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Paul Murray and Fern Brady are the winners of the first ever Nero book awards.

Paul Murray and Fern Brady are the winners of the first ever Nero book awards.

Author Paul Murray, who was shortlisted for the Booker prize, and comedian Fern Brady have been named as the winners in their respective categories for the first ever Nero book awards.

Murray, an Irish author, was awarded first place in the fiction category for his book The Bee Sting. Brady’s memoir Strong Female Character was selected by the judges as the top nonfiction entry. Michael Magee’s Close to Home and Beth Lincoln’s The Swifts were named winners in the debut fiction and children’s fiction categories, respectively.

The inaugural Nero book awards were introduced in May of last year, following the decision by Costa to discontinue their book awards after half a century. This new prize aims to recognize the top literary works of the year written by authors residing in the UK and Ireland. The winners in each category were selected by a panel of judges, which included Sara Collins, Sarfraz Manzoor, Anthony Quinn, and Dave Rudden. Each of the four writers will be awarded £5,000 and will also be considered for the prestigious £30,000 Nero Gold prize. This final award will be determined by a panel chaired by Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo.

Evaristo stated that in today’s society, literature faces a threat from the addictive distractions of social media and the internet. Literary prizes not only recognize individual writers and boost their careers, but also bring attention to the beautiful art of writing that requires dedicated focus and appreciation for words, the lives of others, and the imagination.

The Bee Sting beat Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, Ordinary Human Failings by Megan Nolan and Fifteen Wild Decembers by Karen Powell to win the fiction category. The judges praised Murray’s novel as being “both accomplished and highly readable, the characters shine, and the family members’ individual story arcs are all equally compelling and gripping.”

Justine Jordan, the fiction editor for The Guardian, commended Murray’s family saga in her review from May. She highlighted Murray’s skillful portrayal of relationships between fathers and sons, sibling competition, mourning, self-destructive behavior, and denial. Additionally, she also noted how Murray exposes humanity’s tendency to rely on magical thinking, particularly in the context of the climate crisis.

She remarked, “This year, you won’t find a more melancholy, honest, or comical novel to read.”

The judges praised Strong Female Character as “witty, eloquent, and unapologetically truthful.” The novel follows Brady’s personal journey of growing up with undiagnosed autism. In an interview with the Observer, she shared that although she rarely incorporates autism into her comedy, writing the book gave her the opportunity to be more open and express what she truly wanted to convey. The other finalists in contention for the award were The Tidal Year by Freya Bromley, Undercurrent by Natasha Carthew, and Hags by Victoria Smith.

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2023 Nero book awards category winners.

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Magee triumphed in the debut fiction category for Close to Home, a novel about the lives of two working-class brothers in Belfast. “What sets this apart is the voice, which perfectly evokes a character and a community straining so hard against the systemic clamps of poverty, disillusionment, and ennui that the effort crackles off the page,” said the judges.

According to Keiran Goddard’s review in The Guardian, the novel approaches the controversial topic of masculinity with a certain boldness. It avoids relying solely on the commonly used stereotypes of toxic behavior and silence in its portrayal of working-class men. While these aspects are present, the author, Magee, understands that they are not the only defining characteristics of his characters, who also possess qualities such as bravery, loyalty, vulnerability, and daring.

Close to Home was chosen from a shortlist that also included The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro, The New Life by Tom Crewe and Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth.

The judges praised The Swifts, a children’s novel written by Lincoln and illustrated by Claire Powell, as “fast-paced, fiercely charismatic and full of excitement and emotion” and as “exemplifying everything a book for young readers should be.”

Kitty Empire, in a review for The Guardian, compared Lincoln’s story to Lemony Snicket and the popular trend of featuring middle-aged Miss Marple-like characters. The other nominees for the children’s book award were Lex Croucher for Gwen and Art Are Not in Love, Kat Dunn for Bitterthorn, and Candy Gourlay for Wild Song.

The CEO of Caffè Nero, Gerry Ford, stated that the company’s goal is for the awards to be a symbol of exceptional quality that is viewed as desirable for authors and the industry, and a reliable recommendation for readers. The recipient of the Nero Gold award for the best book of the year will be revealed on March 14th.

Source: theguardian.com