The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award announces shortlist

Teddy McDonald

Teddy McDonald

Teddy works on SoA communications and outreach and alongside the Policy department on the SoA's campaigns work. He is also co-coordinator of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Group (CWIG).
Celebrating four writers ‘who have set themselves free of publishing conventions’

The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award – administered by the Society of Authors – has announced its 2023 shortlist of authors, described as ‘immensely powerful’ by Chair of Judges Andrew Holgate, whilst the new Literary Editor of The Sunday Times, Johanna Thomas-Corr, praises the authors ‘who refuse to be bent into shape’. The judges have chosen:

  • Stockport-born author and screenwriter Tom Benn, for his poignantly rendered exploration of domesticity and violence in Oxblood (Bloomsbury Publishing), which was longlisted for The Gordon Burn Prize 2022;
  • Lucy Burns, a debut writer from Manchester, for her intimate memoir, Larger than an Orange (Chatto & Windus), which examined the dichotomy between abortion as a political statement and an individual experience, and was selected as one of The Sunday Times Books of the Year 2021;
  • London-born debut novelist Maddie Mortimer for Maps of our Spectacular Bodies (Picador, Pan Macmillan), a lyrical and captivating look at mortality, desire and forgiveness, which won the Desmond Elliott Prize 2022;
  • Oxford Fellow, Katherine Rundell, for the only non-fiction title on the shortlist and winner of the Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction 2021, Super-Infinite (Faber & Faber), an illuminating and complex portrait of England’s greatest love poet, John Donne.

Sponsored by the Charlotte Aitken Trust, who enter their second year as sponsors of the prize, the award is given annually to the best work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish author of 35 or under.

This year’s judges are spearheaded by the former Literary Editor of The Sunday Times Andrew Holgate, who remains as Chair of Judges, and the new Sunday Times Literary Editor, Johanna Thomas-Corr who are joined by critic and journalist Stig Abell, poet Mona Arshi, author Oyinkan Braithwaite, and novelist and earlier winner of the prize, Francis Spufford.

Johanna Thomas-Corrsaid: ‘You can’t help but admire four young writers who have taken huge risks with style, subject and form and who have set themselves free of publishing conventions. All of them have taken on unpromising subjects and produced works of great beauty and generosity that refuse to be bent into shape. These are books that you can read again and again – and still feel rewarded.

Andrew Holgate said: Four very strong voices and four immensely powerful books. This is a terrific shortlist, one that more than lives up to the great traditions of this prize and its mission to find and spotlight distinctive new voices that will flourish in the future. I feel very confident about the way forward for all of these authors, and choosing between them for the winner is going to be extremely difficult.

Stig Abell said: It is impossible to talk about writing by comparatively young people without sounding old and fusty and a bit envious. But the books we’ve picked are genuinely exciting and fresh; they are thought-provoking without being arch, and innovative without being annoying about it. The central thinking behind their selection is simple and what it should always be: they are great stories told in a way that lingers in the mind after you close the book.

Mona Arshi said: It was joyful to encounter each of these books and be introduced to four new exceptional voices entering the literary landscape. All four books this year are doing something new and exciting in the genres they travel in, they are such different books and what ultimately stood out for me was their attention to language as well as the originality of the ideas and forms they so meticulously explored.

Oyinkan Braithwaite said: The shortlist comprises a formidable selection of works that are ambitious, unorthodox, unflinching. They may vary wildly in subject matter and style, but each of them is an example of the expert finessing of language and form. The authors have certainly earned their place here.

Francis Spufford said: I’m delighted by the haul of treasures our shortlist represents. We’ve got non- fiction whose every sentence glitters with intelligence; life-writing that makes radical and heartfelt use of form; a crime novel that claims the richest and darkest of emotional territory; and a piece of literary innovation which plays its way to the limits of life and death. And just behind them, there was a mass of other lovely stuff we were sorry to have to leave out. On this showing, the future of writing is very strong – and incredibly various.

Over the coming weeks, Granta will publish extracts from all four titles on

With Cal Flyn, Jay Bernard, Raymond Antrobus, Adam Weymouth, Sally Rooney, Max Porter and Sarah Howe as recent winners, the prize has spotted and supported an exceptional line-up of defining new voices since returning from a seven-year break in 2015, and its alumni list is a who’s who of the best British and Irish writing – from Robert Macfarlane to Zadie Smith, from Sarah Waters to Simon Armitage, from Naomi Alderman to Caryl Phillips and many others.

As it launches its upcoming season, the prize is working to extend its partnership network across the literary world. In its first year as the new sponsor, the Charlotte Aitken Trust increased the prize sum to £10,000 with each shortlistee receiving £1,000. This prize money will also remain as part of the winner package this year. The prize will also continue its work with retail partner Waterstones, as well as an international partnership with the British Council.

Sebastian Faulks, chair of the Charlotte Aitken Trust said: The Charlotte Aitken Trust is delighted to continue its support of the prize. The consistently high standard of the chosen books over theyears and the literary and commercial success of the winners mean that the 2022 shortlist has a lot to live up to. But it looks thrillingly well equipped to do so.’

