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British Book Awards winners: From first-time writers to a teenage activist and a skincare guru

Douglas Stuart takes crown for overall Book of the Year for ‘Shuggie Bain’ at this year’s Nibbies

Eva Waite-Taylor@evaawt
Thursday 13 May 2021 17:00
<p>Plenty of IndyBest favourites from the past year have been honoured</p>

Plenty of IndyBest favourites from the past year have been honoured

The winners of the British Book Awards – also known as the Nibbies – are in and it’s a sensational line-up with Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain crowned overall and debut Book of the Year, while 17-year-old Dara McAnulty triumphed over Sir Captain Tom Moore and Barack Obama to win non-fiction Book of the Year.

It’s already been an exciting few months in the literary world. The Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced in April and consisted of an inspiring collection of new and well-established writers, while newcomers and indie publishers dominated the International Booker Prize shortlist.

Similarly, the Duchess of Cornwall launched a book club in January, with season two starting in April with a new list of recommended titles, including a novel by Philip Pullman. In other royal news, Meghan Markle recently announced her debut children’s book, The Bench, while Kate Middleton’s eagerly anticipated photobook, Hold Still, was published this month.

While there’s clearly a lot to get stuck into, if your reading list is in a fallow period, the British Book Awards winners should provide you with a little inspiration. Founded in 1990 byThe Bookseller, it has become known as the Baftas of the book world.

Booker Prize-winner Douglas Stuart has won yet another award for Shuggie Bain, taking the crown for this year’s overall Book of the Year, chosen from the nine individual Book of the Year category winners.

Read more:

Talking about the win, judge Peter Frankopan said: “It was so hard to choose between such very different books, written for very different audiences. But we all agreed that Shuggie Bain is a classic that will be read in 20 years’ time.

“It is an immensely powerful book and an unusual one too. We were incredibly impressed by the writing, but also by the way the book came about, and by how it was supported by the author and the publisher. A very worthy winner from a very strong field,” he added.

Similarly, it’s an exciting day for 17-year-old Dara McAnulty, who is the youngest winner this year and one of the youngest ever in the history of the awards. He takes the crown for his non-fiction title Diary of a Young Naturalist, beating former US president Barack Obama in the category.

In celebration of the announcement, here we take a look at the winning titles, from debut fiction to non-fiction narrative. There’s plenty to enjoy.

You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Book of the Year – Overall and Debut winner: ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart, published by Picador

Douglas Stuart’s dazzling debut won the Booker Prize in 2020 and has now won Overall and Debut Book of the Year at the British Book Awards.

Set in Eighties Glasgow, this is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, who spends his pivotal years in run-down public housing. Exploring Thatcher’s politics, this is a heartbreaking story of addiction, love and sexuality. Portrayals of working-class families are rarely seen in fiction, so for Stuart to do so in such a powerful way is particularly noteworthy. Following Shuggie and his mother, it’s a story that's hard to forget – it’s intimate, challenging and compassionate.

Read our review of the title in our guide to the best novels of 2020.

Book of the Year – Fiction: ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell, published by Tinder Press

Maggie O’Farrell was crowned 2020’s Women’s Prize for Fiction winner for her eighth book, Hamnet, the heartbreaking story behind one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Through impeccable and emotional prose, it’s a fictional account of the short life of the Bard’s son, Hamnet, who died at the age of 11. At its very core, it’s a novel of love and loss and speaks of grief and how people find their way through it. Written with raw honesty, Hamnet showcases O’Farrell’s versatility. 

Read our review in our guide to what the IndyBest team read and loved during lockdown.

Book of the Year – Pageturner: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ by Delia Owens, published by Corsair

The hype for Delia Owen’s debut novel has been immense – it was one of Amazon’s bestselling books of 2020 and featured in the first season of the Duchess of Cornwall’s book club, The Reading Room. Equal parts murder mystery, coming-of-age novel, and a celebration of nature, it’s set in date-jumbling and tension-building order from 1952 to 1970. The story follows Kya Clarke, from age six to 25, as she grows up in a North Carolina swamp after being abandoned by her family. But, after years of being alone, she pines for touch and love, and as two boys from the local town become intrigued by her, she opens up to the idea of a new life. Then, the unimaginable happens. Driven by character and with a poignant sense of place and time, Where the Crawdads Sing is the story of a community beset by tragedy. Certainly one to add to your reading list.

Book of the Year – Crime and thriller fiction: ‘Troubled Blood’ by Robert Galbraith, published by Sphere

The latest book to be published under JK Rowling’s pseudonym Robert Galbraith is the fifth novel in the acclaimed Cormoran Strike crime series. Troubled Blood follows Strike and Ellacott as they attempt to solve the mystery of a serial killer that’s more than four decades old.

Book of the Year – Non-fiction narrative: ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’ by Dara McAnulty, published by Little Toller

Taking the crown for non-fiction Book of the Year is an impressive feat for established writers, but winning the category as a teenager is exemplary. Seventeen-year-old author Dara McAnulty triumphed over Sir Captain Tom Moore and Barack Obama for his book Diary of a Young Naturalist.

The title follows the teenage star of BBC’s Countryfile as he opens up about his autism and love for the natural world, providing practical advice, knowledge about British wildlife and hope for the future in this deeply felt memoir.

Book of the Year – Non-fiction lifestyle: ‘Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide’ by Caroline Hirons, published by HQ

If you’re a fan of all things beauty, you’re likely to already have Caroline Hirons on your radar. Her no-nonsense approach to everything from SPF to make-up means she’s garnered a cult following. Hirons released this book in the summer of 2020 and it was the first beauty title to top The Sunday Times Bestsellers list in 18 years.

The book provides you with all the knowledge you’d ever need about skincare. In her matter-of-fact way, Hirons puts straight everything that works, and doesn’t, in the world of beauty.

Want to find out if her recommendations work? We tried her skincare routine.

Audiobook of the Year: ‘Think Like A Monk’ by Jay Shetty, published by HarperCollins

In a year of worrying events, many of us have reached for books and audiobooks for some self help, so it comes as no surprise that Jay Shetty’s manual has been recognised. Think Like a Monk features the popular vlogger and podcaster sharing wisdom he gained when he was a practising Vedic monk. The audiobook is read by the author himself.

For more recommendations, read our guide to the best self-help books.

Book of the Year – Children’s illustrated and non-fiction: ‘Black and British: A short, essential History’ by David Olusoga, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

Essential reading for kids, this title is a revised version of Black and British: A Forgotten History for young readers and provides an invaluable history of Black people's experiences of living in the British Isles. Ranging from the stories of Roman Africans who guarded Hadrian’s Wall, right up to the multicultural society of the present day, it asks thought-provoking questions.

Book of the Year – Children’s fiction: ‘The Highland Falcon Thief’ by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

This picture book is set on the last journey of the royal train known as The Highland Falcon and is the latest title in the Adventures on Trains series. Harrison Beck joins his travel writer uncle Nat on a train journey to Scotland, and, when a priceless brooch goes missing, things get even more interesting.

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Need more recommendations? Read our guide to the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist

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