Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2010 shortlist

The Wellcome Trust Book Prize today announces its second ever shortlist for works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health, illness or medicine.

Continuing the precedent set in its inaugural year, the Prize recognises works of the highest literary quality and is unique in bringing together the worlds of medicine and literature, appealing to literature lovers and science enthusiasts alike. This year’s shortlist brings to life the fascinating role that medicine plays in all our lives and recognises writing that engages readers with any aspect of health and illness.

The shortlisted books are:

‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson (Hodder & Stoughton – Sceptre)
‘Medic: Saving lives – from Dunkirk to Afghanistan’ by John Nichol and Tony Rennell (Penguin – Viking)
‘Teach Us To Sit Still’ by Tim Parks (Random House – Harvill Secker)
‘So Much for That’ by Lionel Shriver (Harper Collins)
‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot (Pan Macmillan – Macmillan)
‘Angel of Death: The story of smallpox’ by Gareth Williams (Palgrave Macmillan)

Subjects covered in the shortlisted books range from the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks whose cells, taken without her knowledge, were used in research which changed medical science for ever (‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’, Rebecca Skloot), to a poignant novel about a severely disabled child who grows up in an institute and falls in love with a fellow patient (‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’, Emma Henderson).

The shortlist also addresses topical themes ranging from the US healthcare system in Lionel Shriver’s novel ‘So Much For That’, to the role of medics in war zones such as Afghanistan (‘Medic’ by John Nichol and Tony Rennell).

Chairing the judging panel of five, former barrister, comedy writer and presenter Clive Anderson said: “In this impressive shortlist of medical books there is plenty to impress everyone from the hyper-critical to the hypochondriac. These are books which engage the interest and inform the reader in equal measure”.

Clive’s colleagues for the 2010 Prize include: writer and former Man Booker judge Maggie Gee; writer, professor and former Man Booker judge A C Grayling; University College London-based medical historian Michael Neve; and anatomist, anthropologist, presenter and author Alice Roberts.

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, adds:  “This is an inspiring shortlist. In this second year of the prize, it’s a pleasure to see  the variety of novels and non-fiction books that once again demonstrate how enthralling and how dramatic books on the theme of medicine and literature can be. I’m thoroughly enjoying the reading.”

The winner of the £25 000 prize will be announced at an awards reception at Wellcome Collection, London, on 9 November 2010.  To find out which book has won, visit the Book Prize website where the winner’s name will be posted before midnight.

Ahead of the winner announcement, Clive Anderson and judging panel members will host a discussion at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, Sunday 10 October, 16.00-17.00. The panel will each choose their favourite medical characters in literature, theatre or film and TV and explore the complex and often ambivalent role that they play in our artistic culture (The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival Box Office: 0844 5767979).

Members of the public can hear from some of the shortlisted authors at a further event taking place on Saturday 6 November, 15.00-16.30, Wellcome Collection, London. To book tickets from Wellcome CollectionT 020 7611 2222.

Shortlisted books

‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’, by Emma Henderson, Hodder & Stoughton – Sceptre, £16.99 (fiction)
This is a spirit-soaring debut from Emma Henderson. A novel about love against all the odds, set against the unlikely setting of a 1950s care home.  Grace is the severely disabled child of the Williams family and has lived at Briar Mental Institute since the age of 11.  She is in love with Daniel who brightens up her day with tales from far-flung places, who can type with his toes…and who loves Grace back.

We discover the world through Grace’s eyes as she grows from a child into a woman, constantly striving to rise above the humiliations and indignities often heaped upon her by the very people employed to care. We share her triumphs, disasters and revelations but, above all, we experience the discovery of first love. At her story’s heart is the special relationship she shares with the charmingly flawed Daniel – a fellow patient.  An epileptic who lost his arms in an accident, Daniel’s brash effervescence changes Grace’s world for ever.

Grace’s is a tremendously bold and challenging voice, and through her astounding story we chart the real change in attitudes to mental health in the past few decades.  Emma Henderson has based the character of Grace on her own sister, who was admitted into an institution as a child – a guilty secret that was harboured in her family throughout her childhood.  She spent most of her life in care and was the inspiration for this novel.

Emma Henderson ran a ski chalet in France for several years and now lives in London. ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ is her first novel.

For further information please contact: Lyndsey Ng (E lyndsey.ng@hodder.co.ukT020 7873 6438).

‘Medic: Saving lives from Dunkirk to Afghanistan’, by John Nichol and Tony Rennell, Penguin – Viking, £8.99 (non-fiction)
Doctors, nurses, medics and stretcher bearers go where the bullets are thickest, through bomb alleys and mine fields, ducking mortars and rockets, wherever someone is injured and the cry of “MEDIC!” goes up. War at its rawest is their domain, an ugly place of shattered bodies, severed limbs and death. This is the story of those brave men – and, increasingly, women – who go to war armed with bandages not bombs, scalpels not swords, and put saving life above taking life. Many have died in the process, the ultimate sacrifice for others, to ensure that when the cry of ‘Medic!’ is heard, it will be answered. Regardless of the cost.  From the beaches of Dunkirk to the desert towns of Afghanistan, there can be no nobler cause.

John Nichol is a former RAF officer who was shot down on a mission over Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991. He was captured and became a prisoner of war. He is the bestselling co-author of ‘Tornado Down’ and, with Tony Rennell, ‘The Last Escape’, ‘Tail-end Charlies’ and ‘Home Run’, and the author of five novels. He is also a journalist and widely quoted military commentator.

