Paul Kingsnorth wins Gordon Burn Prize

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At a special event at Durham Book Festival on Friday evening, Paul Kingsnorth was announced as the winner of the second annual Gordon Burn Prize for his debut novel The Wake by a judging panel which comprised actor Julian Barratt, poet John Burnside, artist Sarah Lucas, and last year’s inaugural prize winner, novelist Benjamin Myers.

Set in the three years after the Norman invasion of 1066, The Wake tells the story of Buccmaster of Holland, a man from the Lincolnshire Fens, who, with a fractured band of guerrilla fighters, takes up arms against the invaders. It is a post-apocalyptic story of the brutal shattering of lives, a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man bearing witness to the end of his world.

‘The ‘shadow tongue’ vocabulary that is the novel’s architecture automatically makes The Wake a unique entity, yet it is so much more than a dazzling display of linguistic flair,’ said judge Benjamin Myers. ‘Paul Kingsnorth creates his own world – that of an old England that is both familiar yet utterly alien – and pulls you in to bear witness to our own bloody history first hand. Poetry, landscape, mythology and language are shot through with fleeting flashes of violence on which modern society is founded. Months after first reading it, part of me is still within this novel, and I truly believe future generations will regard The Wake as a classic.’

‘The Gordon Burn Prize looks to celebrate, amongst many things, risk-takers and people, like Gordon, who are prepared to stare horror in the face,’ said a spokesperson from the Gordon Burn Trust. ‘In The Wake, we don’t know if this is history as conveyed by a psychopath or how it might have happened or both. Either way, it is an astonishing book.’

Paul Kingsnorth is the author of two non-fiction books, One No, Many Yeses (2003) and the highly acclaimed Real England (2008), as well as a collection of poetry, Kidland (2011). A former journalist and deputy editor of The Ecologist magazine, he has won several awards for his poetry and essays. In 2009, he co-founded the Dark Mountain Project, an international network of writers, artists and thinkers in search of new stories for troubled times. Much of his writing can be found online at The Wake is his first novel.

The Wake is published by Unbound, a crowdsource funding platform, whose investors include actor Mark Rylance. Rylance, currently filming Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall for the BBC, is such a supporter of the book that he joined Paul Kingsnorth at this year’s Hay Festival, where he read from the book. His performance can be seen on the Telegraph website.

The Gordon Burn Prize, run in partnership by New Writing North, Faber & Faber, and the Gordon Burn Trust, was conceived to pay tribute to the legacy of the late author. An incisive, undaunted writer, Newcastle-born Burn was a literary polymath, writing forensically on subjects ranging from celebrity to serial killers, politics to contemporary art, sport to the media. The Gordon Burn Prize seeks to recognise writers whose work follows in his fearless footsteps. The winning writer receives a cheque for £5,000 and the opportunity to undertake a writing retreat of up to three months at Gordon Burn’s cottage in Berwickshire.