Waterstones, who were introduced as a partner in the 30th anniversary year in 2022, will be celebrating the shortlisted authors for 2022 with bespoke content across all of their channels, including an exclusive competition in their Waterstones Plus newsletter which reaches more than one million subscribers, and specially commissioned content for their blog, alongside instore POS to showcase this year’s Young Writers.

Bea Carvalho, at Waterstones said: ‘The announcement of The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist marks an important moment in the year’s literary calendar, and we are delighted to see the judges highlight another selection of spectacularly talented new writers. The award has helped to launch the careers of some of today’s brightest stars across fiction and non-fiction writing, and everyone at Waterstones is excited to see which of these brilliant four writers will be named this year’s winner. They would all be very worthy champions.’

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

Rachel Stevens, at British Council said: I am delighted to see this exceptional shortlist which demonstrates with variety and flair the continuing strength of new writing in the UK today. As international partner, British Council looks forward to introducing the writers and their work to readers around the world.’

Details of a further enhanced digital and wider outreach programme will be announced in due course. The winner will be announced in a ceremony at a new venue on 14 March 2023.

Keep up to date with the award and join the conversation via:  |

© Beth Moseley


Tom Benn
Bloomsbury Publishing

Wythenshawe, South Manchester. 1985.

The Dodds family once ruled Manchester’s underworld; now the men are dead, leaving three generations of women trapped in a house haunted by violence, harbouring an unregistered baby.

Matriarch Nedra presides over the household, which bustles with activity as she prepares the welcome feast for her grandson Kelly’s return from prison.

Her grieving daughter-in-law Carol is visited by both the welcome, intimate ghost of her murdered lover, and by Mac, an ageing criminal enforcer, a man who may just offer her a real and possible future. And then there is Jan – the teenage tearaway running as fast as she can from her mother, her grandmother, and her own unnamed baby. Over the course of a few days, the Dodds women must each confront the true legacy of the men who have defined their lives; and seize the opportunity to break the cycle for good.

A blistering portrait of a family on fire, Oxblood lays bare the horror of violence, the exile of grief, and the extraordinary power of love.

Tom Benn’s first novel, The Doll Princess, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Portico Prize, and longlisted for the CWA’s John Creasey Dagger. Benn’s creative nonfiction has appeared in the ParisReview and he won the BFI’s iWrite scheme for emerging screenwriters.

His first film Real Gods Require Blood premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for Best Short Film at the BFI London Film Festival. Born in Stockport in 1987, he now teaches on the UEA Crime Fiction Creative Writing MA and lives in Norwich.

© Sophie Davidson

Larger than an Orange

Lucy Burns
Chatto & Windus

This is the story of an abortion.

The days and hours before the first visit to the clinic and the weeks and
months after.

The pregnancy was a mistake and the narrator immediately arranges a termination. But a gulf yawns between politics and personal experience. The polarised public debate and the broader cultural silence did not prepare her for the physical event or the emotional aftermath. She finds herself compulsively telling people about the abortion (and counting those who know), struggling at work and researching the procedure. She feels alone in her pain and confusion.

Part diary, part prose poem, part literary collage, Larger than an Orange is an uncompromising, intimate and original memoir. With raw precision and determined honesty, Lucy Burns carves out a new space for complexity, ambivalence and individual experience.

Lucy Burns was born in 1991 and lives in Manchester, where she received her PhD on the history of Black Mountain College. Her reviews and essays have appeared in P.N. Review, Hotel, and elsewhere. She currently works as an assistant editor. Larger than an Orange is her first book.

© Ben Mankin

Maps of our Spectacular Bodies

Maddie Mortimer
Picador, Pan Macmillan

Something gleeful and malevolent is moving in Lia’s body, learning her life from the inside out. A shape-shifter. A disaster tourist. It ’s travelling down the banks of her canals. It ’s spreading.

When a sudden diagnosis upends Lia’s world, the boundaries between her past and her present begin to collapse. Deeply buried secrets stir awake. As the voice prowling in Lia takes hold of her story, and the landscape around becomes indistinguishable from the one within, Lia and her family are faced with some of the hardest questions of all: how can we move on from the events that have shaped us, when our bodies harbour everything? And what does it mean to die with grace, when you’re simply not ready to let go?

Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is a story of coming-of-age at the end of a life. Utterly heart-breaking yet darkly funny, Maddie Mortimer’s astonishing debut is a symphonic journey through one woman’s body: a wild and lyrical celebration of desire, forgiveness, and the darkness within us all.

Maddie Mortimer was born in London in 1996. She received her BA in English Literature from the University of Bristol. Her writing has featured in The Times and her short films have screened at festivals around the world. She is co-writing a TV series currently in development with Various Artists Ltd. In 2019 she completed the Faber Academy Writing a Novel course. Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies is her first novel.

© Kate Subin


Katherine Rundell
Faber & Faber

John Donne lived myriad lives.

Sometime religious outsider and social disaster, sometime celebrity preacher and establishment darling, John Donne was incapable of being just one thing. He was a scholar of law, a sea adventurer, an MP, a priest, the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral – and perhaps the greatest love poet in the history of the English language. He converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, was imprisoned for marrying a high-born girl without her father’s consent, struggled to feed a family of ten children and was often ill and in pain. He was a man who suffered from black surges of sadness, yet expressed in his verse electric joy and love.

