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Highland writer Cal Flyn is named as the winner of the Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer Of The Year Award

By Margaret Chrystall

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Inverness-born and Beauly-raised writer Cal Flyn has won the top Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Young Writer of the Year award.

Cal Flyn, has won top literary award. Picture: Rebecca Marr
Cal Flyn, has won top literary award. Picture: Rebecca Marr

A few weeks ago, her latest book – Islands of Abandonment: Life in the Post-Human Landscape – hit number one in the Sunday Times paperback non-fiction bestseller list. It has been shortlisted for five awards, including the Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation.

Thirty-five-year-old Cal – who now lives in Orkney – and was called "a fantastic talent" was chosen as the winner of the prize by judges Sarah Moss, Andrew O’Hagan, Tahmima Anam, Gonzalo C Garcia, Claire Lowdon.

Since the non-fiction book came out, it has been a Radio 4 Book of the Week, read to millions of listeners and has been shortlisted for five awards, including the Wainwright Prize for writing on global conservation.

The award launched in 1991 and is given annually to to a writer between the ages of 18 and 35 for a work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry first published in the UK or Ireland.

Cal's first book, Thicker Than Water, traced her journey to Australia in search of her ancestor Angus Macmillan.

Islands Of Abandonment the new book by Cal Flyn.
Islands Of Abandonment the new book by Cal Flyn.

And Islands Of Abandonment took Cal across the world to explore places that had been left behind, from Chernobyl to Detroit, finding some surprising outcomes and talking to some unforgettable people.

Earlier this month, Cal talked in a QnA with Inverness Courier about being shortlisted for the award which has been won in the past by writers who have gone on to have important careers.

"It is, honestly, a dream come true.

"I’m so pleased and flattered to be on the list with Megan Nolan, Caleb Azumah Nelson, Rachel Long and Anna Beecher. I have admired their writing for a long time – years, in some cases – so this feels a wonderful opportunity to finally meet them in person.

"And I also feel very grateful to have squeaked into the running – this is my last year qualifying for this prize."

As the 30th Young Writer of the Year, Cal has joined a list of important writers, including Simon Armitage, Sarah Waters, Zadie Smith and Sally Rooney.

The winner was announced last night at an event at the London Library.

Speaking to The Times in an interview published today, Cal revealed to journalist Laura Hackett that she is working on a proposal for a new book– and that like Islands Of Abandonment and her earlier book, it would involve travelling again.

In the interview, Cal revealed she spent some of her childhood in a wheelchair which is when her love of books flowered..

“I spent a lot of time bedbound and I read so many books. I’d always loved reading, but that’s when it just exploded.”

The Times journalist suggested the experience may also have prepared her for the solitude of a writer’s life.

Cal replied: “For a while I was home schooled, so now I’m quite happy in my own company.”

The prize is £10,000 prize money, a 10-week residency by the University of Warwick, a two-year membership to the London Library, and support instore and online from Waterstones with a series of events too.

Read the QnA with Cal Flyn from earlier this month: https://www.whatson-north.co.uk/whats-on/news/inverness-writer-cal-flyn-is-a-finalist-for-young-writer-top-266380/

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