I’m delighted to tell you that we’ve chosen Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock as our shadow panel winner for this year’s Young Writer of the Year Award. You can visit the award’s site here to read their announcement.
Here’s a reminder of the shortlist with links to my reviews:
I used to read a lot of travel writing before it was taken over by authors carting kitchen appliances round with them as a gimmick. I blame Bill Bryson: enjoyable as his books were they seemed to foster a demand for comedy in the genre, not an accusation to be made of Adam Weymouth, I’m glad to say. Kings of the Yukon follows Weymouth as he traces the king salmon’s route from the Yukon’s mouth back to their spawning grounds in reverse.
Weymouth begins his journey in May 2016 at the beginning of the Arctic spring. On the first leg, he’s accompanied by Hector, a man in his seventies who could give many in their twenties a run for their money. They’re in Canada where the salmon in Weymouth’s sights are known as Chinooks; once over the border in Alaska they’re called kings. Weymouth picks up his canoe in Whitehorse and continues alone, eyes open for salmon with bears a constant concern. As he travels downriver towards the sea, he meets many as concerned as he is about the diminishing numbers and size of this fish central to the indigenous culture. Some are blow-ins, attracted to the Alaskan wilderness celebrated by the likes of Jack London just as Weymouth was; others are indigenous people who feel that strict fishing bans represent an assault on an ancient way of life. No one, it seems, entirely understands why these majestic creatures who swim upriver for almost 2,000 miles to reproduce after spending years in the sea are in decline. What all can agree is that human intervention, one way or another, is responsible.
Weymouth guides us through dramatically beautiful landscape in this epic journey along the world’s longest salmon run. As with all good travel writing, there are personal anecdotes to enjoy but Weymouth is at his best when he lets the people he meets speak for themselves. There’s a clear message here about the dwindling salmon numbers and our part in their depletion, communicated most effectively through their voices. This is a land with a rich indigenous culture, suffering desperate unemployment and poverty with all its attendant problems: its people deserve to be heard. Weymouth’s eloquent book does just that.
Two of my fellow shadow judges have also posted their Kings of the Yukon reviews: Lizzi’s is here and Paul’s here.
This is my last review for the Young Writer of the Year Award. We shadow judges will be announcing our winner on November 29th. The judges announce theirs a week later on December 6th at the London Library. If you’d like a reminder of the other three books on the list, they’re The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, The Reading Cure and Elmet. Just click a title to read my review.
With two Young Writer Award dates in the diary, H and I decided to make a weekend of it, arriving on Saturday morning when London was looking its beautiful best in glowing autumn sunshine. I went off to the bloggers’ event at the Groucho Club after lunch where the four shortlisted authors were introduced by Andrew Holgate who gave us a little background to the prize and how important such recognition can be in promoting a writer’s career. Each author gave a short reading before a Q & A led by Andrew. It was a delightful afternoon made all the more so by meeting bloggers with whom I’ve shared so many exchanges over the years. Such a pleasure to chat to Annabel, Kath, Elle, Erica and Naomi, and with Clare and Eric all too briefly. There were trains to catch and some of us had to think about where we were going for supper.
Sunday was another glorious day, perfect city walking weather. We had tickets for the Anni Albers exhibition at Tate Modern but had time for a quick wander around the City where I worked for a while in what feels like a another life now. Albers was a weaver who lived a very long and productive life, beginning her career as a member of the Bauhaus Group, founded in 1919, whose design ethos was based on simplicity and beauty in a form that could be mass produced for the people. She fled Germany for the US in 1933 when Hitler forced the Group to close. Her pieces are lovely, making use of texture and sheen for effect. One of her most beautiful designs is ‘Six Prayers’ commissioned by the Jewish Museum in New York as a memorial to the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust. A superb exhibition, highly recommended.
In the afternoon we set off for the Foundling Museum which I’d already visited but H hadn’t. It was founded by Thomas Coram who, on his return from America in 1704, was shocked by the number of infants abandoned on London’s streets. He raised funds for his project by staging concerts and exhibitions: both Handel and Hogarth were amongst the artists with a strong association with what was then known as the Foundling Hospital. The Coram Foundation is still active today numbering Jacqueline Wilson and Lemn Sissay amongst its prominent supporters. One of those lesser known museums, well worth seeking out.
Monday morning was taken up with the shadow judges’ meeting the result of which we’ll be keeping between ourselves until Wednesday 28th. Suffice to say it was a close run thing. Amanda, Lizzi, Lucy and I met at 11 am but poor Paul was still stranded on a train, finally arriving in London at 1 pm when the rest of us were long gone – me to the excellent Dishoom to meet up with a couple of friends for lunch. Paul’s input turned out to be pivotal: we’d all have much preferred it if he could have delivered it in person.