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Author picks up young writer prize for novel about legacy of male violence


om Benn has been announced as the winner of the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer Award for Oxblood.

The screenwriter and author – who explores the lives of a great-grandmother, grandmother and a teen mother who live together in a council house in the 1980s amidst the legacy of male violence in his novel – was named as the recipient at Skylight Peckham in London on Tuesday.

Previous winners of the award – which comes with a £10,000 prize – include Normal People author Sally Rooney, Surge poet Jay Bernard and White Teeth novelist Zadie Smith.

Literary editor for The Sunday Times and judge Johanna Thomas-Corr said Benn is “one of publishing’s best kept secrets” and “his story about the struggles of three generations of women in a Manchester crime clan has been rendered with such care and specificity that it feels wholly original”.

She added: “The result is a rich, dark, atmospheric family saga that contains so much buried love and anger and grief and sexual jealousy and bitter disappointment.

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“In fact, it’s one of the best contemporary novels about disappointment that I have ever read. Yet somehow, I emerged from it exhilarated.”

Born in Stockport in 1987, Benn had his first novel, 2012’s The Doll Princess, shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Portico Prize.

His first film, 2017’s Real Gods Require Blood, was nominated for best short film at the BFI London Film Festival.

Benn now lives in Norwich where he teaches crime fiction at the University of East Anglia.

Birdsong novelist Sebastian Faulks, who is chair of the Charlotte Aitken Trust, said Benn is a “worthy winner, though the prize could have gone to any of the shortlist — which must have made the judges’ task especially hard”.

He called the list “a showcase for the vitality and range of talent in a younger generation”.

Benn beat competition from debut novelists Lucy Burns – for her intimate memoir, Larger Than An Orange, about abortion – and Maddie Mortimer for Maps Of Our Spectacular Bodies, a darkly funny tale about coming of age at the end of a life.

Also making it on the list is fellow of All Souls College in Oxford, Katherine Rundell, for Super-Infinite: The Transformations Of John Donne, a non-fiction book about the poet.

She is the author of adult book Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old And Wise.

The judges include critic and journalist Stig Abell, poet Mona Arshi, author Oyinkan Braithwaite, previous winner Francis Spufford, and former literary editor of The Sunday Times, Andrew Holgate.

Each shortlisted author also receives £1,000.

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