesi Johnson, William Golding and Margaret Drabble.

The 2021 shortlists

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 Claire Fuller, Sophie Haydock, Billy Kahora, Ardashir Vakil and Mary Watson.

  • Eventually Meeting the Sky Somewhere by Maeve O'Lynn
  • The Hopelessness of Hope by Sean Lusk
  • The House of Wild Beasts by Anne Aylor
  • I Told You Not to Fly So High by DM O'Connor
  • Swanskin by Alison Littlewood
  • What The Deal Is by Dafydd Mills Daniel

ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award judge Ardashir Vakil commended the shortlisted works for being ‘beautifully crafted, quirky, atmospheric and touching’, ‘tightly structured’, ‘highly original’, and ‘expertly narrated, both light and troubling’.

​Previous winners include Benjamin Myers, Lucy Wood, Grace Ingoldby and Claire Harman.

Total prize fund: £1,575.

Betty Trask Prize & Awards

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

  • Bad Love by Maame Blue (Jacaranda Books)
  • The Last Good Man by Thomas McMullan (Bloomsbury)
  • The Liar's Dictionary by Eley Williams (William Heinemann, Cornerstone PRH)
  • The Mercies by Kiran Millwood Hargrave (Pan Macmillan, Picador)
  • The Water House by Nneoma Ike-Njoku (Unpublished)
  • The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong (Pan Macmillan, Picador)

Betty Trask Prize & Awards judge Vaseem Khan commended the shortlisted novels for being ‘measured and precise’, ‘erudite and linguistically nimble’, ‘quietly powerful’, and ‘a narrative whose power lasts long after the reading stops’.

​Past winners include Zadie Smith, David Szalay, Hari Kunzru and Sarah Waters.

Total prize fund: £26,200.

McKitterick Prize

The McKitterick Prize is awarded for a first novel by a writer over 40. Judged by Sabrina Mahfouz, Nick Rennison and Christopher Tayler.

  • All the Water in the World by Karen Raney (John Murray Press, Two Roads)
  • The Apparition Phase by Will Maclean (William Heinemann, Cornerstone PRH UK)
  • As You Were by Elaine Feeney (Harvill Secker, VINTAGE)
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara (Chatto & Windus, VINTAGE)
  • Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward (Little, Brown Book Group, Corsair)
  • Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Pan Macmillan / Picador)

McKitterick Prize judge Nick Rennison says: ‘The titles on the shortlist vary greatly in subject and setting, from a young Glaswegian’s love for his deeply damaged mother to a teenager’s encounter with the potentially supernatural, from the dark underbelly of an Indian city to middle-class American suburbia. What unites them all are energy, inventiveness and a commitment to the novel as an endlessly rewarding, and inspiring, literary form.’

Past winners include Helen Dunmore, Mark Haddon and Petina Gappah.

Total prize fund: £5,250.

The Queen’s Knickers Award

Now in its second year, this 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, Patrice Lawrence and Tony Ross.

  • The Diddle that Dummed written by Kes Gray, illustrated by Fred Blunt (Hachette Children’s Group)
  • The Gobbledegook Book written by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson (Gecko Press)
  • Lift-the-Flap Questions and Answers About Plastic written by Katie Daynes, illustrated by Marie-Eve Tremblay (Usborne)
  • Mr Penguin and the Catastrophic Cruise written and illustrated by Alex T. Smith (Hachette Children’s Group, Hodder Children’s Books)
  • Never Show a T-Rex a Book written by Rashmi Sirdeshpande, illustrated by Diane Ewen (Puffin)
  • The Pirates are Coming! written by John Condon, illustrated by Matt Hunt (Nosy Crow)

Queen's Knickers Award judge Patrice Lawrence commended the shortlisted books for being ‘surprising, transgressive and highly readable’, ‘dynamic, funny, heart-warming’, ‘deceptively simple’, ‘jammed full of information’, and ‘with a great plop of an ending’.

​The inaugural winner of the Queen’s Knickers Award in 2020 was Elena Arevalo Melville for Umbrella.

Total prize fund: £6,000.

​Paul Torday Memorial Prize

Now in its third year, 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 Paul Bailey, Roopa Farooki and Anne Youngson.

  • All  the Water in the World by Karen Raney (John Murray, Two Roads)
  • Dirt Clean by Judith Amanthis (Victorina Press)
  • In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O'Shaughnessy (Scribe UK)
  • Let Sleeping Dogs Lie by Elfan Jones (Unbound)
  • The Man on the Street by Trevor Wood (Quercus)

Anne Youngson, Paul Torday Memorial Prize judge and inaugural winner of the Prize in 2019, says: The five shortlisted novels demonstrated ambition, and significant literary skill in the way the writers realised that ambition. There were no commonalities of theme, and though two were in the crime fiction genre, they interpreted that genre in different ways. It was refreshing, but perhaps not surprising, to find that novelists coming to the form later in life understand what it is they want to achieve. None of these novels could be accused of following a trend or aiming for a particular niche. There is a confidence in the purpose and execution of all five books.

Past winners were Anne Youngson for Meet Me at the Museum (2019) and Donald S Murray for As the Women Lay Dreaming (2020).

Total prize fund: £1,000.