Through November and December, we’re casting a weekly spotlight on some of the best books based or published in the East of England, courtesy of the East Anglian Book Awards 2023.
Now in their sixteenth year, the awards celebrate the very best of publishing, writing, and reading in the region. The East Anglian Book Awards are a partnership between Jarrolds, the Eastern Daily Press, and the National Centre for Writing, supported by UEA Faculty of Arts & Humanities.
Judged by Andrew McDonnell, Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing, University Centre Peterborough
For fans of gothic fiction…
The Others of Edenwell by Verity M Holloway (Titan Books)
Norfolk, 1917. Unable to join the army due to a heart condition, Freddie lives and works with his father in the grounds of the Edenwell Hydropathic, a wellness retreat in the Norfolk broads. Preferring the company of birds – who talk to him as one of their own – over the eccentric characters who live in the spa, bathing in its healing waters, Freddie overhears their premonitions of murder.
Eustace Moncrieff is a troublemaker, desperate to go to war and leave behind his wealthy family. Shipped to Edenwell by his mother to keep him safe from the horrors of the trenches, he strikes up a friendship with Freddie at the behest of Doctor Chalice, the American owner of the Hydropathic.
As the two friends grow closer and grapple with their demons, they discover a body, and something terrifying stalking the woods. The dark halls of the spa are breached, haunted by the woodland beast, and the boys soon realise that they may be the only things standing between this monster and the whole of Edenwell.
Our judge said:
‘I enjoyed the pace of this curious book. It is literary gothic fiction set in the uncanny landscape of the Norfolk Brecks. The Great War haunts the pages, and it is ultimately a book about the vulnerability of masculinity with something monstrous moving in the shadows of the pages. Oddly, it’s a novel that has stayed in my imagination throughout the reading process. Freddie is a brilliantly conceived character, and his fate kept me turning the pages.’
For fans of feminist literature…
The Witching Tide by Margaret Meyer (Orion)
East Anglia, 1645. Martha Hallybread, a midwife, healer and servant, has lived for more than four decades in her beloved coastal village of Cleftwater. Everyone knows Martha, but no one has ever heard her speak.
One Autumn morning, the peaceful atmosphere of Cleftwater is shattered by a sinister arrival and Martha becomes a silent witness to a witch-hunt. As a trusted member of the community, she is enlisted to search the bodies of the accused women. But whilst Martha wants to help her friends, she also harbours a dark secret that could cost her own freedom. In desperation, she revives a wax witching doll that she inherited from her mother, in the hope that it will bring protection. But the doll’s true powers are unknowable, the tide is turning, and time is running out . . .
Our judge said:
‘Told from a close third-person narrator, this folk-horror novel is set on the East Anglian coastline (I imagined it as Suffolk) during the English Civil War and the vacuum of legal accountability. It follows the plight of women suspected as witches and brings the buried secrets of East Anglian landscape and the cruelty of people to life. The characterisation is also very strong in this novel, and I liked the psychological dimension to Martha as she understands what’s at stake for her and women like her.’
For fans of unsettling historical fiction…
Foxash by Kate Worsley (Tinder Press)
Worn out by poverty, Lettie Radley and her miner husband Tommy grasp at the offer of their very own smallholding – part of a Government scheme to put the unemployed back to work on the land. When she comes down to Essex to join him, it’s not Tommy who greets her, but their new neighbours. Overbearing and unkempt, Jean and Adam Dell are everything that the smart, spirited, aspirational Lettie can’t abide.
As Lettie settles in, she finds an unexpected joy in the rhythms of life on the smallholding. She’s hopeful that her past, and the terrible secret Tommy has come to Foxash to escape, are far behind them. But the Dells have their own secrets. And as the seasons change, and a man comes knocking at the gate, the scene is set for a terrible reckoning.
The category winners for the East Anglian Book Awards will be announced in the Eastern Daily Press in January, followed by the Overall Book of the Year Award and Exceptional Contribution Award later in the year.
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