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  • With the deadline approaching for the 2015 Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award the last recipient of the prize, Ross Raisin, reflects on what it meant to him.

    I was pleased recently to hear that the Sunday Times has relaunched its Young Writer of the Year Award. Pleased, partly, because it brought back a happy memory for me, and, moreover, because amidst a glut of literary prizes I feel that this one has a particular role. The industry clamour for original debut novels, fresh voices, is unceasing – and there are a great number of prizes specifically for first time writers, something that I benefitted from myself when God’s Own Country was published and which I continue to feel appreciative of, but there are not so many for young writers (if 35 does count as young, mind, which, as I sit here tiredly batting my children away from the laptop, I’m not so sure about) who do not happen to be on their first book.

    Second novels, third novels, can get lost. There is not the excitement of the new. Concurrently, there may also be some unattractive sales figures on the author’s file. So to have a prize that champions writers at or near the beginning of their careers is a vital cog in the prize machine. The Encore, and the Dylan Thomas Prize, are important too – and the boost that winning one of these awards can have for a writer should not be underestimated.

    I can well remember the heady moment of winning this award. I remember too the acceptance speech that I gave, and wondering if I had gone a bit too far in saying that this didn’t mean that my book was necessarily any good, that no prize could properly decide that. I still feel this way: winning an award does not automatically mean that your book is better than any other, because prize judging panels are by their nature subjective and unpredictable – necessarily so – but I would be lying if I said that my joy in the moment of winning was not in some way connected to a knowledge of the books that have previously won the Sunday Times Young Writer Award. I just Googled the backlist again now, and have been reminded that the quality of the books that won before mine is exceptional.

    The importance of the prize money should not be underestimated either. In a world of shrinking author advances, the lift of receiving a clownish oversized cheque that might enable an author to begin a new book, or sustain a current one, is of significant value to both the author and to contemporary fiction as a part of our culture. Especially so as the Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award is now going to be open to self-published books. I would hope that this will bring to attention books that might otherwise gain a limited readership, as well as add to a creeping democracy that views no one book as more valid, more worthy, just because its route to the bookshop is more conventional.

    Some of my closest friends who are writers are people whom I have met through prize shortlistings. Ed Hogan, a very good writer and a lovely proper northern(ish) man, is one of them, and one of my fondest memories from the Sunday Times day was going to the pub with him afterwards. Any prize needs the excitement and tension of finding and declaring a winner, but the best prizes are not purely about competition and individualism. Good prizes are about community. They are about bringing writers together, and bringing a new audience to those writers. The Sunday Times Award was certainly such a prize, so to have it back, and further broadened, democratised, is a good thing.


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    About Ross Raisin

    Ross Raisin's second novel, Waterline, was published in July 2011 (Viking, Penguin). His first novel, God's Own Country, came out in the UK in 2008. The book won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award in 2009, the Guildford First Novel prize, a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for six other prizes, including the Guardian First Book Award and the IMPAC Dublin literary award. In 2013 he was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.

    He has written short stories for Prospect, Granta, Esquire, Dazed and Confused, the Sunday Times, and BBC Radio Three and Four, and done journalistic feature work, mainly for The Guardian.

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