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The response over the last few months to the relaunched Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award has been immensely gratifying.

Lots of support for the initiative, a record number of entries (nearly 100) that the judges are beginning to work through – and the odd criticism of the prize (I take any interest as a compliment) for only focussing on young writers of 35 or under, and not rewarding older debut writers, or older undiscovered writers, or just debut writers or undiscovered writers full stop, never mind the age.

A few points about this. First, there are already well-established and thriving prizes that do a job here. The Guardian First Book Award, for instance. Or the McKitterick Prize, for debut novels by writers over 40. And if we were simply to aim to reward “undiscovered” writers, it’s a moot point who would qualify, or how.

More importantly, there feels a genuine need in the current publishing climate to nurture new young talent. Talk to most publishing editors, and they will tell you (always off the record) how hard they are finding it to discover new, young British literary talent.

Lots of reasons are given for this. There’s the decline in advances (a young writer might be lucky to get £2,000 for a book she/he has sweated years over). There’s the decline of the publishing “mid-list”, where authors can grow over time under the wing of their editor. Above all, I think, there’s the competing lure of television and film, and the huge and growing number of possible outlets for writers in these areas.

Whatever the reason, British publishing is having a hard time tempting new talent, and the relaunched Sunday Times/Peters, Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award aims to promote, support and champion the best new young British and Irish talent we can find – whether in fiction, non-fiction or poetry – and make their path easier.

One more thing. Look at the list of past winners of the award, and you will see something approaching a Who’s Who of younger British literary talent, from Robert Macfarlane and Sarah Waters, to Helen Simpson and Adam Foulds. It’s important to emphasise, though, that nearly every one of these authors was a relative unknown when they were first given the award, and that receiving the prize helped them in some way to advance their career.

Read this from Helen Simpson, the first winner of the award, writing in her diary in 1991 of the effect winning had on her: “I am the first Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year, apparently, but it is a secret as the other people on the shortlist mustn’t know before the presentation dinner next month.  Relief — now I can carry on writing stories and not worry about publishers preferring novels.

“Other prizes followed,” Simpson now says, “but this Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year award was the first, giving a generous dose of encouragement and cash at the very point it was needed.”

And here’s Robert Macfarlane, looking back to 2004, when he won: “For days afterwards I felt buzzed in the skull, slightly levitated. For young writers, a prize makes all the difference: not just the publicity flare, or the tag-line on the paperback jacket, but the  jag of confidence it brings… I started to think I might be able to write another book – that became The Wild Places (2007), and here I am in 2015, six books down and another underway, thinking back more than a decade to the Prize, and the huge lift it gave me.”

That’s why I make no excuses for the award’s focus on younger writers.

Here’s hoping we can have the same effect in the future.

Andrew Holgate, Sunday Times Literary Editor

Young Writer Award @YoungWriterYear

Follow us on twitter. The Young Writer of the Year Award is a prize of £10,000 for a writer under 35.

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