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The Sunday Times/ PFD Young Writer of the Year Award Shortlisters share their Essential Reads

Posted on 4th December 2016 by Sally Campbell

The Sunday Times/ Peters Fraser and Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award is synonymous with fresh, bold, startlingly unique approaches to fiction, non-fiction and poetry. In the second of our articles probing the enviable minds of its shortlisters, Andrew McMillan, Benjamin Wood, Max Porter and Jessie Greengrass share just what books they have lying on their bedside table.

Andrew McMillan, author of Physical

I think each writer has to choose their own pathway through it, but I can tell you what mine were, how I came to write as I do:

1. Children of Albion 

A wonderful penguin anthology of underground British Beat Poetry from the middle of the last century; if you think you know what poetry is, what it can do, what the rules are- this anthology of experimental, often barmy verse will open your eyes, as it did mine, to the brilliant landscapes of differing poetries

2. The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon by Tom Spanbauer 

An astonishing novel, that does what all great literature does, which is to invent its own language for the specific story being told. Its about love, sexuality, but perhaps more than anything its about storytelling, about narrative, about oral histories which keep us alive

3. The Art of Description by Mark Doty 

Mark’s great skill is describing and putting into words the indescribably, the things for which we don’t have language; we can never hope to be as good as him, but this book is a great primer to the language and intricacies involved in the construction of a poem. 


Benjamin Wood, author of The Ecliptic

1. Under the Skin by Michel Faber 

An unsettling and ingenious science fiction story set largely on the misty highways of Scotland. Gripping, intelligent, and beautiful.

2. Consider the Lobster and Other Essays by David Foster Wallace

The title essay alone will give you enough pleasure and wonderment at the possibilities of language to inspire your writing forever.

3. Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer

Subtle and engrossing contemporary short stories that explore race and identity in America. So, you know, a collection that resonates particularly strongly right now.

Max Porter, author of Grief is the Thing with Feathers

1. The Pantheon Book of Russian Fairy Tales

A comprehensive and dizzyingly wonderful collection. Not the best-known, possibly not the most influential, but certainly the most fun of all the storytelling traditions. Burn! Burn you smelly wolf and never try to steal my sexy chicken again! Pure inspiration on every page.

2. Poetry In The Making by Ted Hughes

I don’t think very many people have written more clearly or better about the creative process, the impulse to write, to describe, to love and challenge language, than Hughes does in this book. Utterly revelatory, truthful and inspirin

3. The Oxford English Dictionary

A lot of writers are surprisingly uninterested in language, and that’s a worry. When in doubt dive in and splash around in the glorious miracle of these 26 letters that can do all this damage. 

Jessie Greengrass, author of An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It

1. The Penguin Book of English Verse

A history of English literature handily condensed into one almost-portable volume. Really this is just another way of saying read a lot and I'm not suggesting starting at the beginning and carrying on to the end but I've had my copy for more than a decade and a lot of what's in it has become a kind of shorthand for me. It's full of words and phrases and cadences that echo through everything I do, plus this sort of anthology is brilliant for filling the odd corners of time that otherwise get eaten up by smartphones.

2. The Waste Land Facsimile by T. S. Eliot

As good an illustration as any that everyone edits. I find it enormously cheering to think that even the foundation texts of modern English literature were the product, not of superhuman genius, or at least not just that, but of an awful lot of quibbling about commas. We all are not going to turn out to be T S Eliot but it's nice to feel on a continuum.

3. The Paris Review Interviews: Vol. 1

Really, really good writers talking about writing as craft. There's a lot to learn practically here, and a lot of ideas about how to structure your working time, but again what I find most interesting and heartening is a glimpse of the effort that went into producing works that can sometimes seem, to someone on the other side, like they pinged into being, perfect and fully formed. 



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