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Ruth Gilligan wins Ondaatje Prize for ‘The Butchers’

The  Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes “the spirit of a place”, went last night to Ruth Gilligan for The Butchers (Atlantic Books), which is set on the Irish border during the 1996 BSE crisis.

Lola, Baroness Young of Hornsey, the chair of the judges, said the book was “about a moment in time, in a particular place. It’s been described in many different terms: literary thriller, coming-of-age story, historical fiction, an account of superstition and the supernatural, but it doesn’t matter how it’s categorised – it’s a page-turning, rollercoaster of a read.”

The Butchers is Gilligan’s fifth novel. She published her debut, Forget, in 2006, at 18, and became the youngest ever person to top the Irish bestsellers list. After two more novels, she took an MA in creative writing at the University of East Anglia — which has an extract from The Butchers on its New Writing website.

Short list for Ondaatje Prize

The short list was announced yesterday for the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, an annual award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry “evoking the spirit of a place”.

The six books are:

The Butchers by Ruth Gilligan (Atlantic Books)
This Lovely City by Louise Hare (HQ)
Box Hill by Adam Mars-Jones (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Magnolia, 木蘭 by Nina Mingya Powles (Nine Arches Press)
English Pastoral by James Rebanks (Allen Lane)
Square Haunting by Francesca Wade (Faber & Faber).

This year’s judges are Lola, Baroness Young of Hornsey (Chair), Helen Mort and Adam Rutherford. The winner will be announced on May 11.

Robinson wins Ondaatje Prize with ‘Trinidad in London’ poems

The Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize was awarded tonight to Roger Robinson (right) for his poetry collection A Portable Paradise (Peepal Tree Press). He is only the second poet to win the prize, an annual award of £10,000 for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry that best evokes “the spirit of a place”. 

  Thanks to the lockdown, the news was announced not at a black-tie dinner at the Travellers Club in London, as it usually is, but on YouTube and social media. 

  The poet Pascale Petit, one of the judges — and winner herself in 2018 with Mama Amazonica — said of Robinson’s book:

  “The spirit of place in this outstanding collection is the portable paradise of Trinidad in London. Roger Robinson’s profoundly moving book manages to balance anger and love, rage and craft. Every poem surprises with its imagery, emotional intensity and lyric power, whether dealing with Grenfell, Windrush, or a son’s difficult birth, [a poem on] which is also a tribute to a Jamaican nurse. This is a healing book, enabling us to conjure our own portable paradises.”

  A Portable Paradise had already won the 2019 TS Eliot Prize. Robinson, a writer and educator who has taught and performed worldwide, said that winning the Ondaatje was “great on many levels. Gaining wider recognition for the political issues that are raised in A Portable Paradise is one of the most important things for me, alongside more people reading about the struggles of black communities in Britain, which hopefully creates some deeper resonating empathy.”

  The prize, first awarded in 2004, is sponsored by Sir Christopher Ondaatje, the businessman, adventurer and writer. Last year’s winner was Aida Edemariam for The Wife’s Tale, a biography both of the author’s grandmother and of a country, Ethiopia. 

  You can read extracts from all six of the books short-listed for this year’s prize on the Telegraph Travel website.

Extracts from the RSL Ondaatje Prize short list

Extracts I’ve chosen from the books short-listed for the RSL Ondaatje Prize appeared in print in the travel section of The Daily Telegraph yesterday and have gone online today.

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list

The short list was announced today for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, an annual award of £10,000 for a book that best evokes “the spirit of a place”.

  Unusually, there’s just one work of non-fiction among the six books, which also include three novels and two works of poetry.

 

  Surge by Jay Bernard (Chatto & Windus), winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry, is an extraordinary debut collection responding to the New Cross Fire of 1981 in south-east London — in which 13 young black people were killed in a house fire at a birthday party — and tracing a line from it to the Grenfell fire in June 2017.

  Small Days and Nights by Tishani Doshi (Bloomsbury Circus) is a novel about a woman whose mother’s death prompts her to leave her unhappy married life in the United States and rebuild her home and family back in India — where she discovers she has a sister.

  Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton), which was Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year, takes us into the world beneath our feet and what we’ve made of it — physically, with mines and tombs, and metaphorically, with myths and legends.

  A Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson (Peepal Tree Press) won the 2019 TS Eliot Prize. John Burnside, chair of the judges, said that the collection — which includes poems reflecting on the Grenfell Tower fire — “finds in the bitterness of everyday experience continuing evidence of ‘sweet, sweet life’”.

  10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak (Viking) is a Booker short-listed novel that begins when the heart of its heroine, a sex worker known as Tequila Leila, stops beating. It is dedicated “To the women of Istanbul and to the city of Istanbul, which is, and always has been, a she-city.”

  A Small Silence by Jumoke Verissimo (Cassava Republic) is about the regenerative power of darkness and silence. An activist professor released from prison in Nigeria decides to live the rest of his life alone in the dark — until a young woman called Desire comes knocking on his door.

  The RSL’s Twitter account has brief passages read by each author and accompanied by animations by Liang-Hsin Huang, a Taiwanese film-maker who graduated from the Royal College of Art last year.

  This year’s judges of the RSL Ondaatje Prize are Peter Frankopan, Pascale Petit and Evie Wyld. The winner will be announced on May 4.

Long list for RSL Ondaatje Prize

The long list was announced yesterday for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, an annual award of £10,000 for a book — fiction, non-fiction or poetry — that best evokes “the spirit of a place”.  (And you’d have read that here yesterday had something not gone wrong with a post I scheduled to go live at midday.) Now, more than ever, the society says, we are looking for literature to transport us somewhere else. The 18 titles (including several of my own favourites from last year) can be found on the society’s website

  Each writer has been asked the following two questions:

  • Why is place important in your book?
  • Which book best evokes the spirit of place for you?

 Their answers are appearing in a thread on Twitter.

  The short list for the prize will be announced on April 20 and the winner on May 4. The judges this year 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.

Judges named for 2020 RSL Ondaatje Prize

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.”

Aida Edemariam wins Ondaatje Prize for ‘The Wife’s Tale’

The £10,000 Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature, for a book “evoking the spirit of a place”, was awarded last night to Aida Edemariam for The Wife’s Tale (4th Estate).

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list

The short list for the RSL Ondaatje Prize was announced last night, at the end of a fascinating session at the British Library in London in which four former winners of the prize talked of “the spirit of a place” and how they set about evoking it.

The books short-listed (including a couple you may have seen mentioned on Deskbound Traveller) are:

No Turning Back: Love, Loss, and Hope in Wartime Syria by Rania Abouzeid (Oneworld)

The Wife’s Tale: a personal history by Aida Edemariam (4th Estate)
 
Happiness by Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)
 
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss (Granta)
 
The Crossway by Guy Stagg (Picador)
 
Kings of the Yukon by Adam Weymouth (Particular Books/Penguin).
 
  The British Library session was recorded for BBC Radio 3’s “Free Thinking” slot, and is due to be broadcast on May 1.

RSL Ondaatje Prize short list due tomorrow

The short list is due to be announced at the British Library in London tomorrow evening for the Royal Society of Literature’s Ondaatje Prize, an award of £10,000 for a work that evokes “the spirit of a place”.