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Pascale Petit and the RSL Ondaatje Prize

I was travelling last week when the awards dinner was held for the RSL Ondaatje Prize, for “a book evoking the spirit of a place”. In case you missed the news, the winner, for the first time, was a poet: Pascale Petit for Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe Books). On the author’s Twitter feed this morning I learnt that the book sold out on Amazon shortly after the announcement but is now in stock again.

RSL Ondaatje Prize winner will be announced tonight

The winner of one of my favourite literary awards, the RSL Ondaatje Prize — for a book “evoking the spirit of a place” — will be announced this evening. I’ll be on a plane at the time, but you can find out who has won by keeping an eye on the websites of Telegraph Travel and the Royal Society of Literature. On the former, you can read extracts from the six books on the short list.

‘Spirit of place’: the RSL Ondaatje Prize short list

The short list for the 2018 RSL Ondaatje Prize was made public while I was away. On the website of Telegraph Travel, you can read extracts I’ve chosen from the six books.

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list out on Wednesday

The short list for the 2018 RSL Ondaatje Prize for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place” is due to be published on Wednesday morning. All I can say at this stage is that it’s a strong list, with contenders representing all three genres. Watch out for more news on Wednesday. I’ve chosen extracts from the six books for Telegraph Travel, and they should be appearing either this coming weekend or the following one.

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list due next week

The Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature isn’t one of the world’s biggest literary prizes — £10,000 as against £50,000 for the Man Booker and €100,000 for the International Dublin Literary Award — but it’s always of keen interest to Deskbound Traveller, as it’s awarded for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”. The short list for the 2018 prize is due to be published next week (April 18); the winner will be announced on May 14. Watch this space for more news.

Spufford wins RSL Ondaatje Prize

“Since all that remains of the place I evoked in my book is a street plan and a metal railing, I feel I must point out that I made it all up.” So said Francis Spufford last night on being awarded the Royal Society of Literature’s £10,000 Ondaatje Prize for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”. The book was Golden Hill (Faber & Faber); the place was New York in colonial days, when Broadway was the Broad Way, “a species of cobbled avenue, only middling broad…”

If it’s an imagined city, it’s also a thoroughly realised and believable one. This is the scene that Spufford’s hero, a young Englishman intent on making his way in the New World, sees on his first morning:

He jumped out of bed and threw the casement wide – rooftops and bell towers greeted him; a jumble, not much elevated, of stepped Dutchwork eaves and ordinary English tile, with the greater eminences of churches poking through, steepled and cupola’d, and behind a slow-swaying fretwork of masts; the whole prospect washed with, bright with, aglitter with, the water last night’s clouds had shed, and one – two – three – he counted ’em – six crumbs of dazzling light hoisted high that must be the weathercocks of the city of New-York, riding golden in the hurrying levels of the sky where blue followed white followed blue…

Wagon-drivers, hawkers with handcarts and quick-paced pedestrians were passing in both directions. Somewhere below too, hidden mostly by the branches, someone was sweeping the last leaves, and singing slow in an African tongue as if their heart had long ago broken, and they were now rattling the pieces together desultorily in a bag.

Golden Hill marked Spufford’s debut in fiction, at the age of 52, and has already won him the Costa First Novel Award and been short-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize, but it is certainly not his first book to appear on a short list. Five works of non-fiction — including The Child That Books Built — have earned him nominations for writing on everything from science to theology. He was short-listed in 2011 for the RSL Ondaatje Prize for Red Plenty, a “factional” account of Soviet Russia.

Summing up this year’s Ondaatje short list before the award was made, the author and critic Henry Hitchings, speaking for the judges, said Golden Hill was “that rare thing: an ingenious novel that draws on profound research to evoke the spirit of another age, yet wears that research lightly. An astonishing achievement, intoxicating in its virtuosity.”

Spufford has said he began the book as an account of 18th-century New York, “but then the characters… wandered over from the other side of my brain, and the expository stuff about the city could be sucked into the storytelling.”

