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Cal Flyn wins the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award, in partnership with University of Warwick

2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award logoScottish author and journalist Cal Flyn has been named winner of the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award for her eerie yet ultimately optimistic account of ecological diversity, Islands of Abandonment.

The University of Warwick is a partner in the award and offers a bespoke 10-week residency for the winner.

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the UK’s most influential prize for young writers has for three decades been a definitive indicator of rising literary talent in Britain and Ireland, recognising such names as Zadie Smith, Simon Armitage, Max Porter and Sally Rooney in the early stages of their careers.

Today, Cal Flyn joins that legacy for her impressive work Islands of Abandonment, which was previously shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize and the Wainwright Conservation Award. It is a book about abandoned places: ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man’s lands and fortress islands – and what happens when nature is allowed to reclaim its place.

The Warwick Writing Programme at the University of Warwick offers a bespoke 10-week residency for the winner of the Award. Professor Ian Sansom, Director of the Warwick Writing Programme, said: 'We very much look forward to welcoming Cal Flyn to Warwick to work with our students.'

Judge Tahmima Anam said: ‘We all fell hard for this book: the originality of thinking, the intellectual rigor, the love for all that is gone and yet not entirely lost, and of course the sheer magic of the prose. Cal Flyn finds sublime beauty in the most unlikely of places, and, in doing so, gives us all reason to hope that our planet may yet be saved. You cannot ask for a better reason to read.’

Judge Gonzalo C. Garcia said: ‘Flyn’s prose is simply exceptional. Islands of Abandonment surprised me as a skilful and original work whose powerful lyricism heightens chronicles of blight and restoration to a renewed awareness of the environmental impact of our presence (and importantly, our absence). It ’s difficult not to get excited about the future of this magnificent young writer. A fantastic talent and deserving winner.’

Judge Claire Lowdon said: ‘Islands of Abandonment is a counterintuitive redemption story, a dazzling blend of ecology, natural history, literature and aesthetics. All the writers here should be applauded for tackling difficult subjects head on. Cal Flyn stands out not just from this formidable shortlist, but from every book you’ll ever read. We are facing a terrifying environmental crisis of our own making, and it’s tempting to put our heads down and try to forget about it. Flyn’s writing will make you look up, look around, and see the world and humankind’s place in it in entirely new ways.’

Judge Sarah Moss said: ‘Islands of Abandonment has a rare combination of intellectual rigour, lyrical writing and respect for ambiguity and ambivalence. We all recognised its outstanding qualities on first reading. I expect that we will be eagerly reading Cal Flynn for many years to come.’

The book explores the extraordinary places where humans no longer live – or survive in tiny, precarious numbers – to give us a possible glimpse of what happens when mankind’s impact on nature is forced to stop. From Tanzanian mountains to the volcanic Caribbean, the forbidden areas of France to the mining regions of Scotland, Flyn brings together some of the most desolate, eerie, ravaged and polluted areas in the world – and shows how, against all odds, they offer our best opportunities for environmental recovery.

The announcement was made at an event at The London Library, in a warmly celebrated return to in-person prize ceremonies. The event was hosted by The Sunday Times’ Literary Editor Andrew Holgate, alongside 2021 judges Andrew O’Hagan, Tahmima Anam, Claire Lowdon and Gonzalo C. Garcia, as well as Chair of the Charlotte Aitken Trust, novelist Sebastian Faulks.

In this special anniversary year, the award joins forces with a major new sponsor, the Charlotte Aitken Trust, which, in memory of his daughter, aims to continue Gillon Aitken’s work of encouraging literary talent and aims to advance the education of the public in the subject of literature. The sponsorship of the award enables the prize to significantly extend its core mission of supporting and developing young literary voices in the UK and Ireland, and doubles the prize money to £10,000 with £1,000 for each shortlisted author.

The 2021 award also marks a new partnership with Waterstones who are supporting the prize with in-store POS in shops across the country, including bespoke 30th anniversary bookmarks showcasing the heritage of the award and this year’s Young Writers. Waterstones will also share tailored content across all of their channels, including a specially commissioned piece for their blog and YouTube channel and Waterstones Plus newsletter, which reaches more than 1 million subscribers.

Andrew Holgate, Literary Editor of the Sunday Times said: ‘It ’s one thing to have written such an original and gripping book as Islands of Abandonment. It ’s quite another thing to be such a superb stylist and writer as Cal Flyn has shown herself to be in this book. Over the years the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award has made a habit of celebrating superb nature writers - Robert Macfarlane, William Fiennes, Adam Weymouth - and Flyn with this superb book more than matches these predecessors. Watch out for her; she is already a superb writer, and she has the potential to be so much more.’

Sebastian Faulks said: ‘ The judges have done a terrific job. This is exactly the kind of list we were hoping to see and the Charlotte Aitken Trust is thrilled to be a part of this award.’

Bea Carvalho, Head of Fiction at Waterstones, said: ‘We are thrilled that Cal Flyn has won The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award. Islands of Abandonment is nonfiction at its most urgent and fascinating: it is a stunningly clever and energising piece of writing which begs to be read and recommended widely. We are delighted to have a new opportunity to celebrate this brilliant book following its stint as Waterstones Non-fiction Book of the Month in January.’

Cal Flyn is an author and journalist from the Highlands of Scotland. She has reported for both the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph and writes regularly for publications including Granta, the Guardian and Prospect. Her first book, Thicker Than Water, was a Times book of the year and dealt with the colonisation of Australia and questions of inherited guilt. She was made a MacDowell fellow in 2019, and currently lives in the Orkney Islands.

