Home Books Nero Book Awards 2023 Unveils Category Winners Heading for Prestigious Nero Gold Prize

Nero Book Awards 2023 Unveils Category Winners Heading for Prestigious Nero Gold Prize

by Jonathan Currinn
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Photo Credit: Aashfaria A Anwar

The winners of the Nero Book Awards 2023 were revealed by Caffè Nero, generating anticipation for the grand finale, the Nero Gold Prize Book of the Year 2023, set to be unveiled on Thursday, March 14, 2024. The awards celebrate outstanding books and writers from the UK and Ireland of the last 12 months across four categories: Children’s Fiction, Debut Fiction, Fiction and Non-Fiction.

The winners, chosen from a competitive shortlist of 16 outstanding books across the four categories, promise a diverse reading experience for all. The Nero Book Awards, hosted by Caffè Nero and in partnership with Right to Dream, Brunel University London, and The Booksellers Association, celebrate the craft of great writing and the sheer joy of reading.

The Winners of the Nero Book Awards 2023:

  • Fiction Winner: The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
  • Debut Fiction Winner: Close to Home by Michael Magee
  • Non-Fiction Winner: Strong Female Character by Fern Brady
  • Children’s Fiction Winner: The Swifts by Beth Lincoln (Illustrated by Claire Powell)

Caffè Nero, an independent, family-owned business, initiated the Nero Book Awards in May 2023 as part of its commitment to sponsoring the arts. Over 100 publishers and imprints submitted hundreds of books across the Children’s Fiction, Debut Fiction, Fiction, and Non-Fiction categories. The shortlist was meticulously selected by a panel of 12 judges, including authors, booksellers, and journalists.

Gerry Ford, Founder and Group CEO of Caffè Nero commented: “The Nero Book Awards are a hugely important part of our programme to sponsor the arts and support creative excellence. The four winning books represent the very best writing from the UK and Ireland and we are proud at Caffè Nero to create a platform that celebrates home-grown talent, and to offer a total prize pot of £50,000.”

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He continued by saying, “Our judges have selected four brilliant books that will appeal to readers of all tastes. My congratulations to the winning authors, and thank you to our judges, partners and the wider publishing industry for engaging with these Awards so enthusiastically in our first year. It is our goal that these Awards come to represent a badge of exceptional quality which is seen as aspirational for authors and within the industry and a trustworthy recommendation for readers.”

Fiction Winner: The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

Paul Murray secures the top spot in the Fiction category with his compelling novel, “The Bee Sting”. Balancing humour and tragedy, the narrative unfolds the tale of a middle-class Irish family navigating the aftermath of the post-2008 Irish banking crisis. The book, crafted over five years, draws inspiration from global events, including Brexit and the pandemic, with Murray completing the 650-page novel during the latter. Nominated for various awards, including The Writer’s Prize 2024, “The Bee Sting” clinched the An Post Irish Book of the Year 2023, solidifying Murray’s standing in the literary world and inviting comparisons to influential writers like Jonathan Franzen.

Debut Fiction Winner: Close to Home by Michael Magee

In the realm of Debut Fiction, Michael Magee triumphs with “Close to Home”, drawing inspiration from his upbringing in West Belfast. Originally conceived as a memoir, the novel offers a unique perspective on Magee’s own experiences growing up in the working-class area of Poleglass. Sneaking into school to attend English classes during his youth, Magee later pursued a PhD in Creative Writing at Queen’s University. “Close to Home” tackles a spectrum of themes, including masculinity, violence, poverty, and trauma. This literary gem has not only garnered acclaim from the media in the UK and Ireland but has also claimed prestigious honours such as the Rooney Prize for Literature in 2023 and the Waterstones Irish Book of the Year 2023.

