The longlists for the HWA Crown Awards for 2020 are announced! With 36 outstanding books in three categories – the HWA Gold Crown, the HWA Non-fiction Crown and the HWA Debut Crown – to celebrate in a lineup which spans millennia and continents, ranging from original historical research to love stories, thrillers, gothic chillers and social critique.
The books longlisted for the HWA Crown Awards for 2020 are:
HWA Gold Crown for the best historical fiction
The New Achilles, Christian Cameron (Orion)
It’s 228 BCE and two men’s lives become inextricably linked. With exhilarating battles, sharp wit and an even sharper eye for detail, Christian Cameron immerses you in the Ancient Greek world like no other author.
City of Girls, Elizabeth Gilbert (Bloomsbury)
A moving and superbly readable shout-out for the generation of women who lived under the long shadow cast by the Second World War. It is a witty and self-deprecating celebration of love, life, friendship and belonging set in the seedy glamour of 1940s New York.
The Year Without Summer, Guinevere Glasfurd (Two Roads Books)
In 1815 an Indonesian volcano erupts, the impact of which plays out across six lives – some are well-known historical figures, others imagined. A stark warning about climate disaster that is entrenched within the period but with a message that could not be any more urgent today. Rich in voice, beautifully told, and with a chilling sting in its tail.
Whiskey When We’re Dry, John Larison (No Exit Press)
An utterly compelling western about 17-year-old Jessilyn who disguises herself as a man and becomes a sharpshooter in order to survive. With her wonderfully distinctive voice, it’s impossible not to root for Jess in a story that has more twists and turns than a rattlesnake.
Coming up for Air, Sarah Leipciger (Doubleday)
This beautifully poetic novel weaves together three lives, periods and locations in a breath-taking manner. It is a stunning, exquisite novel about the precarious line between life and death, with many gasp-out-loud moments.
The Shadow King, Maaza Mengiste (Canongate)
A gripping, immersive, and, in places, harrowing read about an extraordinary young Ethiopian woman fighting to save her country from the vicious invading army of Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. Lyrical, powerful, visceral and devastating.
The Darker Arts, Oscar de Muriel (Orion)
In Victorian Edinburgh, lovable sleuths Frey and McGray investigate a multiple murders. With a devilishly clever plot, vivacious characters, rich period atmosphere, witty dialogue and a rip-roaring story, historical crime has never been this much fun.
The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing, Mary Paulson-Ellis (Mantle)
A beautifully-written mystery set mainly in France at the end of the First World War and in present-day Edinburgh. This is a moving, sometimes heart-breaking, story of debt and redemption, whether of a dead soldier’s pawn ticket or of the human spirit.
The Bastille Spy, CS Quinn (Corvus)
It is 1789 and France is set for revolution as well as the introduction of a wonderfully spirited spy. This fast-paced and atmospheric thriller is not only packed with period detail but also grabs you by the throat and is impossible to put down.
The Bone Fire, SD Sykes (Hodder & Stoughton)
1361. The return of the plague has driven a community to seek shelter inside the thick walls of the remote Castle Eden. This compelling, tense mystery portrays medieval feudalism on its knees, under attack from humanism and science as well as from plague and murder.
The King’s Evil, Andrew Taylor (HarperCollins)
Andrew Taylor gives you the genuine feeling of being transported back in time to the royal court of King Charles II where murder is afoot. With its rich and exuberant writing and wonderfully realised period setting, The King’s Evil is a thrilling, immersive ride.
The Hiding Game, Naomi Wood (Picador)
Set within the Bauhaus movement amidst the rise of Nazi Fascism, this suspenseful mystery is about art, expression, freedom and love. Wood’s portrayal of the Bauhaus is a thrill, whilst her playfulness with language is an absolute joy.
Jason Hewitt, chair of the judging panel for the Gold Crown Award, says: “Historical fiction often says as much about the time the book was written in as it does about the period in which the story is set. Many of this year’s Gold Crown longlist demonstrate this wonderfully with tales about climate disaster, gender equality and even – dare I say it – the perils of lockdown.
“It celebrates how rich, deep and varied historical fiction is, our selection spanning over 2,000 years of history, multiple continents, distinct voices and delightful characters. Some hold a mirror up to our current lives; others provide us with thrilling escapism. Despite this diversity though, they all have one thing in common – these are all exemplary works of fiction written by authors at the very top of their game.”
