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Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage by Peter Forbes wins £50,000 Warwick Prize for Writing

Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage by Peter Forbes Peter Forbes was announced tonight (Tuesday 22 March, 2011) as the winner of the £50,000 Warwick Prize for Writing for Dazzled and Deceived (Yale University Press), his fascinating story of mimicry and camouflage in nature, art and warfare.

This unique biennial prize, launched in 2009, is run and self-funded by the University of Warwick. It is an international cross-disciplinary award open to any genre or form of writing on a given theme. This year’s theme was ‘colour’.

Peter Forbes, a writer, journalist and editor with a longstanding interest in the relationship between science and art, was one of six authors shortlisted. On receiving his award he said: “In an over-specialized world, the multi-disciplinary Warwick Prize is an oasis of genre-busting. With its themes, stressing content as well as writing, it seemed a brilliant idea to me when launched. But I couldn’t imagine, when I was writing Dazzled and Deceived, with its flaunted and concealing colours in nature, art and warfare, that some kind of convergence of the twain would see its theme chime with that of the Prize in its second outing. Now that the book has won, it feels like more than a Prize: to me it feels like a vindication of a life spent bouncing science off art and vice versa. The fact that the Prize comes from an academic institution that has always championed imaginative writing and that the book was chosen by an exceptionally creative group of judges makes it all the more precious”.

Interpreting the theme of this year’s prize of ‘colour’ in different ways, the shortlisted works included an ‘unvarnished truth’ about literary censorship in apartheid South Africa; a tale about the aftermath of civil war in Sierra Leone; a lyrically written novel about contemporary Afghanistan; an anthropologist’s meditation on the mysteries of color and poems recalling the Caribbean’s complex colonial legacy. (See details of the shortlist in the notes to editors).


The judging panel was chaired by the broadcaster, children's novelist, poet and author of 140 books, Michael Rosen. He explained: “Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage was singled out for a number of reasons. It’s a book about scientific concepts; it’s a book about art and it’s actually an exciting read because Forbes does what all good storytellers do – he reveals and conceals in equal measure. It is also a book of massive surprises. How does he bring the surrealists into this? I was delighted to revisit my old friends the melanin moths who were the standby of A-Level and first year university teaching about evolution. At one moment I thought the whole story was going down the pan. Would my education be in ruins? But no, Forbes pulled the moths from the fire!”

The University of Warwick’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Nigel Thrift, added: “Peter Forbes’ work Dazzled and Deceived is a superb winner for the Warwick Prize for Writing. It is a great work by an accomplished writer, who is well established in his career. However I am equally delighted to announce today that the University of Warwick is to offer two £5,000 bursaries for undergraduate students wishing to study on Warwick’s English Literature and Creative Writing undergraduate degree programme. This will give two young people the chance to start a journey which may lead to them producing their own award winning writing.”

As part of his prize Peter Forbes is taking up a residency at Warwick University at some point over the next eighteen months, details of which are to be confirmed.

 Joining Michael Rosen on the judging panel was The Times literary editor Erica Wagner; crossbench peer Lola Young; author and editorial director of Chatto & Windus Jenny Uglow and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick Professor Nigel Thrift.

For further information on The Warwick Prize for Writing please contact:

Rachel Duffield at Colman Getty
Tel: +44 (0)20 7631 2666 Fax: +44 (0)20 7631 2699

For further information on the University of Warwick please contact:

Peter Dunn, Press and Media Relations Manager at the University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0)2476 523708 or +44(0)7767 655860

Notes to Editors

  • The University of Warwick is one of the UK’s leading research universities. Consistently ranked in the top 10 of all the University league tables produced by UK national newspapers and ranked 7th among the UK's 100 universities for quality of research (Funding Councils' Research Assessment Exercise, 2008)
  • The £50,000 Warwick Prize is entirely self-funded by the University of Warwick. The University is able to make such an investment as it generates 63% of its own income
  • In addition to the £50,000 monetary prize, the winning author will be awarded the opportunity to take up a short placement at the University of Warwick
  • The Warwick Prize for Writing is an innovative new literature prize that involves global competition, and crosses all disciplines. The Prize will be given biennially for an excellent and substantial piece of writing in the English language, in any genre or form, on a theme which will change with every award


About the book: Dazzled and Deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage by Peter Forbes (Yale University Press)

In nature thousands of creatures have perfected the art of deception – butterflies, moths, fish, birds, insects and snakes imitate the colours and patterns of other animals or their surroundings to protect themselves, attract or repel, to bluff, warn and to hide. The warning colours employed by animals are the same ones we use in our danger signs: red, yellow, white and black. Dazzled and Deceived takes us on a journey to show how some of the world’s most remarkable creatures have given up their secrets with far-ranging consequences: from the first examples of Darwin’s natural selection in action, the sophisticated method developed to protect troops in combat, a cure for Rhesus babies to some of the very latest breakthroughs in understanding the genetics of evolution. Dazzled and Deceived sheds new light on the greatest quest: to understand the processes of life at its deepest level and is replete with colourful creatures and stories, both animal and human.

