Sally Rooney has been awarded The 2017 Sunday Times/Peters Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, in association with the University of Warwick for her extraordinary debut Conversations With Friends (Faber), an intimate story of high-risk relationships, youth and love, at a special evening ceremony in The London Library on the evening of Thursday, 7th December.
A remarkably fresh, clever and self-assured debut, Conversations With Friends has been one of the biggest debuts of 2017, and Rooney’s writing has been compared with that of JD Salinger and Bret Easton Ellis. The story follows Frances, a spoken word performance artist, who embarks on a risky affair with a married actor.
26-year-old Rooney was shortlisted for the award alongside four other writers, rather than the usual three, as a testament to the extraordinary strength of submissions this year. Featuring two other novels, a collection of linked short stories and a biography, the shortlist showcased the extraordinary breadth of young British and Irish writing: Minoo Dinshaw’s debut Outlandish Knight is the biography of the great and strange British historian Steven Runciman; with The End of the Day, Claire North has written a novel of life, death and everything in between; The Lucky Ones, Julianne Pachico’s debut collection of stories, mostly set in Columbia, brings together the fates of guerrilla soldiers, rich kids, rabbits and drug dealers; and The Lauras by Sara Taylor, whose first novel was shortlisted for the award in 2015, explores identity and relationships, set against a rolling backdrop of the North American landscape.
Generously sponsored by literary agency Peters Fraser + Dunlop, the prize is awarded annually to the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author aged between 18 and 35, either published or self-published, and has gained attention and acclaim across the publishing industry and press for its uncanny ability to pick future greats. £5,000 is given to the overall winner and £500 to each of the four runners-up.
This year’s prize was judged by the award-winning novelist and political commentator Elif Shafak and the acclaimed cultural historian and biographer Lucy Hughes-Hallett alongside The Sunday Times literary editor Andrew Holgate.
Andrew Holgate said: ‘Choosing this year's winner from five such outstanding writers was immensely difficult, but for line by line quality, emotional complexity, sly sophistication and sheer brio and enjoyment, Sally Rooney's Conversations with Friends really stood out. To have produced a novel which nods all the way back to Jane Austen's Emma, while being so thoroughly modern in feel, is quite something, and Rooney proves herself with this debut to be a really worthy addition to the extraordinary list of past winners of the Young Writer Award.’
Elif Shafak said: ‘
Lucy Hughes-Hallett said: ‘Witty and poignant, this novel glitters with intelligence.’
This was also the first year that the award has run in association with the University of Warwick, who are offering the winner a bespoke 10-week residency, and providing a year-round programme of on-campus and digital support for award alumni and the shortlisted authors. On 29th November, they also held a free one-day festival of events and workshops entitled freeflow, bringing together inspirational thinkers, authors, journalists and performers.
For the second year running, the award was chronicled by an official shadow judging panel made up of some of the country’s leading book bloggers: Dane Cobain (socialbookshelves.com), Rebecca Foster (bookishbeck.wordpress.com), Elle Franzen (ellethinks.wordpress.com/), Annabel Gaskell (shinynewbooks.co.uk / gaskella.wordpress.com), and Clare Rowland (alittleblogofbooks.com). On 29th November, the group gave their Bloggers’ Choice award to Julianne Pachico for her shortlisted collection of short stories The Lucky Ones.
Since it began in 1991, the award has had a striking impact, boasting a stellar list of alumni that have gone on to become leading lights of contemporary literature. After a seven year break, it returned in 2015, awarding debut poet Sarah Howe the top prize for her phenomenal first collection, Loop of Jade, which then went on to win the T.S. Eliot Prize. Last year, Max Porter won for his experimental novel Grief is the Thing with Feathers, which also took the Dylan Thomas Prize.
Other past winners are: 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).
Tom Frew - Senior Press and Media Relations Manager:
E: a dot t dot frew at warwick dot ac dot uk