From a standout scholar, a biography of John Donne: the poet of love, sex, and death. In Super-Infinite, Katherine Rundell embarks on a fleet-footed ‘act of evangelism’, showing us the many sides of Donne’s extraordinary life, his obsessions, his blazing words, and his tempestuous Elizabethan times – unveiling Donne as the most remarkable mind and as a lesson in living.

Katherine Rundell was born in 1987 and is currently a Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. Her bestselling books for children have been translated into more than thirty languages and have won multiple awards. Rundell is also the author of a book for adults, Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old and Wise. She has written for, among others, the London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books and The New York Times: mostly about books, though sometimes about night climbing, tightrope walking, and animals.

About The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award

Founded in 1991, the award recognises the best literary work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry by a British or Irish writer of 35 and under. £10,000 is given to the winner, and £1,000 to each of the runners-up. The award was suspended in 2008, but was revitalised in 2015 with the help of the literary agency Peters Fraser & Dunlop, building on the remarkable legacy of the prize by introducing  two significant and exciting innovations: extending its reach by including writers from Ireland and including self-published works as well as those from publishers – putting the prize in tune with the changing landscape of British publishing. In 2019, after two years as associate sponsor, the University of Warwick assumed the title partnership of the prize. As of June 2021, the prize is sponsored by the Charlotte Aitken Trust.

Past winners are: Cal Flyn, Islands of Abandonment (2021); Jay Bernard, Surge (2020); Raymond Antrobus, The Perseverance (2019); Adam Weymouth, Kings of the Yukon (2018); Sally Rooney, Conversations with Friends (2017); Max Porter, Grief is the Thing with Feathers (2016); Sarah Howe, Loop of Jade (2015); Ross Raisin, God’s Own Country (2009); Adam Foulds, The Truth About These Strange Times (2008); Naomi Alderman, Disobedience (2007), Robert Macfarlane, Mountains of the Mind: a History of a Fascination (2004); William Fiennes, The Snow Geese (2003); Zadie Smith, White Teeth (2001); Sarah Waters, Affinity (2000); Paul Farley, The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (1999); Patrick French, Liberty or Death: India’s Journey to Independence and Division (1998); Francis Spufford, I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (1997); Katherine Pierpoint, Truffle Beds (1996); Andrew Cowan, Pig (1995); William Dalrymple, City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi (1994); Simon Armitage, Kid (1993); Caryl Phillips, Cambridge (1992); and Helen Simpson, Four Bare Legs in a Bed and Other Stories (1991).

About the Charlotte Aitken Trust

The Charlotte Aitken Trust is a registered charity funded by money left for the purpose by the leading literary agent Gillon Aitken (1938-2016), formerly chairman of Aitken Alexander Associates. The Trust is named in memory of his daughter Charlotte, who died in 2011 at the age of 27. The Charlotte Aitken Trust aims to continue Gillon’s work of encouraging literary talent and aims to advance the education of the public in the subject of literature; and to promote the creative arts for the public benefit, especially literature, whether fiction, non-fiction, drama or poetry. The Trust expects to award prizes, grants and scholarships, either in programmes developed by the trustees or in partnership with existing schemes. A first grant was made in October 2020 in support of the Brontë Society, which operates the Brontë Parsonage Museum at Haworth, Yorkshire. In May 2021, the Trust announced support of a Young Vic/Headlong co-production, ‘Best of Enemies’, a new play by Olivier Award-winner James Graham, directed by Jeremy Herrin. The Charlotte Aitken Trust is now the sponsor of The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award.

About the Sunday Times

The Sunday Times, founded in 1822, is one of the best-known news brands in the world and the UK’s top-selling quality Sunday paper. It has always been relied upon to challenge, entertain, inspire, and inform its readers. It celebrated its 200th year edition in October 2022 and has won a clutch of awards for its Insight team investigations unit, its foreign reporting and its magazine features and interviews, in particular. At the 2022 Press Club Awards The Sunday Times won Sunday Newspaper of the Year.

About the Society of Authors

The Society of Authors is the UK trade union for all types of writers, illustrators and literary translators, at all stages of their careers. They have over 12,000 members and have been advising individuals and speaking out for the profession for more than a century. In 2021, they awarded over £900,000 in grants and prizes (for fiction, non-fiction, poetry and translation). In all the Society of Authors administers twenty-one prizes, including The Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year Award.

About Waterstones – Retail Partner

Waterstones is the UK and Ireland’s leading high street bookseller with over 300 bookshops, including Foyles, Hatchards, Hodges Figgis, Blackwell’s and branches in Ireland, Brussels and Amsterdam. It is the only national specialist book retailer of scale in the UK, with the average sized shop carrying a range of around 30,000 individual books and with over 200,000 titles in the largest shop.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We support peace and prosperity by building connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and countries worldwide. We work with people in over 200 countries and territories and are on the ground in more than 100 countries. In 2021-22 we reached 650 million people.

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