M. John Harrison wins Goldsmiths Prize 2020

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The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again, an uncanny tale of broken life in Brexit Britain, has won this year’s Goldsmiths Prize for author M. John Harrison.

Harrison was announced as the winner of the £10,000 prize rewarding mould-breaking fiction at an online ceremony on Wednesday 11 November.  

Speaking after the win, he said: "It’s quite astonishing to have started a career 50-odd years ago in a magazine that had moved from being a science fiction magazine, in a very short time across the early sixties, into being a place where experimental writing was brought to the fore. The beliefs we had then are exactly those that lie behind the prize that I have just won 50 years later, which is quite astonishing to me. 

"I think there are so many different ways to be innovative, and in fact the attempt to define them would be a limitation in itself. There shouldn’t be any limits. The whole point of a prize like this, the whole point of innovative writing is to break limits, is to break boundaries, is to break rules, to break categories, and to move on. Always to move on."

Chair of Judges, Frances Wilson, said: “M. John Harrison has produced a literary masterpiece that will continue to be read in 100 years time, if the planet survives that long.”  

Deputy Editor of the New Statesman, Tom Gatti, said: “In celebrating the work of border-crossing writers such as M. John Harrison, the Goldsmiths continues to play a vital role in reinvigorating the novel form. The New Statesman is delighted to support the prize.”  

Introducing a reading earlier this month, Harrison said it is “a story of lovers so self-involved, they not only fail to make a relationship but also fail to notice a mysterious political takeover going on around them. It’s a novel about conspiracy theory in which you can’t tell what’s theory and what’s real. It’s set in the UK now and it refers to the UK now. It isn’t science-fiction or folk horror or psycho-geography, but it contains parodic elements of all three, and more.” 

M John Harrison will be in conversation with Chris Power in an online event for Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 21 November.  

M. John Harrison was born in Rugby, lives in Shropshire, and has been writing short fiction, long fiction, and literary criticism since 1966. Best known as a writer of modern fantasy and science fiction, he is also described as someone to whom “the question of genre is an irrelevance” and a “genre contrarian”.  

His books include the Viriconium stories, The Centauri Device, Climbers, The Course of the Heart, Signs of Life, Light and Nova Swing and he has won the Boardman Tasker Award (Climbers), the James Tiptree Jr Award (Light) and the Arthur C.Clarke Award (Nova Swing). 

The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again was published by Gollancz in June 2020. 

This year’s Goldsmiths Prize judging panel comprised former Goldsmiths Prize shortlisted-writer Sarah Ladipo Manyika, short story and newspaper columnist Chris Power, novelist and poet Will Eaves – who has twice been shortlisted for the Prize – and biographer and critic Frances Wilson.   

The Prize was launched in association with the New Statesman in 2013 with the goal of celebrating the spirit of creative daring associated with Goldsmiths as a university, and to reward fiction that breaks the mould and extends the possibilities of the novel form.     

Entry for the 2020 Prize was open to novels published between 1 November 2019 and 31 October 2020, written in English by citizens of the UK or the Republic of Ireland, or authors who have been resident in the UK or Republic of Ireland for three years and have their book published there.  

This year’s shortlisted works were: 

  • Mr. Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press)  
  • A Lover’s Discourse by Xiaolu Guo (Chatto & Windus)  
  • The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again by M. John Harrison (Gollancz)  
  • Meanwhile in Dopamine City by DBC Pierre (Faber)  
  • The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press)  
  • Bina by Anakana Schofield (Fleet)  
Eimear McBride was the first winner of the Goldsmiths Prize for A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing, followed by Ali Smith in 2014 for How to Be Both, Kevin Barry in 2015 for Beatlebone, Mike McCormack in 2016 for Solar Bones, Nicola Barker with H(A)PPY in 2017, Robin Robertson in 2018 for The Long Take, and Lucy Ellmann last year for Ducks, Newburyport.