Cal Flyn joins Jay Bernard, Raymond Antrobus, Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter and Sarah Howe as the seventh writer in an exceptional line-up of defining new voices spotted and supported by the Young Writer of the Year Award since it returned from a 7-year break in 2015.

The judges chose Flyn from a shortlist of five that also included poet Rachel Long (for My Darling from the Lions), as well as novelists Megan Nolan (for her debut Acts of Desperation), Anna Beecher (for Here Comes the Miracle) and Caleb Azumah Nelson (for Open Water).

Administered by the Society of Authors, the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award works with a growing network of partners to provide a critical support system to the very best talent at work right now.

The winner will also be offered a bespoke 10-week residency by the University of Warwick. The London Library adds two years’ membership to the attractive winner package, as well as a year’s membership for the shortlist. All shortlisted authors will be championed overseas by prize partner the British Council.

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The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award:

Founded in 1991, the award recognises the best literary work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish writer of 35 and under. £10,000 is given to the winner, and £1,000 to each of the runners-up. The award was suspended in 2008, but was revitalised in 2015 with the help of the literary agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop, building on the remarkable legacy of the prize by introducing two significant and exciting innovations: extending its reach by including writers from Ireland and including selfpublished works as well as those from publishers – putting the prize in tune with the changing landscape of British publishing.

In 2019, after two years as associate sponsor, the University of Warwick assumed the title partnership of the prize. As of June 2021, the prize is sponsored by the Charlotte Aitken Trust.

Past winners are: Jay Bernard, Surge (2020); Raymond Antrobus, The Perseverance (2019); Adam Weymouth, Kings of the Yukon (2018); Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends (2017); Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers (2016); Sarah Howe, Loop of Jade (2015); Ross Raisin, God’s Own Country (2009); Adam Foulds, The Truth About These Strange Times (2008); Naomi Alderman, Disobedience (2007), Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination (2004); William Fiennes, The Snow Geese (2003); Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2001); Sarah Waters, Affinity (2000); Paul Farley, The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (1999); Patrick French, Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division (1998); Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (1997); Katherine Pierpoint, Truffle Beds (1996); Andrew Cowan, Pig (1995); William Dalrymple, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1994); Simon Armitage, Kid (1993); Caryl Phillips, Cambridge (1992); and Helen Simpson, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories (1991).

About The Sunday Times:

The Sunday Times, founded in 1822, is Britain’s best-selling quality newspaper. It celebrated its 10,000th edition in May 2016 and has won a clutch of awards for its Insight team investigations unit, its foreign reporting and its magazine features and interviews in particular. At the 2020 Press Awards The Sunday Times’s Insight team took the popular-life scoop of the year, the political editor Tim Shipman won political reporter of the year, chief foreign correspondent Christina Lamb was named broadsheet feature writer of the year and Chris Haslam was selected as travel journalist of the year.

About the Charlotte Aitken Trust - Sponsor:

The Charlotte Aitken Trust is a registered charity funded by money left for the purpose by the leading literary agent Gillon Aitken (1938-2016), formerly chairman of Aitken Alexander Associates. The Trust is named in memory of his daughter Charlotte, who died in 2011 at the age of 27. The Charlotte Aitken Trust aims to continue Gillon’s work of encouraging literary talent and aims to advance the education of the public in the subject of literature; and to promote the creative arts for the public benefit, especially literature, whether fiction, non-fiction, drama or poetry.

The Trust expects to award prizes, grants and scholarships, either in programmes developed by the trustees or in partnership with existing schemes. A first grant was made in October 2020 in support of the Brontë Society, which operates the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth, Yorkshire. In May 2021, the Trust announced support of a Young Vic/Headlong co-production, ‘Best of Enemies’, a new play by Olivier Award-winner James Graham, directed by Jeremy Herrin. The Charlotte Aitken Trust is now the sponsor of The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award.

About Waterstones - Retail Partner:

Waterstones is the UK and Ireland’s leading high street bookseller with 290 bookshops, including Foyles, Hatchards, Hodges Figgis and branches in Ireland, Brussels and Amsterdam. It is the only national specialist book retailer of scale in the UK, with the average sized shop carrying a range of around 30,000 individual books and with over 200,000 titles in the largest shop.

About The University of Warwick - Partner:

The University of Warwick offers a bespoke 10-week residency for the winner and a year round programme of digital support for the prize. The University of Warwick is consistently ranked in the top 10 universities in the UK and top 100 in the world, with the Warwick Writing Programme ranked No1 in the UK by The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2018. It is one of the UK’s leading universities, with an acknowledged reputation for excellence in research, teaching and innovation alongside pioneering links with business and industry. It is home to the acclaimed Warwick Writing Programme, the largest and most comprehensive of its kind in Europe, which is currently home to renowned authors such as: Maureen Freely, Nell Stevens, A.L.Kennedy, Gonzalo Ceron Garcia and Tim Leach.

About The British Council - Partner:

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We work with over 100 countries in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Last year we reached over 80 million people directly and 791 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. We make a positive contribution to the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive a 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.

About the London Library - Partner:

Founded in 1841 The London Library is one of the world’s great lending libraries. An extraordinary history, a vast borrowing collection and an outstanding building make this a unique place to read, to write and to be inspired.

About The Society of Authors - Partner:

The Society of Authors is the UK trade union for all types of writers, illustrators and literary translators, at all stages of their careers. They have more than 11,800 members and have been advising individuals and speaking out for the profession for more than a century. In 2020, they awarded just under £600,000 in grants and prizes (for fiction, non-fiction, poetry and translation). In all the Society of Authors administers twenty-two prizes, including The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award.

25 February 2022

University of Warwick press office contact:

Peter Thorley

Media Relations Manager (Warwick Medical School and Department of Physics) | Press & Media Relations | University of Warwick

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