The 2023 Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize has been awarded to a historical love story that takes place during World War One.
The judges praised Brooklyn-based author Alice Winn’s In Memoriam as “comfortably classic yet daringly original.”
At a ceremony on Thursday night at the Waterstones flagship bookstore in Piccadilly, Winn was declared the prizewinner.
The reward, which was chosen by Waterstones bookshop employees, includes £5,000 and the assurance that the winner’s literary career will be supported going forward.
It is a truly amazing accomplishment of writing that manages to be both comfortingly traditional and fearlessly unique, and painfully heartbreaking and full of optimism.
In Memoriam, which was inspired by old newspaper clippings from a college newspaper, tells the love story of two soldiers while reflecting on the horrors of war and the priceless refuge that may be found in close human connection.
“We were all blown away by Alice’s powerful and emotive storytelling, and intimate command of her epic historical canvas,” says Bea Carvalho, head of books and campaigns at Waterstones.
It is a truly amazing work of literature that manages to be both comfortingly old and fearlessly unique, as well as profoundly heartbreaking and full of optimism.
Winn was born and raised in Paris, attended British boarding schools, and later graduated from Oxford University with a degree in English literature.
She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, and creates screenplays there.
The book I almost accidentally wrote, In Memoriam, was the result of my decision to stop wasting time on unmarketable novels.
This is a completely happy and unexpected outcome.
In Memoriam was the book Winn almost accidentally created after deciding to stop spending his time on unpublishable novels, he claimed.
“It was inspired by the student newspapers from my old school during the First World War, and I wanted it to be a quick and hopeful read despite the bleak subject matter,” the author says, calling the outcome “wholly joyful and unexpected.”
Five other authors who were shortlisted for the prize, including Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Jacqueline Crooks, Michael Magee, Cecile Pin, and Colin Walsh, lost to Winn.
The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize winner from the previous year, shot straight to the top of the bestseller list.
The book later went on to win the Barnes & Noble Discover Prize and the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction, and a cinematic adaptation has since been optioned.