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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Ella Creamer

Paul Murray and Fern Brady shortlisted for inaugural Nero awards

Contenders … (from left) Paul Murray, Fern Brady and Lex Croucher.
Contenders … (from left) Paul Murray, Fern Brady and Lex Croucher. Composite: Patrick Bolger, Raphaël Neal

Paul Murray, Eleanor Catton and Fern Brady are among the authors shortlisted for the inaugural Nero book awards.

Caffè Nero announced the new awards in May this year, less than a year after Costa abruptly scrapped their book prizes of 50 years’ standing. The new prizes see 16 writers shortlisted across four categories: fiction, debut fiction, children’s fiction and non-fiction.

Children's fiction

Gwen and Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher (Bloomsbury)

Bitterthorn by Kat Dunn (Andersen Press)

Wild Song by Candy Gourlay (David Fickling)

The Swifts by Beth Lincoln, illustrated by Claire Powell (Puffin)

Debut fiction

The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro (Bloomsbury) 

The New Life by Tom Crewe (Chatto & Windus) 

Sunburn by Chloe Michelle Howarth (Verve) 

Close To Home by Michael Magee (Hamish Hamilton) 


Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Granta) 

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton) 

Ordinary Human Failings by Megan Nolan (Jonathan Cape) 

Fifteen Wild Decembers by Karen Powell (Europa) 


Strong Female Character by Fern Brady (Brazen) 

The Tidal Year by Freya Bromley (Coronet) 

Undercurrent by Natasha Carthew (Coronet) 

Hags by Victoria Smith (Fleet)

The winner of each category will be announced in January, and will receive £5,000. The overall winner of the Nero Gold prize, announced in February, will be awarded an additional £30,000.

Murray, an Irish novelist, was shortlisted in the fiction category for his novel The Bee Sting – a comic family saga that is also shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize, the winner of which is announced on Sunday. Another Irish novelist, Megan Nolan, made the shortlist for her second novel, Ordinary Human Failings, about a family implicated in a crime.

Completing the fiction shortlist are Booker-winning author Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood and Karen Powell’s Fifteen Wild Decembers, a reimagining of the lives of the Brontë family.

Two Irish writers also feature on the debut fiction shortlist. One is Michael Magee’s Close to Home, which was also shortlisted for the Waterstones debut fiction prize. “What sets this apart is the voice, which perfectly evokes a character and a community straining so hard against the systemic clamps of poverty, disillusionment, and ennui that the effort crackles off the page,” judges said. Chloe Michelle Howarth also makes the list for Sunburn, a coming-of-age novel set in 1990s Ireland.

London Review of Books contributing editor Tom Crewe joins the debut fiction shortlist for The New Life, his novel set against the backdrop of the Oscar Wilde trial, which also won the Orwell prize for political fiction. Alongside Crewe on the shortlist is Stephen Buoro with The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa, which judges described as “extraordinary, driven by a gloriously eccentric central character”. The novel is “utterly compelling, not shy about posing difficult questions for the reader; just don’t expect it to provide any neat answers”, they added.

The non-fiction shortlist is made up of four books by women, including comedian Fern Brady’s memoir Strong Female Character and The Tidal Year by Freya Bromley, a memoir about grief and the healing power of swimming.

The children’s fiction shortlist includes social media personality Lex Croucher with their first YA book, Gwen and Art Are Not in Love.

The judges were asked to choose which reads they would most want to recommend to others. This year’s panel includes the writers Sara Collins, Sarfraz Manzoor, Anthony Quinn and Dave Rudden.

The prizes were open to books published between December 2022 and November 2023 by authors who have been resident in the UK or Ireland for the last three years.

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