Tony Rennell is the author of ‘Last Days of Glory: The death of Queen Victoria’ and co-author of ‘When Daddy Came Home’, a highly praised study of demobilisation in 1945, and with, John Nichol, ‘The Last Escape’, ‘Tail-end Charlies’ and ‘Home Run’.  He writes regularly on historical subjects.

For further information please contact:  Katherine Stroud (Ekatherine.stroud@uk.penguingroup.comT 0207 010 3000).

‘Teach Us To Sit Still’ by Tim Parks, Random House, Harvill Secker, £12.99 (non-fiction)
Bedevilled by what seemed to be a crippling prostate condition, which nobody could explain or relieve, Tim Parks confronts hard truths about the relationship between the mind and the body, the modern world and his life as a writer.

Following a fruitless journey through the conventional medical system in Italy, he finds improvement and relief in an unlikely prescription of breathing exercises that eventually leads him to take up meditation. This was the very last place Parks expected or wanted to find answers; anything New Age simply wasn’t his scene. In the meantime, he is drawn to consider the effects of illness on the work of other writers, including Hardy, Coleridge, Beckett and D H Lawrence, the role of religions in shaping our sense of self, and the influence of sport and art in our attitudes to health and well-being.
Most of us will fall ill at some point; few will describe that journey with the same verve, insight and radiant intelligence as Tim Parks.

Tim Parks was born in Manchester, grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard.  In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since. He is the author of novels, non-fictions and essays.

For further information please contact: Bethan Jones (EBjones@randomhouse.co.uk; T 0207 840 8543).

‘So Much For That’, Lionel Shriver, Harper Collins, £15.00 (fiction)
‘So Much For That’ is a deeply affecting novel with heart: an unflinching portrayal of illness and its effect on a marriage and family, told with Lionel Shriver’s trademark originality, intelligence and acute perception of the human condition.

What do you pack for the rest of your life? Shepherd Knacker has been saving all his working life for his retirement escape route: a one-way ticket to a small island off the coast of Africa. He’s sold his successful handy-man business for a million dollars and is now ready to embark on his ‘Afterlife’. However, when his wife, Glynis, is diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer, Shepherd’s dreams of an exotic adventure are firmly put on hold.

Suddenly a million dollars doesn’t seem like all that much, as the exorbitant cost sends this once well-off couple hurtling towards bankruptcy and both are forced to face the uncomfortable question: how much money is one life worth?

This is classic Lionel Shriver – a profoundly emotive and brutally honest novel tackling the things we don’t talk about: illness, death and money. It is also, perversely, a highly entertaining and compelling novel about illness, the telling of which drives right at the heart of human relationships. Illness brings Shepherd and Glynis closer together and, as Shepherd observes, “Maybe you never really know someone until they’re dying”.

Lionel Shriver’s novels include ‘The Post-Birthday World’, ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’, ‘A Perfectly Good Family’, and ‘Checker and the Derailleurs’. Her writing has appeared in the ‘Guardian’, ‘The New York Times’, ‘The Wall Street Journal’, and many other publications. She lives in London.

For further information please contact: Alice Moss  (Ealice.moss@harpercollins.co.ukT 020 8307 4295).

‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’, Rebecca Skloot, Pan Macmillan – Macmillan, £7.99 (non-fiction)
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists knew her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells taken without her knowledge became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first immortal human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilisation, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave. Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey in search of Henrietta’s story form the coloured ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells.  Full of warmth and questing intelligence, astonishing in scope and impossible to put down, ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.

Rebecca Skloot is an award-winning science writer whose articles have appeared in the ‘New York Times Magazine’ and ‘O’, the ‘Oprah Magazine’, among others. She has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s RadioLab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW, and blogs about science, life, and writing at Culture Dish, hosted by Seed magazine. She also teaches creative non-fiction at the University of Memphis. Visit her website at rebeccaskloot.com.

For further information please contact: Dusty Miller (E d.miller@macmillan.co.ukT0207 014 6237).

‘Angel of Death: The story of smallpox’ by Gareth Williams, Palgrave Macmillan, £18.99 (non-fiction)
‘Angel of Death’ exposes the life-changing effects of the devastating disease of smallpox through the eyes of those whose lives were changed for ever by the disease, ranging from smallpox victims  to those caught up in the battle for and against vaccination including  Dr Edward Jenner, ‘the father of all vaccination’.

A timely, accessible and engaging story, ‘Angel of Death’ explores contemporary attitudes to disease, including original and engaging insights into the anti-vaccination campaigns that remain active today and into the many unlearned lessons of smallpox,  bringing to life one of the most enthralling, life-changing success stories in the history of medicine and human life.

Gareth Williams is Professor of Medicine and former Dean of Faculty at the University of Bristol, UK.

For further information please contact: Laura Conn (E l.conn@palgrave.comT01256 303561).


Review of So Much for That by Lionel Shriver

By Mark Lawson in the Guardian here >>>

Published in the week that President Obama’s attempt to reform American medical coverage reached its legislative climax, So Much for That spine-tinglingly dramatises the reality of falling sick in the US…. In its demonstration of the human consequences of public policy, Shriver’s novel does for medicine whatThe Jungle by Upton Sinclair did for the Chicago meat industry.

The book, though, is as much psychological as political, inspecting its characters’ attitudes to illness and death. The previously selfish Shep, for example, behaves towards Glynis in a way he considers saintly, but she rebukes him for becoming “just another service provider”. Throughout, illness convincingly mutates the behaviour of both patients and carers.