Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year - meet the shortlist

Raymond Antrobus
raymondantrobus creditcalebfemi preferred twitter
Who/ What inspired you to start writing?

I never started writing poetry with the intention of writing books until publishers approached me. I was happy to write poems and travel and read the poems for audiences. I live poem by poem. The idea of a book of poems doesn’t really enter my consciousness until I have a chunk of poems written, then I can look at the relationship between them and how they speak to each other.

If I knew then what I know now... 

Having a teacher tell me to stop trying to emulate Frank O'Hara and Phillip Larkin was great advice and I learned there is such thing as bad influences when it comes to reading for the sake of writing.

What's your favourite line from literature?

This is a huge and impossible question but I've had the line "Your joy is your sorrow unmasked" by Kahlil Gibran in my head for years. I think it taught me a lot about living and writing and how not to separate happiness from sadness. Good poems are impossible to write without a very clear grasp of this concept. This is kind of builds on Keat's "negative capabilities" idea too.

What is next for you?

I have a children’s picture book coming out with Walkers publishing in the US/Canada in 2020 and UK in 2021. It's called ‘Can Bears Ski’? and it is illustrated by deaf artist and children’s book maker, Polly Dunbar. I’m also writing my next book of poems 

Julia Armfield
Julia Armfield photo credit Sophie Davidson web

Who/ What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always written, which is unquestionably connected to the fact that I’ve always read or been read to. My parents read me a lot of Roald Dahl when I was very young, which I’m sure has something to do with how skewed I’ve always been towards dark things – squirmy images and horror and the humour that can be found in the grotesque.

If I knew then what I know now... 

I’d advise anyone just getting into writing not to be too precious about the things they choose to send out, particularly in the case of short stories. Once you’ve written something and edited something, send it out – to a journal, a competition, whatever you can find. You could spend your whole life polishing and prodding and trying to make something perfect and you’ll never be totally satisfied, so the best thing to do is just to send it out and see what happens. You might not place it the first time or the second time, and if so you can always take it back and tweak it before trying again, but you’ll have 100% more chance of getting somewhere if you send a story out than if you never do.

What's your favourite line from literature? 

This is an almost impossible question because the answer changes daily. The opening to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is probably up there, because I doubt there was ever a more perfect invocation of dread achieved in such a brief number of words:

'No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood for eighty years and might stand for eighty more.'

Tell us about your favourite book on the shelf?

Two of my favourite books on there are 'America is Not the Heart' by Elaine Castillo, which is great big satisfying doorstep novel about food and love and finding a home, and 'It' by Stephen King, which I have loved for a long time for the way it invokes childhood and loss and the impossible desire to go back (even as it is also, obviously, a book about a killer clown).

What is next for you?

I’m currently waist-deep in my first novel and really just hoping I can finish it! It’s a wholly different experience from writing a short story but I’m hoping that by the end I will be a better writer.

Kim Sherwood

Kim Sherwood web
Who/ What inspired you to start writing?

Writing has always been my way to understand myself and the world around me. I began writing Testament in 2011, when my grandfather, the actor George Baker, passed away. I was very close with George, and I felt lost without him. At the same time, my grandmother, who is Hungarian Jewish, began to tell me about her experiences as a Holocaust survivor for the first time. I turned to fiction as a way of articulating my grief for George, and all I was learning about the Holocaust in Hungary – an area that hasn’t been given a great deal of attention in the English language.

If I knew then what I know now... 

Trust yourself. Trust your process. Keep going. Enjoy it.

What's your favourite line from literature? And why?

That’s a fiendish question! I have too many favourite lines, so I’ll give you my favourite opening line, from Casino Royale by Ian Fleming: ‘The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.’ I love this line because it does so much at once. Nauseating to who? Obviously to someone who has been in a casino at three in the morning many, many times, and is wearily familiar with this sensation. I love it for its specificity – the hour, the sweat, the smoke. I love it because the word ‘scent’ isn’t strictly necessary, but it does so much for the rhythm. As a sentence it’s tightly coiled yet excessive, just like James Bond.

Tell us in a couple of sentences about your favourite book on the shelf?

An equally fiendish question. I collect dictionaries, and my pride and joy is an 1834 edition of Dr Johnson’s dictionary.

What is next for you?

I’ve just finished writing my second novel, 'A True Relation'. It’s a tale of smuggling and adventure on the high seas in Devon, in the early eighteenth century. It begins in the Great Storm of 1703, as smuggling captain Tom West murders his lover Grace, and takes her daughter, Molly, to live aboard his ship as a boy. I believe that how we remember history determines history. I am exploring gender, genre, and the marginalisation of historic female figures, writers and artists in our national memory.

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Founded in 1991, the award recognises the best literary work of fiction, nonfiction or poetry by a B...

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