Last year’s RSL Ondaatje Prize short list was unusual in that it included a poetry collection — for the first time in seven years — and had no novels. This year, all but one of the books were fiction. The exception was The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate), a memoir of addiction and recovery and the part played in the latter by the natural world on Orkney.

The other books were:
In A Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie (Tinder Press)
Augustown by Kei Miller (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Five Rivers Met on a Wooded Plain by Barney Norris (Doubleday)
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus.

Judging the prize with Hitchings were the cultural historian Alexandra Harris (short-listed last year for Weatherland, an account of how weather has been written and painted in England through the centuries), and the poet Mimi Khalvati.

Now in its 14th year, the RSL Ondaatje Prize is sponsored by Sir Christopher Ondaatje, the businessman, adventurer and writer. Last year’s winner was Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, by Peter Pomerantsev, an electrifying portrait of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

RSL Ondaatje Prize winner to be named tonight

The winner of the 2017 RSL Ondaatje Prize, a £10,000 award for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”, is due to be announced tonight. On Telegraph Travel, you can read extracts I’ve chosen from the six books short-listed.

Short list due tomorrow for RSL Ondaatje Prize

The short list for the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize, for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”, is due to be announced tomorrow.

The judges for this year’s prize are Alexandra Harris (short-listed last year for Weatherland), Henry Hitchings and Mimi Khalvati.  The winner will be announced at a dinner at the Travellers’ Club in London on May 8.

Last year’s winner (mentioned a few times recently on Deskbound Traveller) was Peter Pomerantsev for Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a portrait of Putin’s Russia.

Win all six books from the 2016 RSL Ondaatje Prize short list

“The news is the incense by which we bless Putin’s actions”: that was a remark Peter Pomerantsev heard time and again from producers while he was making reality-TV shows in Moscow. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible (Faber and Faber), his electrifying portrait of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, won him the £10,000 RSL Ondaatje Prize last year, for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”.

It’s a book that seems, if anything, more timely than it did on publication, given how many world leaders are demanding benediction from the media.

The judges for this year’s prize — Alexandra Harris (short-listed last year for Weatherland), Henry Hitchings and Mimi Khalvati — are due to reveal their short list of six books on April 26; the winner will be announced at a dinner at the Travellers Club in London on May 8. Meanwhile, courtesy of the Royal Society of Literature, I have a prize of my own to offer: all six of the books that were short-listed last year.

The five others were:
The River by Jane Clarke (Bloodaxe Books), a debut poetry collection rooted in family life and on the farm where Clarke grew up in the west of Ireland.
The Great Explosion by Brian Dillon (Penguin), an exploration of the marshlands of north Kent and their military-industrial past;
Weatherland by Alexandra Harris (Thames & Hudson), an account of how weather has been written and painted in England through the centuries;
The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks (Allen Lane), a bestselling account of Lake District farming that began as a Twitter feed; and
This Divided Island (Atlantic Books) by Samanth Subramanian, in which the Indian Tamil writer examines the scars left on Sri Lanka by its 26-year civil war.

To be in with a chance of winning the six books, just retweet my tweet about the prize on Twitter from both @deskboundtravel and  @kerraway.

Terms and conditions
Entrants must retweet the mention of the RSL prize on Twitter from both @deskboundtravel and @kerraway by midnight on Wednesday, April 18. Only one copy of each of the six short-listed titles is available to the winner, who must be resident in the United Kingdom. The winner will be selected at random and notified by Monday, April 24. Unsuccessful entrants will not be contacted. For more information about the Ondaatje Prize, please see the Royal Society of Literature’s website.

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list due at end of April

The short list of six books for the 2017 RSL Ondaatje Prize, an award of £10,000 for “a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”, is due to be announced by April 25. The judges this year are Alexandra Harris (short-listed last year for Weatherland, her account of how weather has been written and painted in England through the centuries), Henry Hitchings and Mimi Khalvati; the winner will be announced at a dinner at the Travellers Club in London on May 8.

Last year’s winner was Peter Pomerantsev for Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible (Faber and Faber), his electrifying portrait of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.