Tom Crewe

A New Life

SHORTLISTED 2023

After a lifetime spent navigating his desires, John has finally found a man who returns his feelings. Meanwhile, Henry is convinced that his new unconventional marriage will bring freedom.

United by a shared vision, they begin work on a revolutionary book arguing for the legalisation of homosexuality.

Before it can be published however, Oscar Wilde is arrested and their daring book threatens to throw them, and all around them, into danger. How high a price are they willing to pay for a new way of living?

Tom Crewe was born in Middlesbrough in 1989. He has a PhD in nineteenth century British history from the University of Cambridge. Since 2015, he has been an editor at the London Review of Books, to which he contributes essays on politics, art, history and fiction. The New Life is his first novel.

 

2023 winner, Tom Crewe, on how he wrote The New Life – his tender and sensual tale of forbidden desire and personal freedom that reimagines Victorian Britain.

I wrote The New Life mainly in one hour slots before I set off for work in the morning. It took four years. If I wrote 300 words in that hour, I would feel like doing cartwheels. Most often, I managed about 30. But as I dashed out for my bus, and on the way into the office, I would keep thinking about what I’d written, and put any ideas down in my phone. This meant that, the next morning, I usually had something to work with and rarely had to stare blankly off into the distance. Though I did a lot of that too. Even at a late stage, I was still perfectly capable of sprawling on the sofa and telling myself I couldn’t do it. Yet those typed-up words, however irregularly and however sparingly they are produced, do accumulate, and the more you have, the easier it gets. A novel works by accretion, in the writing as well as the reading. Sometimes I would write one good sentence, or have one good notion, and it would make an hour worthwhile, even if I achieved nothing else. I still think like this. Because that sentence, or that notion, will be there in the finished book forever, when you’ve entirely forgotten about the wastes of frustrating, unproductive time that surrounded it.

And that finished book might, one day, get you nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It’s a slight sadness that, as you get further away from the person you were when you were writing your book – and as your book gets further away from you – the harder it is to fully appreciate your achievement. When you’ve become someone who has published a book, it’s of course completely wonderful to be nominated for a prize, but not as wonderful – not as heartstoppingly, impossibly wonderful – as it would have been for the person who was struggling to shape 30 words a day before breakfast, who was sprawled on the sofa saying he couldn’t do it. And yet it’s at a moment like this, having received a nomination like this one, that I can come closest to patting my former self on the back. And it gives me hope, as I sweat and struggle to write another novel, that maybe I can get to the end, again.

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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