Columnist's nature diary compilation scoops best book award

Author Melissa Harrison.

Melissa Harrison, whose The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary, won the Book of the Year at the East Anglian Book Awards 2021. - Credit: National Centre for Writing

A diary compilation detailing a love of the region's flora and fauna has been crowned the year's best book in East Anglia.

The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary (Faber & Faber) by Melissa Harrison, a novelist and nature columnist who moved from London to Suffolk, has won Book of the Year at the East Anglian Book Awards 2021.

The announcement was made at a special online event on Thursday hosted by awards partners Jarrold, Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times publisher Archant and the National Centre for Writing, with support from the University of East Anglia's Faculty of Arts and Humanities.

Other winners included, in the fiction category, The Stranding by Kate Sawyer, and, in the history section, How Norwich Fought Against the Plague, by Frank Meeres, which looks at the outbreak of bubonic plague in the city from the first wave in 1348 to 1349 to its last in 1666 to 1667.

The memoir category was won by The Easternmost Sky: Adapting to Change in the 21st Century, by Juliet Blaxland, which takes the farmland and nature reserves of the Suffolk coast as a focal point to meditate on climate change.

As the overall winner, Melissa Harrison will receive £1,000, which has been funded by the grant-delivering PACCAR Foundation.

The winner of the Book of the Year at the East Anglian Book Awards 2021.

The winner of the Book of the Year at the East Anglian Book Awards 2021. - Credit: Melissa Harrison

The book is a diary compiled from the author's Nature Notebook column in The Times, and maps her relocation from London to rural Suffolk.

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She said: "If you write about place – and especially, if you write about somewhere other than the place where you grew up – local recognition becomes particularly precious.

"Having fallen helplessly in love with this part of the world, I'm so proud that The Stubborn Light of Things has been named East Anglian Book of the Year."

The judging panel praised the book for its uplifting writing and passion for the Suffolk countryside, describing it as a "book with a mission that stands well for this moment".

Elsewhere, the Exceptional Contribution Award 2021 for outstanding work within writing and publishing in the region was presented to the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the UEA.

Generic UEA, University of East Anglia. Picture: Supplied

The Exceptional Contribution Award 2021 for outstanding work within writing and publishing in the region was presented to the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at the UEA. - Credit: UEA

Alison Donnell, head of the school, said: "I am absolutely delighted that the talent and dedication of my colleagues in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing at UEA has been recognised by this year’s Exceptional Contribution Award.

"It is particularly pleasing that the award acknowledges the school as a whole, and thereby pays tribute to the connections and cross-fertilisations that operate across genres and disciplines to inform our richly creative-critical culture."

Peggy Hughes, one of the judges and programme director at the National Centre for Writing based in Norwich, said: "2021 has seen another strong year for the East Anglian Book Awards, with six wonderful winning titles which in different and myriad ways have something to say to the unprecedented times we're in.

The National Centre for Writing launches, following a £2m extension and restoration of historic Drag

The National Centre for Writing in Norwich. - Credit: Nick Butcher

"From the climate emergency to plague, grief and loss, love and hope and the stubborn light of things despite dark days, these books tell the story of the uniqueness of East Anglia in a language that is universal.

"We thank everyone who entered this year, and all involved in the writing, making, and sharing of books which have made us think, laugh, reflect, and remember that our whole literary community is reason indeed to celebrate."

Caroline Jarrold, community affairs adviser at Jarrold, said: "Once again, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all the category winners and seeing the breadth and quality of writing and publishing connected to this area.

"During this time, when our work and leisure time patterns continue to be disrupted, it was particularly absorbing to be able to immerse myself in these titles and then have a robust discussion with the other judges about our views of this range of distinctive writing to agree on the final winner."

David Powles, editor of the Eastern Daily Press, said: "Congratulations to the truly deserving winners in this list, whose works should make us proud to live in such a brilliant part of the country.

"Many people have turned to reading more than ever in the last 18 months, and being able to learn more about our region or immerse ourselves in its landscape is a delight."

The Book by the Cover Award, sponsored by East Anglian Writers for the best-designed cover of the shortlisted titles, went to artist and photographer Anita Staff for the cover of Boy in Various Poses by Norfolk-based Lewis Buxton.

Boy in Various Poses by Lewis Buxton

Boy in Various Poses by Lewis Buxton - Credit: Contributed

To qualify for the East Anglian Book Awards, works must be set largely in East Anglia or be written by an author living in the region – which is defined as Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex and the area of Fenland District Council.

Since the East Anglian Book Awards began in 2008, they have showcased the work of more than 150 authors, 200 titles and almost 100 publishers.

To find out more about the East Anglian Book Awards, visit nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk/east-anglian-book-awards/

The full list of winners

  • Biography & Memoir - The Easternmost Sky: Adapting to Change in the 21st Century by Juliet Blaxland (Sandstone Press Ltd)
  • Fiction - The Stranding by Kate Sawyer (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • General Non-Fiction - The Stubborn Light of Things: A Nature Diary by Melissa Harrison (Faber & Faber)
  • History & Tradition - How Norwich Fought Against the Plague: Lessons from the Past by Frank Meeres (Poppyland Publishing)
  • The Mal Peet Children’s Award - The Wolf Road by Richard Lambert (Everything with Words)
  • Poetry - Rose With Harm by Daniel Hardisty (Salt Publishing)

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