The category winners for the inaugural Nero Book Awards – underwritten and delivered by Caffè Nero in partnership with Brunel University London, The Booksellers Association and Right To Dream – has been announced today by the premium coffee house.
The Nero Book Awards have attracted 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 – and celebrate the craft of great writing and the joy of reading, providing readers of all tastes with a combination of high-quality writing and readability. They are part of Caffè Nero’s programme to sponsor the arts. These Awards have been embraced by the publishing industry and supported on social media by authors including Stephen Fry, Juno Dawson, Sara Collins, Louise Doughty, Sarfraz Manzoor and Richard Osman, leading to hundreds of books being submitted in 2023.
The winners were chosen by 12 category judges, a mix of authors, booksellers and journalists, who selected the best books of the year from writers based in the UK and Ireland. The full list of judges can be found here.
The category winners are:
- Children’s Fiction winner - The Swifts by Beth Lincoln (Puffin). Illustrated by Claire Powell
- Debut Fiction winner - Close to Home by Michael Magee (Hamish Hamilton)
- Fiction winner - The Bee Sting by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton)
- Non-Fiction winner - Strong Female Character by Fern Brady (Brazen)
Of these four category winners, one book will be selected as the overall winner and recipient of The Nero Gold Prize, Book of the Year, to be announced at a ceremony in London on Thursday 14th March. A final judging panel led by Professor Bernardine Evaristo, award-winning author and Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel, will select the overall winner. Full details of the final judging panel line-up will be announced in due course. Each category winner receives £5,000, with the overall Nero Gold Prize Book of the Year winner receiving an additional £30,000.
Mental health, neurodiversity, identity and the legacy of The Troubles
The inaugural category winners announced today tackle a number of important topics and represent the highest quality of books published in the UK and Ireland in the past year. Subjects addressed include mental health and neurodiversity, identity, the enduring legacy of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, and so much more. The four authors all have roots in different parts of the UK and Ireland: Beth Lincoln lives in Newcastle; Michael Magee in Belfast; Paul Murray is a Dubliner; and Fern Brady grew up in Scotland. Among the winners are three debut writers in Magee, Lincoln and Brady.
The winner of the Children’s Fiction category is The Swifts by Beth Lincoln, illustrated by Claire Powell. A rip-roaring murder mystery full of comedy and high jinks, the book is Lincoln’s first, and a direct result of her participation in Penguin Random House’s WriteNow scheme, which nurtures and publishes new writers from underrepresented communities to ensure that the books they publish reflect the society we live in. Lincoln feels passionately about seamlessly integrating queer representation, with several characters in The Swifts identifying as queer but it is not the focus of the plot. The Swifts was also inspired by Lincoln’s love for ‘weird old words’ like bumbershoot and zounderkite, a theme reflected in the book as the central family name their children according to a random page in their sacred dictionary. The book has been a bestseller in both the UK and US and is currently Waterstones’ Children’s Book of the Month.
Close to Home by Michael Magee, inspired by the author’s upbringing in West Belfast, is the winner in the Debut Fiction category. Initially conceived as a memoir, the book ultimately took the form of a novel, allowing Magee a different perspective on his own experiences. Magee grew up in Poleglass, a working-class area of West Belfast, and during his youth would sneak into school to attend English classes. He later completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Queen’s University. The book, which among other subjects tackles masculinity, violence, poverty and trauma, has garnered praise from the media in the UK and Ireland, and won the Rooney Prize for Literature in 2023 as well as the Waterstones Irish Book of the Year 2023.
Paul Murray is the first winner in the Fiction category, for his novel The Bee Sting. Funny and tragic in equal measure, it tells the story of a middle-class Irish family in crisis, as the effects of the post-2008 Irish banking crisis take their toll on the family finances. Taking five years to complete, inspiration for the book came in part from subsequent world events including Brexit and the pandemic, with Murray writing the 650-page novel during the latter. The Bee Sting has been nominated for a number of awards including a recent nomination for The Writer’s Prize 2024 and won the An Post Irish Book of the Year 2023. Since its publication, Murray has drawn comparisons to other influential writers including Jonathan Franzen.
The first Nero Book Awards Non-Fiction winner is the Scottish comedian Fern Brady, recognisable to many from her appearances on Taskmaster. Diagnosed with autism in her 30s, Fern worried that making it the source of her comedy might reduce the subject simply to what people know about autism. To avoid this, Fern wrote Strong Female Character, a memoir chronicling her experiences and reflecting on the clear signs that were missed throughout her life, leading to a delayed diagnosis. Raw, honest and moving, the book recalls Fern’s experience in a teen psychiatric unit, her violent meltdowns, why a strip club is one of the most comfortable places she’s worked, and why exactly she would rather be an autistic woman than a neurotypical one.
Supporting creative excellence
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. 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.”
Professor 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.”
To be eligible for the 2023 Nero Book Awards, books must have been first published in English in the UK or Ireland between 1st December 2022 and 30th November 2023. At the time of entry, authors must have been alive and resident in the UK or Ireland for the past three years.
For full details, follow Nero Book Awards on Twitter and Instagram. For additional information, visit nerobookawards.com.
Read more about Creative Writing at Brunel University London.
Press Office, Media Relations
+44 (0)1895 266867 firstname.lastname@example.org