HWA Non-fiction Crown for the best in non-fiction historical writing
Big Sister, Little Sister, Red Sister, Jung Chang (Jonathan Cape)
A great idea, great research and great writing. This remarkable biography of the Soong sisters zips along, meshing the personal and the political with style.
Accursed Tower, Roger Crowley (Yale Books)
A thrilling, Game of Thrones-style retelling of the end of the Crusades that brings the distant past close without falsely making it like the present day.
The Anarchy, William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury)
Deeply researched yet easy to read, this landmark history of the East India Company is unputdownable. This is pure narrative joy.
The Beauty and the Terror, Catherine Fletcher (Bodley Head)
The Renaissance, but not as you know it: this book shines a light into the neglected corners of Italian history to bring us a seamier, grittier view.
The Scoundrel Harry Larkyns and his Pitiless Killing by the Photographer Eadweard Muybridge, Rebecca Gowers (W&N)
A fascinating piece of historical detective work and fresh writing that brings the extraordinary Larkyns to life. This is a book that stays with you.
A Fistful of Shells, Toby Green (Penguin)
A revelatory new history of West Africa based on an extraordinary breadth of original research. Gripping and vital.
Burning Down the Haus, Tim Mohr (Little, Brown)
A moving, powerful and highly innovative sidelight on the fall of Communism in East Germany through punk style and music. This is a complete original.
The Regency Revolution, Robert Morrison (Atlantic Books)
A lively, imaginative and impeccably researched tour around the Regency world, this book is thought-provoking and full of surprises.
Shakespeare in a Divided America, James Shapiro (Faber and Faber)
A beautifully-written and enlightening way to think about American cultural and political history through the reading and performance of Shakespeare.
The Russian Job, Douglas Smith (Picador)
A compelling, engaging and pacy history about a little-known group of people who achieved extraordinary things in the Soviet Union – against all odds.
Michael Tippett, Oliver Soden (W&N)
If you’ve never heard of Michael Tippett, this book shows you why you should. Readable and well-researched, it’s a beautiful portrait of a man and his times.
Chaucer, Marion Turner (Princeton University Press)
A monumental, stylish and brilliant biography that makes Chaucer feel unexpectedly familiar and contemporary.
Alex von Tunzelmann, chair of the Non-fiction Crown Award judging panel, says: “This was an exceptionally strong year for historical non-fiction. We were looking for innovative approaches, strong original research, and enthralling writing, and frankly we were spoilt for choice: it was a tough job narrowing the submissions down to these twelve. Every single one of them is a great read. We’re delighted that the longlist represents a fantastic range of subjects, and includes writers ranging from debut authors to world-famous names.”
HWA Debut Crown for the best work by a first-time historical fiction author
The Book of Echoes, Rosanna Amaka (Doubleday)
Powerful, thought-provoking look across the generations, evocative history.
You Will Be Safe Here, Damian Barr (Bloomsbury)
Beautiful and heart-breaking. Evokes a painful time of history but gives the people who lived it a voice.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton, Sara Collins (Penguin)
Such a unique voice and a very well-written and fascinating story.
The Lost Ones, Anita Frank (HQ)
A gothic gem of intrigue and atmosphere.
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, Juliet Grames (Hodder & Stoughton)
Fascinating story of family secrets with a deep sense of place.
This Lovely City, Louise Hare (HarperCollins)
Topical and insightful. Wonderfully written.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor, Jane Healey (Mantle)
Evocative, with a chilling sense of place.
Swimming in the Dark, Tomasz Jedrowski (Bloomsbury)
Extraordinary look at LGBTQ rights and very timely.
How We Disappeared, Jing-Jing Lee (Oneworld Publications)
Compelling tale of life-changing secrets. Unflinching and raw.
The Doll Factory, Elizabeth Macneal (Picador)
What a chilling setting. A wonderful exploration of society, creativity and the art world of that time.
A Book of Secrets, Kate Morrison (Jacaranda)
A fascinating tale. Thought-provoking story with a unique narrator.
American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson (Dialogue Books)
Brilliant Cold War spy thriller. A gripping tale and an unusual take on the spy genre told from an intriguing perspective.
Ayo Onatade, chair of the judging panel for the Debut Crown Award, says: “Having read over 30 books this year for the Debut Crown it was welcoming for us to see historical fiction covering a broad spectrum of periods, issues and topics, political, social and topical.”
Congratulations to the longlisted authors! And thank you to the judges for their marathon reading sessions and for making some tough decisions.
The shortlists for the three HWA Crown Awards will be announced on 7 October, 2020.