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Debut novelist and journalist Tom Crewe has been named winner of the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award for The New Life, a novel described by judge James McConnachie as ‘thrillingly intimate’ and ‘a compassionate and tenderly sensual account of masculine sexuality.’

A daring novel of nineteenth-century forbidden desire, The New Life is a bold and beautiful book set in London, 1894; the Oscar Wilde trial is igniting public outcry, and everything John and Henry have longed for is suddenly under threat. United by a shared vision, the two begin work on a revolutionary book arguing for the legalisation of homosexuality.

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. The New Life is his first novel, which won the 2023 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and the South Bank Sky Arts Award for Literature.

Chair of judges, Johanna Thomas-Corr, said: ‘Sometimes a debut novel comes along that feels like an immediate classic – a book that you suddenly can’t imagine not existing. If you’ve read Tom Crewe’s bold and beautifully observed debut, The New Life, you’ll know that it is just such a book. He is a writer of rare promise.’

For over 30 years, the most influential prize for young writers in the UK and Ireland has been a definitive indicator of rising literary talent. Crewe now joins recent winners Cal Flyn, Jay Bernard, Raymond Antrobus, Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter and Sarah Howe. The prize has spotted and supported an exceptional line-up of defining new voices since returning  from a 7-year break in 2015. Its alumni is a who’s who of the best in British and Irish writing, from Robert Macfarlane to Zadie Smith; from Sarah Waters and Naomi Alderman to Simon Armitage.

The announcement was made at a live ceremony at Brixton’s Canova Hall by Johanna Thomas-Corr, Chief Literary Critic for The Times and Sunday Times, alongside fellow judges, Booker-winning novelist and critic Anne Enright, novelist and critic Mendez, author and critic James McConnachie, poet Daljit Nagra and novelist Catriona Ward.

James McConnachie said: ‘Novelising history is always risky, especially if the topic is political, and The New Life definitely has a polemical understory: it conjures and celebrates the first, late-Victorian stirrings of the movement for gay rights and sexual freedom more generally. But if ever a novelised treatment was justified, it is here. Tom Crewe makes you feel how much was at stake. You share the suffering and yearning of his paired protagonists, and the risks under which they laboured. Most of all, though, this is a compassionate and tenderly sensual account of masculine sexuality – a subject that does not always get the most sympathetic treatment. A shockingly good debut, and an argument in itself for the value of fiction.’

Mendez said: ‘The New Life is an extraordinarily brave and accomplished debut. Tom Crewe writes as if in dispatches from 1894, apparently effortlessly, while managing to tell two distinct and intersecting stories with authority, sensitivity and candour. It is a story with implications for its time, but that could also be seen as analogous with today’s rightwing war against trans identity and freedom of expression, which should ultimately give us hope.’

Catriona Ward said: ‘We’ve waited so long for a big debut novel of ideas that captures perfectly a suspended moment of thought and progress in history. Now, with Tom Crewe’s The New Life, it has arrived. There were so many exciting voices in this year’s submissions, selecting a winner was an agonising task. All the writers on the shortlist use form and language in compelling, singular ways, all sear the heart. We’re lucky to have them, and I’m very glad to have played a small part in their journey. Congratulations to Tom, whose unique, mesmerizing novel still won’t let me go.’

Sponsored by the Charlotte Aitken Trust, the winner of the award received £10,000, as well as £1,000 for each of the shortlisted authors. Administered by the Society of Authors, the Young Writer of the Year Award works with a growing network of partners to provide a critical support system to the very best young talent at work. The winner will also receive two years’ membership to The London Library, while the remaining four shortlistees will all receive a year’s membership.

Waterstones began their partnerships with the award in 2022, and have continued to offer huge support for the shortlisted and winning titles, with in-store POS across the country, bespoke content across their platforms, an exclusive competition, and have also hosted the annual shortlist event on the eve of the winner’s ceremony. This year the shortlist event was hosted by Sebastian Faulks, Chair of the Charlotte Aitken Trust, at Waterstones Tottenham Court Road.

Bea Carvalho, Head of Books at Waterstones, said: ‘Waterstones booksellers everywhere will be delighted with Tom Crewe’s well-deserved win: The New Life is a simply stunning debut novel which manages to feel at once timelessly classic and urgently new. The reach of the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award is considerable and we will look forward to pressing this wonderful book into the hands of many new readers as a result of this latest accolade. We can’t wait to see what Tom does next.’

The British Council continue their partnership and will be advocating the shortlisted authors to international audiences and helping them to forge new literary connections overseas.

The judges chose Tom Crewe from an exceptional shortlist of four authors, described by Chief Literary Critic for The Times and Sunday Times, Johanna Thomas-Corr, as ‘injecting real energy and vitality into the literary scene.’ In Close to Home (Hamish Hamilton), West Belfast-born writer and editor Michael Magee paints a striking and vivid portrayal of young, working class life in Northern Ireland; Noreen Masud, a Scottish-Pakistani writer and lecturer, was shortlisred for her raw and radical autobiography A Flat Place (Hamish Hamilton); and Somali-British poet and essayist Momtaza Mehri’s debut poetry collection Bad Diaspora Poems (Jonathan Cape), told in lyric, prose and text messages, confronts ideas around diaspora, migration and home.

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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