Non-Fiction Winner: Strong Female Character by Fern Brady

In the Non-Fiction arena, Scottish comedian Fern Brady claims victory with her raw and moving memoir, “Strong Female Character”. Known for her appearances on Taskmaster, Brady offers a candid reflection on her life, diagnosed with autism in her 30s. Steering clear of reducing the subject to comedic stereotypes,

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Brady delves into her experiences, shedding light on missed signs leading to a delayed diagnosis. The memoir delves into Brady’s time in a teen psychiatric unit, her turbulent meltdowns, her unique comfort in a strip club workplace, and her poignant preference for being an autistic woman over a neurotypical one. This courageous narrative not only earns Brady the inaugural Non-Fiction award but also establishes her as a powerful voice in the literary landscape.

Children’s Fiction Winner: The Swifts by Beth Lincoln (Illustrated by Claire Powell)

Beth Lincoln clinches the Children’s Fiction category with her debut masterpiece, “The Swifts”, skillfully illustrated by Claire Powell. This captivating murder mystery is a delightful blend of comedy and high jinks, marked by Lincoln’s unique narrative prowess. A product of her participation in Penguin Random House’s WriteNow scheme, the book is a testament to the scheme’s commitment to fostering underrepresented voices.

Seamlessly integrating queer representation, the story weaves a narrative where characters identify as queer without it overshadowing the plot. Inspired by Lincoln’s love for “weird old words” such as “bumbershoot” and “zounderkite”, the central family in the book names their children based on a random page in their sacred dictionary. Notably, “The Swifts” has soared to bestseller status in both the UK and the US, earning the prestigious title of Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month.

The Shortlist

Back when the shortlist was revealed, the Awards Director, Amanda Johnson said, “The announcement of our shortlist is such an exciting milestone for the Nero Book Awards. We have here an incredible range of books that will speak to a variety of different audiences, from books based on true stories to fantasies to explorations of self, place and landscape. Huge congratulations to all the shortlisted authors and their publishers. We hope that everyone will find a new favourite book on this list.”

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Fiction Award Shortlist:

  • The Bee Sting by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton) (WINNER)
  • Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Granta)
  • Ordinary Human Failings by Megan Nolan (Jonathan Cape)
  • Fifteen Wild Decembers by Karen Powell (Europa Editions)

Debut Fiction Award Shortlist:

  • Close To Home by Michael Magee (Hamish Hamilton) (WINNER)
  • The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • The New Life by Tom Crewe (Chatto & Windus)
  • Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth (VERVE Books)

Non-Fiction Award Shortlist:

  • Strong Female Character by Fern Brady (Brazen) (WINNER)
  • The Tidal Year by Freya Bromley (Coronet)
  • Undercurrent by Natasha Carthew (Coronet)
  • Hags by Victoria Smith (Fleet)

Children’s Fiction Award Shortlist:

  • The Swifts by Beth Lincoln (Puffin), Illustrated by Claire Powell (WINNER)
  • Gwen and Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher (Bloomsbury YA)
  • Bitterthorn by Kat Dunn (Andersen Press)
  • Wild Song by Candy Gourlay (David Fickling)

About the Nero Book Awards

The winners in each category were unveiled on January 30, 2024, with each receiving £5,000. The overall Nero Gold Prize Book of the Year winner—to be announced on March 14, 2024—will receive an additional £30,000. A final judging panel led by award-winning author Bernardine Evaristo will select the overall winner.

Bernardine Evaristo said: “At a time when literature is under threat from the addictive distractions of social media and the internet, literary prizes not only celebrate individual writers and elevate careers, but draw attention to a beautiful art form that requires and rewards sustained concentration and engagement with words, other people’s lives, and the imagination. The Nero Book Awards are a major new prize. I’m looking forward to chairing the Nero Gold Prize, and selecting a book from the category winners that offers readers exceptional riches, one which we judges think deserves to be honoured as the overall book of the year.”

The Nero Book Awards, which require eligible books to be first published in English in the UK or Ireland between December 1, 2022, and November 30, 2023, serve as a testament to the literary excellence prevalent in the past 12 months.

As the countdown to the Nero Gold Prize Book of the Year ceremony begins, the four authors and their fans eagerly await the crowning of the ultimate victor from the category winners. The event will be hosted in a yet-to-be-unveiled venue in London on March 14, 2024, and promises to be a celebration of literature, recognising the exceptional contributions of authors in shaping the literary landscape.

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