Winner of Sunday Times young writer award unveiled

Previous winners include Zadie Smith, Simon Armitage and Sally Rooney.

A novel which explores “abandoned places” and “nature reclaiming its place” has won a £10,000 literary prize, with judges saying it will “make you look up, look around and see the world and humankind’s place in it in entirely new ways”.

Scottish author and journalist Cal Flyn has been named winner of the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award for her novel Islands of Abandonment.

It is the 35-year-old’s second novel and explores abandoned places: ghost towns and exclusion zones, no man’s lands and fortress islands – and what happens when nature reclaims its place.

The book was previously shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize and the Wainwright Conservation Award.

Judge Claire Lowdon said the book was a “counter-intuitive redemption story, a dazzling blend of ecology, natural history, literature and aesthetics. All the writers here should be applauded for tackling difficult subjects head-on”.

She added: “We are facing a terrifying environmental crisis of our own making and it’s tempting to put our heads down and try to forget about it. Flyn’s writing will make you look up, look around, and see the world and humankind’s place in it in entirely new ways.”

Fellow judge Tahmima Anam said: “We all fell hard for this book: the originality of thinking, the intellectual rigour, the love for all that is gone and yet not entirely lost, and of course the sheer magic of the prose.

“Cal Flyn finds sublime beauty in the most unlikely of places, and, in doing so, gives us all reason to hope that our planet may yet be saved. You cannot ask for a better reason to read.”

Flyn was chosen from a shortlist of five young authors that also included Megan Nolan (Acts of Desperation), Anna Beecher (Here Comes the Miracle), Rachel Long (My Darling from the Lions) and Caleb Azumah Nelson (Open Water).

She will be awarded the £10,000 prize money as well as a bespoke 10-week residency by the University of Warwick and a two-year membership to the London Library.

Shortlisted writers will receive £1,000 prize money and a year’s membership to the London Library.

Previous winners of the award include Zadie Smith, Simon Armitage, Max Porter and Sally Rooney.

The award launched in 1991 and each year it is given to to a writer between the ages of 18 and 35 for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry first published in the UK or Ireland.

Rooney, 31, won in 2017 for her novel Conversations with Friends, which has since been adapted into a BBC television series due to air later this year.

Flyn’s novel Islands of Abandonment explores the theme of abandoned places (PA).

Andrew Holgate, literary editor of the Sunday Times, said: “It ’s one thing to have written such an original and gripping book as Islands of Abandonment. It ’s quite another thing to be such a superb stylist and writer as Cal Flyn has shown herself to be in this book.

“Over the years the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award has made a habit of celebrating superb nature writers – Robert Macfarlane, William Fiennes, Adam Weymouth – and Flyn with this superb book more than matches these predecessors. Watch out for her; she is already a superb writer, and she has the potential to be so much more.”

This year the award joined forces with the Charlotte Aitken Trust, which, in memory of his daughter, aims to continue literary agent Gillon Aitken’s work of encouraging literary talent and advancing the education of the public in the subject of literature.

The award took a hiatus between 2009 and 2015.

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