We’re delighted to announce the HWA Crown Awards longlists for 2021: 36 books celebrating the best in historical writing, fiction and non-fiction, of 2020-2021. There are three awards categories: HWA Gold Crown, HWA Non-fiction Crown, and HWA Debut Crown.
The books longlisted for the HWA Crown Awards for 2021 are:
Gold Crown Award 2021 longlist
Spirited by Julie Cohen (Orion)
Spirited is a beautifully-written, immersive story of love and freedom that conjures up all the emotional claustrophobia and vivid detail of the Victorian era. An intricate, tender and compelling read.
V For Victory by Lissa Evans (Doubleday)
Set in Hampstead as the war drags to an end, but bombs still rain down. Full of rich characters and sharp wit, at times the novel is almost unbearably poignant; at others, one shouts with laughter.
Arrowood and the Thames Corpses by Mick Finlay (HQ)
Dark and gritty, Finlay’s characters prowl the streets of Victorian London in this pacy, gothic, and compelling investigation through the seedy parts of the city.
Tell Me How It Ends by VB Grey (Quercus)
A famous singer with a secret past thinks she’s found her lost daughter, but is being manipulated. The 1960s London scenes are evocative; the feel is just right. The clever, intriguing plot hands out surprise after twist after surprise.
The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson (Hodder & Stoughton)
18th-century London and Thomas Hawkins has a price on his head. Meticulous research, crackling prose and an intricate plot handled with a deft touch.
Cathedral by Ben Hopkins (Europa Editions)
Follows the lives of a group of people living in the shadow of a cathedral in medieval Germany and in the metaphorical shadow of the nobility and merchants. As big, ambitious and intricate as the building it’s named for.
The Unwanted Dead by Chris Lloyd (Orion)
A tense and gripping mystery which hums with menace and dark humour as well as immersing the reader in the life of occupied Paris.
The Second Marriage by Gill Paul (Avon)
An outstanding novel. In The Second Marriage, Maria Callas, Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy are vividly real and complex, and Paul displays incredible insight into their natures and motivations.
Daughters of Night by Laura Shepherd-Robinson (Pan Macmillan)
A cracking tale that transports the reader back to the licentious and murky world of prostitutes, pimps and thieves of 18th-century Covent Garden. Pacy, intriguing story, full of characters you’ll love to hate and spot-on research.
Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford (Faber)
Five East End children atomised by a World War Two bomb are given another chance to live, in a novel with redemption in its soul and London at its heart. Ordinary people’s lives told with extraordinary focus in language that’s beautifully right. Exquisitely crafted.
The Last Protector Andrew Taylor (HarperCollins)
Another cracker in the Marwood and Lovett series, featuring an unexpected character: Richard, Cromwell’s son and former Lord Protector. The research is faultless and the sense of time and place perfect.
The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton (Bloomsbury)
Holmes and Watson on a 17th-century Dutch East Indiaman, but Holmes is a prisoner and their opponent seems to be the devil. Superb voice, visually wonderful, with dizzying plot twists; outstanding.
Judges: Jean Fullerton (chair), Kate Atherton, Robin Carter, Toby Clements, Nicola Cornick, Lizzie Lane, Sara O’Keefe, Natasha Onwuemezi, Frances Owen and Elizabeth Hawksley.
Jean Fullerton, chair of the Gold Crown Award judges, says:“Yet another crop of evocative and page-turning historical novels that transport the reader from 8th-century Saxony to 1980s Glasgow and all stops in between. Such a joy to read so many superb historical novels and discovers some new authors along the way. An almost impossible task, as always, to choose just a few for the longlist. The entries into this year’s HWA Gold Crown show that not only is historical fiction alive and well but going from strength to strength.”
Non-fiction Crown Award 2021 longlist
Britain at Bay by Alan Allport (Profile Books)
In this impressive revisionist history, Allport elegantly explodes many of the enduring myths perpetuated about Britain at the outset of the Second World War. An important, deftly written corrective to some overly enduring nostalgia.
The Gun, the Ship and the Pen by Linda Colley (Profile Books)
This superbly conceived and researched book provides a timely reassessment of the enduring connection between might and right in the creation of nations, citizens and their constitutions. Colley brings great details to her scholarly treatment, keeping the arguments vivid and the pages turning.
Crucible of Hell by Saul David (HarperCollins)
Military history at its best. David expertly weaves personal perspectives from across the Battle of Okinawa, to build up a powerful picture of an irreconcilable clash of culture, as well as of military force.
The Paper Chase by Joseph Hone (Chatto & Windus)
An enthralling, fast-paced history of 17th-century press censorship and printer sedition told through the unravelling drama caused by one incendiary document. Well-researched and captivating, this is narrative history at its best.
The Ravine by Wendy Lower (Head of Zeus)
Inspired by the discovery of an appalling photograph, Lower takes a forensic look at the Holocaust in Ukraine, on the way considering fascinating questions about the ethics of research. The combination of her original conceit and careful but compelling prose provides a powerful new route into this neglected area of Holocaust history.
Double Lives by Helen McCarthy (Bloomsbury)
Double Lives is a deeply researched cultural history of working motherhood. Deploying personal stories to great effect, McCarthy not only presents an engaging study of changing attitudes and opportunities with clarity and precision but also highlights the broader significance of this previously neglected area.
