The judges were named yesterday for my favourite literary award: the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, £10,000 “for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry evoking the spirit of a place”. They are Peter Frankopan, historian and author of the bestselling The Silk Roads: A New History of the World; Pascale Petit, poet and winner of the Ondaatje in 2018 for her seventh collection, Mama Amazonica; and the novelist (and bookseller) Evie Wyld, author of the prizewinning titles After the Fire, A Still Small Voice and All the Birds, Singing.
I’ve compiled my own roundup of travel books of 2019, shortly to be published by Telegraph Travel, so I’ll have plenty of non-fiction to recommend to them. I’ve had little time this year, though, for fiction or poetry because I’ve been swotting up on climate change (David Wallace-Wells in The Uninhabitable Earth, on the mess we’ve made; Nathaniel Rich, in Losing Earth, on the chances we’ve squandered to put things right; and Mike Berners-Lee in No Planet B on what we and our leaders might yet be able to do). The poetry I read wasn’t new and the novels I enjoyed most (after The Overstory) did powerfully evoke the spirit of a place, but they were books that first appeared in 2018: All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison, The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack and Middle England by Jonathan Coe.
The closing date for submissions for the RSL Ondaatje Prize is December 11. The rules say entries “must have been published in the United Kingdom within the calendar year 2019 and entered only by publishers based in the United Kingdom. Entries may be written by a citizen of the UK, Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland or a writer who has been resident in the UK for three years.”