It is hard to believe it was a year ago, and that I’m now too old to be eligible. I spent the day after the ceremony waiting on the AA by the roadside in what turned out to be our van’s last journey, but there was nothing that could diminish the surreal sense of wonder. Not just in the validation that a story of changing cultures and environmental destruction could have moved people in the way I hoped it would, but in looking back over the list of past winners of the prize, and to writers who had directly inspired me to want to write books of my own.
It is a sense that has stayed with me all year. Since February I have been living on Lesbos, in Greece, whilst my partner runs a migrant project, and I have been edging towards a new idea for a new book. It has not been any easier than the first one. In fact it has been harder. There is a better sense of what works and what doesn’t now, a different sort of pressure that I am putting on myself. But I suppose the award has helped me think of myself as a writer, rather than someone just trying it out, and to see myself at the beginning of a long and winding apprenticeship.
With the residency at Warwick, I have begun teaching on a module that explores something that I already think about every day, discussing if and how writing is able to effect social change. Writing can be a lonely job, at times, and the chance to talk about these questions with a diverse, enthusiastic crowd has been hugely vitalising. I am also convening a symposium at Warwick in the spring, using it as a platform to bring together academics and activists to research the core ideas behind the second book. These resources, as well as the prize money which is going towards paying for the travel for the next one, have been a huge leg up at a time when a leg up is very welcome.
I’ve heard people say that the prizes don’t matter, just to focus on the writing, and of course that’s true, but it is hard, I’ve found, to know if your book means anything to anyone; hard to even gauge its meaning for oneself. And that this award has helped Kings of the Yukon to find a wider audience, has led to conversations and letters from people who want to engage with it, has meant a lot. In a year of school strikes and Extinction Rebellion, it has been gratifying to think that perhaps there is at last an appetite for stories such as these. Whether they can make a difference I still don’t know, but over the past year I have determined to stand by that commitment to find out.
Adam Weymouth won the Young Writer of the Year Award for his debut book, The Kings of The Yukon. He is is a freelance journalist and has written for wide ranging publications including the Guardian, the BBC, The Atlantic, Arena and the Lacuna. Adam became hooked on Alaska and its rich cultural, historical and ecological history after being awarded a Winston Churchill Travel Fellowship to investigate the human impacts of resource extraction and climate change in 2013. This passion has resulted in The Kings of the Yukon, Adam’s debut book, which was also longlisted for the Ondaatje Prize. After completing a Masters in Human Ecology in 2010, Adam walked for 8 months from England to Istanbul, a distance of over 3,500 miles and wrote extensively about his journey.