Burning the Books by Richard Ovenden (John Murray)
This thought-provoking history of knowledge that has been destroyed is both wise and often moving. Told through a series of fascinating essays, this is scholarship presented with a light touch that still packs a powerful punch.
The Dead are Arising by Les Payne and Tamara Payne (Viking Books)
This compelling biography of Malcolm X is an appropriately ambitious and forceful book. Delivering an outstanding portrait through lucid prose, it deserves and demands to be widely read.
A Stranger in the Shogun’s City by Amy Stanley (Chatto & Windus)
Following her discovery of a remarkable temple archive, Stanley takes her readers on a revelatory journey through 19th-century Japan. This is deeply immersive history, beautifully written and very original.
A Dominant Character by Samanth Subramanian (Atlantic Books)
Science and politics combust brilliantly in this beautifully written biography of the ever-controversial communist geneticist JBS Haldane. This is an eloquent exposition of an influential visionary unable to escape the context of his times.
Ellis Island by Małgorzata Szejnert, translated by Sean Gasper Bye (Scribe)
An almost poetic, deeply evocative social history of the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island en route to America, and the officials and officialdom that met them. This timely book about immigrant experience has huge resonance and impact. A fabulous translation too.
The Interest by Michael Taylor (The Bodley Head)
Flipping the usual, more comfortable, perspective, Taylor focuses on the British establishment who fought to maintain the slave trade in this well-crafted and sensitively-handled book. The result is a gripping, shocking and hugely important addition to this shameful history.
Clare Mulley, chair of the Non-fiction judging panel, says: “The Historical Writers’ Association Non-fiction Prize seeks books that stand out for their originality in research and perspective, their brilliant writing and their powerful narrative force. Every book on this year’s inspiring longlist has these qualities in spades, powerfully demonstrating not only that history does not belong in the past but is open to constant scrutiny, expansion and revision, but also simply how compelling narrative non-fiction can be.”
Judges: Clare Mulley (chair), Jessie Childs, Dan Jones, Jagjeet Lally and Luke Pepera.
Debut Crown Award 2021 longlist
Tsarina by Ellen Alpsten (Bloomsbury)
This is an interesting take on historical fiction: the story of Catherine Alexeyevna, born poor with a lust for power and riches. It shows that shrewdness, smarts and cunning truly are the most deadly weapons at our disposal, whatever the situation.
Brontë’s Mistress by Finola Austin (Atria Books)
A wonderfully-researched novel which takes a supposed affair and highlights the follies of man and captures a brilliant sense of depth. A fascinating new perspective on one of literature’s most famous families.
The Strange Adventures of H by Sarah Burton (Legend Press)
A fascinating memoir describing the adventures and misfortunes of H in 17th-century London. A fabulous romp, with many locations, memorable characters and a story you will love to get lost in.
The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi (Pan Macmillan)
A wonderfully rich story of treason and treachery; of women, of power, and the strange freedom that comes from being an outcast. Dystopian historical fiction, a brilliant story built from facts.
The Puritan Princess by Miranda Malins (Orion)
A revealing story about the extraordinary relationship between Oliver Cromwell and his daughter. Exposes the female plight in such male-centric times. Great sense of place and beautifully narrated.
Imperfect Alchemist by Naomi Miller (Allison and Busby)
A beautiful tale of two women who find solace in each others company while facing those who doubt their worth. Gripping!
Edge of the Grave by Robbie Morrison (Pan Macmillan)
A genuinely gritty, harsh and memorable novel of early gangland Glasgow. Powerful, emotive, and hard to put down.
Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi (Penguin Michael Joseph)
A stand-out debut of a novel that is a brilliant tribute to the golden age of crime fiction. Totally fresh and engaging with an end that will leave you reeling.
The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner (Legend Press)
A subversive and exhilarating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time. With a storyline dripping with menace, this is one book that will leave you wanting more.
The Company Daughters by Samantha Rajaram (Bookouture)
Based on true events, a tragic and heart-wrenching story that is also an eye-opening account of 17th-century life in a Dutch colony. This largely personal story of the relationship between two women also grapples with colonisation, slavery, class and poverty. A thought-provoking novel.
The Long, Long Afternoon by Inga Vesper (Bonnier Books)
With a murder mystery at its heart, this tackles many difficult subjects. A tale of inequality, broken dreams and quiet desperation. Beguiling, deeply claustrophobic, with a sense of repression that is at the heart of what is supposed to be the American Dream.
People of Abandoned Character by Clare Whitfield (Head of Zeus)
An interesting and unusual take on Jack the Ripper. With an unreliable narrator, it’s a black comedy of a murder mystery, full of menace and plenty of twists and turns. Set in Victorian London, this is an impressive debut that raises several questions about what makes a person good or bad.
Ayo Onatade, chair of the Debut Crown judges, says: “The varied periods of history that were covered in the submissions for the Debut Crown continue to show that historical fiction is as strong and as diverse as ever. These debut authors, along with bringing fresh ideas and stories, also give readers an abundance of books to relish and choose from.”
Judges: Ayo Onatade (chair), Dan Bassett and Susan Heads.
Good luck to all the nominated authors, and thank you to our hard-working judges! And their work isn’t over yet; come back for the following announcements as the competition gets tougher:
HWA Crown Award shortlists announced: 5 October, 2021
Awards ceremony and HWA Crown Award winners announced: 24 November, 2021
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