About the author

Peter Forbes is a writer with a special interest in the relationship between art and science. He initially trained as a chemist and worked in pharmaceutical and popular natural history publishing. He has written numerous articles and reviews, many specializing in the relation between the arts and science, for the Guardian, Independent, The Times, Daily Mail, Financial Times, Scientific American, New Scientist, World Medicine, Modern Painters, New Statesman, and other magazines.

He was editor of the Poetry Society’s Poetry Review from 1986-2002 and played a key role in the emergence of the celebrated New Generation Poets. His previous books include The Gecko’s Foot (Fourth Estate, 2005); he edited the poetry anthology Scanning the Century and translated Primo Levi’s The Search for Roots, both Penguin. He is currently Royal Literary Fund Fellow at St George's, University of London.

 About the shortlisted works:

  • The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam (Faber & Faber)

About the book

The Wasted Vigil is Nadeem Aslam’s follow up to the hugely acclaimed and prize-winning, Maps for Lost Lovers.

A Russian woman Lara, arrives in Afghanistan at the house of English widower Marcus Caldwell searching for clues about her brother’s disappearance. In the days that follow, she is joined by two Americans, a young Afghan teacher, Dunia, and Casa, a radicalised young man. As their paths cross, it becomes apparent their stories are inextricably linked.

The Wasted Vigil engages with the troubled history and landscape of Afghanistan over the past two decades, and its impact on the lives of six very different characters whose fates are tied together. This is a compelling, passionate and haunting novel, both an unflinching portrait of war and a heartbreaking love story. It is a brave and important book with a breathtaking narrative that marks Nadeem Aslam as a world writer of major importance.

About the Author

Nadeem Aslam’s first novel Season of the Rainbirds (1993), was described by Salman Rushdie as ‘one of the most impressive first novels of recent years.’ Maps for Lost Lovers (2004) was hailed by Boyd Tonkin in the Independent as ‘the most gorgeously written British novel of the year’, and became one of the most critically acclaimed novels of 2004. It was long-listed for the Booker Prize 2004, short-listed for the IMPAC Prize 2006 and won the Kiriyama Prize 2005 and the Encore Award 2005. He was also named Decibel Writer of the Year in 2005. Born in Pakistan, he now lives in England.

  • The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)

About the book

Adrian Lockheart is a psychologist escaping his life in England. Arriving in Freetown in the wake of civil war, he struggles with the intensity of the heat, dirt and dust, and with the secrets this country hides. Despite the gulf of experience and understanding between them, Adrian finds unexpected friendship in a young surgeon at the hospital, the charismatic Kai Mansaray, and begins to build a new life just as Kai makes plans to leave.

About the author

Aminatta Forna was born in Scotland and raised in West Africa. Her first book, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Literaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2007. In 2007 Vanity Fair named Aminatta as one of Africa’s most promising new writers. Aminatta has also written for magazines and newspapers, radio and television, and presented television documentaries on Africa’s history and art. Aminatta Forna lives in London with her husband.

  • The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences by Peter D McDonald (Oxford University Press)

About the book

The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences uncovers the tangled stories of censorship and literature in apartheid South Africa, drawing on a wealth of new evidence from censorship archives, archives of resistance publishers and writers' groups, and oral testimony. A unique perspective on one of the most repressive, anachronistic and racist states in the post-war era.

About the author

Peter D. McDonald was born in Cape Town in 1964 and educated in South Africa and the United Kingdom. He has written extensively on the history of ‘literature’ as a category from the nineteenth century to the present day, on publishing history, and on the relationship between literary institutions and the modern state. His publications include British Literary Culture and Publishing Practice, 1880–1914 (1997) and Making Meaning: ‘Printers of the Mind’ and Other Essays by D F McKenzie (2002), co-edited with Michael Suarez. He is currently a Fellow of St Hugh’s College and a lecturer in English at the University of Oxford.

  • What Color is the Sacred? by Michael Taussig (University of Chicago Press)

About the book

Over the past thirty years, visionary anthropologist Michael Taussig has crafted a highly distinctive body of work. Playful, enthralling, and whip-smart, his writing makes ingenious connections between ideas, thinkers, and things. An extended meditation on the mysteries of color and the fascination they provoke, What Color Is the Sacred? is the next step on Taussig’s remarkable intellectual path.

Ranging from Goethe to Walter Benjamin to William S. Burroughs, Taussig mounts a brilliant investigation into the Western world’s troubled relationship with vivid color, focusing on the way color has played a role in episodes of spectacular violence from the West’s colonial conquests to Auschwitz.

About the author

Michael Taussig is professor of anthropology at Columbia University and the author of several books, including Walter Benjamin’s Grave and My Cocaine Museum, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

  • White Egrets by Derek Walcott (Faber & Faber)

About the book

In White Egrets, Derek Walcott treats his characteristic subjects, such as the Caribbean’s complex colonial legacy, the Western artistic tradition, the blessings and withholdings of old Europe, the unaccommodating sublime of the new world and the poet’s place in all of this — with a passionate intensity and drive that recall his greatest work. Through the systolic and mesmerizing repetition of theme and imagery, Walcott carries his surf-like cadence from poem to poem, and from sequence to sequence in this celebratory and close-knit collection.

About the author

Derek Walcott was born in St Lucia in 1930. The author of many plays and books of poetry, he was awarded the Queen’s Medal for Poetry in 1988 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. He now divides his time between homes in St Lucia and New York.