We are less than a week away from finding out who has been named the 2018 Young Writer of the Year and for the first time ever I am desperate for one particular book to win. I'd normally be diplomatic – and I'm not going to tell you which one my favourite is – but this time, while I've been impressed by the very different writing styles of all the books, I can't help but lean towards one particular finalist.
Before we go any further, I should own up I've – so far – only finished one of the four shortlisted books. Time was tight when I got them, so I began reading all of them at the same time in an attempt to experience as much of each book as possible before writing this. I'm not going to tell you which of the four I've finished, only that it was my least favourite.
Having a favourite and a least favourite* means I'm going to have to be very careful in my descriptions of the four finalists. I really don't want to sway your own encounters with these books.
This year's shortlist comprises two novels and two what I would call memoirs. I realise that's not exactly right for the latter two, but to me it feels more appropriate than saying non-fiction.
In alphabetical order by surname, here they are:
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock,
by Imogen Hermes Gowar
Inspired by an artefact in the British Museum, Imogen began writing this novel as part of a personal task of short stories that grew into something more. The book tells the story of a late 18th century merchant who discovers one of his ships has been exchanged for a mermaid, and the courtesan he later meets. The story itself is an interesting one, but for me it's the wry observations about society that make The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock so readable.
The Reading Cure: How books restored my appetite, by Laura Freeman
The first of the two non-fiction finalists, I admit this was the book I was least looking forward to reading – and so was pleased to have my mind changed. A personal account of how reading helped the writer to overcome her anorexia, I was as nervous to learn about the hunger and obsession as I was excited to find out more about the books and their impact on Laura's life. All I can say is that the combination works. The heart-felt honesty of the writing make this book an enjoyable education of a condition I'm sure many of us have very little understanding of.
Elmet, by Fiona Mozley
Somewhere between a fairy tale and a menacing encounter in the woods, this novel is told through the eyes of 14-year-old Daniel, which means even in its darkest moments the story is still tinged with innocence. Written by a bookseller from The Little Apple Bookshop – in part on her phone while travelling between London and Yorkshire – this is a startling debut that has already seen Fiona shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Kings of the Yukon: An Alaskan river journey,
by Adam Weymouth
Following the journey of salmon along the Yukon river, this is anything but a 'one man and his canoe' type book. An experienced journalist, Adam brings to life the plight of these fish in a way that is both beautiful and tragic. Intermingling his own experiences with encounters with all manner of different communities along the river, Adam guides us through a landscape I'm sure many of us are unfamiliar with, opening our eyes to its splendour and its struggles and making us pay more attention to the way humanity is changing our fragile world.
The winner of The Sunday Times Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick, will be announced on Thursday, 7th December. The winner is chosen by a panel of expert judges. A shadow panel of bloggers has already made their decision. To find out more visit the website.
Posted: 4th December
*I use the words least favourite very carefully. It's not that I didn't like the book, it's just the one I'm least keen to see named the winner.