Who has won the £2,000 New Angle books prize for 2017?

Julia Blackburn at home near Halesworth: winner of the 2017 New Angle Prize run by the Ipswich Insti

Julia Blackburn at home near Halesworth: winner of the 2017 New Angle Prize run by the Ipswich Institute. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

Shortlist is dominated by six female writers

John Craske. Picture: taken from book 'Threads' by Julia Blackburn

John Craske. Picture: taken from book 'Threads' by Julia Blackburn - Credit: Taken from book 'Threads' by Jul

Suffolk author Julia Blackburn has won the 2017 New Angle book prize for her unconventional biography of an East Anglian fisherman whose life-story is nothing if not surreal.

In 1917, not long after his 36th birthday, John Craske became seriously ill. For the rest of his days he drifted in and out of what was labelled “a stuporous state”. Then in 1923 he began creating paintings of the sea, boats and coastline. Later, too ill to stand and paint, he took up embroidery – something he could do while lying in his bed. These also featured the sea. His piece de resistance was a very large embroidery of the evacuation of Dunkirk.

There are precious little facts known about John Craske, but, her interest piqued, Julia Blackburn went on a quest to find out what she could – her series of journeys took her to a decaying hotel by the North Sea, fishermen’s cottages at Sheringham, to Cromer and other places linked to his life.

Judges said the subsequent book Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske was “Beautifully written, beautifully illustrated and beautifully produced – a life of rediscovered genius”.

There’s added poignancy behind the enterprise, for the author’s husband – the Dutch sculptor Herman Makkink – died in the autumn of 2013, before the book was finished.

Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske

Threads: The Delicate Life of John Craske - Credit: Archant

Julia, who lives near Halesworth, wins £2,000 in the biennial competition designed to honour literature with a strong East Anglian theme.

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It’s organised by the Ipswich Institute, the charity running a lending library and programme of leisure-learning courses in the heart of the town, and sponsored by Gotelee Solicitors. It’s the fifth time the New Angle Prize has been awarded.

Runner-up, and receiving £500, is Jill Dawson, whose story The Crime Writer was inspired by American author Patricia Highsmith’s stay in Earl Soham in the 1960s, where she rented a house. Judges enjoyed “a destabilising book in which you’re never quite sure what’s real, imagined, or simply the result of madness”.

Taking the Suffolk Libraries Readers’ Choice Award was former Ipswich High School for Girls pupil Rosy Thornton, who used to live at East Bergholt and is now a Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Her first collection of short stories, Sandlands, is based on the spread-out village of Blaxhall, near Wickham Market. The 16 tales inspired by the landscape and natural history of the Suffolk Sandlings, local folklore and heritage, “capture perfectly that the past and present are separated only by a thin screen”, said the judges.

The results were announced at a dinner at Hintlesham Golf Club on Wednesday night. The judges were Kate Worsley, Harwich-based author of prize-winning novel She Rises; Midge Gillies, deputy head girl at Ipswich High School for Girls in the early 1980s and now a Cambridgeshire-based biographer and director of creative writing at Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education; and East Anglian Daily Times and Ipswich Star journalist Steven Russell. Also on the shortlist were Fiona Melrose’s debut novel Midwinter, Julie Myerson’s The Stopped Heart, and The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry.

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