Antony Beevor. Historian
Chairman: Andrew Holgate
British literature has been among the best in the world for centuries. Many stylistic and cultural influences have impacted on the current era of literary output, leading to a diverse range of high-quality fiction from the nation’s best authors. This list captures some of this variety, as well as celebrating the most influential writers of fiction, history and poetry publishing in the UK today.
Andrew Holgate has been the literary editor of The Sunday Times since 2008. He has worked in the book world for over 30 years, in bookselling, publishing, literary journalism and newspapers. He is a regular reviewer, judge on literary awards, and has edited two books.
Hilary Mantel, CBE. Novelist
Hilary Mantel is cited as the biggest-selling winner of the Booker Prize, ever. When Mantel was a young child her parents separated, and after the age of eleven Mantel never saw her father. Her family background has provided inspiration for various pieces of her work. Mantel attended Harrytown Convent School before reading law at LSE. Mantel then transferred to the University of Sheffield. She began writing her first novel soon after graduating. Mantel’s works include Bring UpThe Bodies, Wolf Hall, Every Day is Mother’s Day and her memoir, Giving Up The Ghost.
Antony Beevor. Historian
Anthony Beevor has gained much acclaim for his publication of various popular histories including a focus on the Second World War and the Spanish Civil War. Beevor trained at the RMA Sandhurst, becoming an officer for five years before he resigned his commission. Of his change in career, he says “I decided to start writing mainly because my mother’s family had been writers for the last six generations. I could hardly ascribe the inspiration for this rather dramatic change to ancestor worship, but it certainly played a part. With the innocent arrogance of youth, I felt sufficiently confident despite a complete lack of qualifications.” It was a wise career move; Beevor’s book The Second World War is being translated into 21 languages and topped the best-seller list in Britain and four other countries.
Malorie Blackman, OBE. Children’s Laureate
Malorie Blackman is the current Children’s Laureate. Her work has won numerous awards and is often used as a platform to discuss various ethical and social issues. Blackman has written over 60 books to date and is widely accredited as being one of the most inspirational and imaginative children’s writers of our time. She has been awarded the Red House Children’s Book Award, the Eleanor Farjeon Award and the Fantastic Fiction Award. Her work includes the critically acclaimed Noughts & Crosses, Dead Gorgeous and Pig Heart Boy. In 2008, Blackman was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
Dame Antonia Byatt, DBE. Novelist
The internationally renowned author A S Byatt grew up in an extremely competitive, academic household. Her scholarly mother felt trapped as a housewife and when Byatt’s became a teenager, the two personalities clashed. Byatt found solace and escape in literature. Included in Byatt’s 16 works of fiction are her Booker Prize-winning novel, Possession, which has since been made into a film, and The Children’s Book, which was shortlisted for the accolade in 2009, narrowly missing out on the award to Hilary Mantel’s novel, Wolf Hall.
Carol Ann Duffy, CBE. Poet Laureate
Carol Ann Duffy was appointed Poet Laureate in 2009 and is the first woman to assume the role. Duffy always loved reading, and from an early age decided that she wanted to be a writer. At the age of eleven she began crafting her own poetry. Duffy used to take her four brothers’ library cards so that she might borrow more library books. Thanks to the accessibility of her language and the content of her work, Duffy’s poetry has been a popular choice in schools and is studied on many GCSE and A Level syllabi. Her words address a variety of social issues including violence and oppression.
Helen Fielding. Novelist
Helen Fielding is probably best known as the name behind the much celebrated Bridget Jones’ Diary. The Bridget Jones titles have been published in 40 countries and have sold more than 15 million copies, achieving worldwide acclaim. Growing up on the outskirts of Leeds, Fielding’s father managed the local factory which made the fabric for the miners’ jackets. Fielding studied English literature at St Anne’s College, Oxford and began her working life at the BBC before working as a columnist for several national newspapers. Bridget Jones began its life as an anonymous column in The Independent, growing to three novels and two films. Her novels have defined a generation.
Neil Gaiman. Writer
Neil Gaiman always loved books. When describing his early life, he says that he was raised in libraries, crediting librarians with fuelling his passion for literature. His parents would drop him at a library on their way to work and leave him there all day, devouring books. Gaiman thrived at school, not because he was particularly academic but because he would read the books at the first opportunity. Since his school days, Gaiman has written many short stories, graphic novels, comic books and novels such as his series The Sandman, his novel Stardust and The Graveyard Book. Gaiman is the first author to win both the Carnegie medals and the Newbery for the same piece of work.
Sir Max Hastings. Historian
The written word of Sir Max Hastings has appeared in every British national newspaper. Having won an exhibition to study at Oxford, Hastings dropped out of university in order to pursue a career in London. Hastings has published 23 books and his novel Bomber Command earned Hastings the Somerset Maugham Award for non-fiction. In 2012, Hastings was awarded a lifetime achievement award for his significant contribution to military literature in the form of the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award.
Alan Hollinghurst. Novelist
Novelist, short-story writer and poet Alan Hollinghurst cultivated his love of writing at boarding school. Poetry was his initial love and he enjoyed the prestige that resulted from having his poetry published in school magazines. Hollinghurst went on to read English at Magdalen College, Oxford and started applying for teaching jobs. Instead of teaching, he ended up working as a reviewer in London and joined The Times Literary Supplement. Hollinghurst has won the Man Booker Prize for his novel The Line of Beauty, and the Somerset Maugham Award for The Swimming Pool Library.
The Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE. Novelist
Celebrated English crime writer P D James has become famous for her detective crime novels. Educated at Cambridge High School for Girls, James had to leave school aged 16 to work. She held down various jobs, working in a tax office, as an assistant stage manager for a theatre group and for a London hospital board. When James’s husband, an army doctor, returned from World War II suffering from mental illness, James was forced to provide for her whole family. James’s first novel was published in 1962, and she says her longevity is her greatest achievement, with her philosophy being “work well at what you love best and continue to love, learn and work until the end”.
Ian McEwan, CBE. Novelist
Ian McEwan is one of the country’s greatest living novelists. Born in Aldershot, Hampshire into a military family, McEwan’s father was a working-class Scotsman who had worked his way through the army ranks to Major. As a result, McEwan spent much of his early childhood travelling to the destinations that his father was posted to. McEwan’s first work to be published was a collection of short stories, which earned him the Somerset Maugham Award. Since this time, McEwan’s novels, such as Atonement, Saturday, Enduring Love and Sweet Tooth, have graced many book shelves and have gained critical acclaim. Atonement was made into an Oscar-winning film and in 2011 McEwan was awarded the Jerusalem Prize.
David Mitchell. Novelist
David Mitchell was born to art-loving parents. Although Mitchell was not raised in a particularly bohemian household, his parent’s artistic careers taught him that you could make a living exploiting your artistic talent. An early love of reading encouraged Mitchell to put pen to paper and suffering from a stammer, writing also offered him a new medium through which to express himself. He read English and American literature at the University of Kent, and although received funding for his MA, he had no money from which to live off so began working in Waterstones. Today it is Mitchell’s books, including Black Swan Green, Time; Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten, that you will find gracing the shop’s shelves.
Kate Mosse, OBE. Author
Eminent writer Kate Mosse is probably best known for her fantasy Languedoc Trilogy. The first novel from the trilogy, Labrinth, has been translated into more than 37 languages and is a worldwide bestseller. Although she is perhaps best known for her fictional writing, Mosse’s first two published books were non-fictional. Many of her works have sold millions of copies across the world. Mosse co-founded the Woman’s Prize for Fiction in 1996, which celebrated the writing of women throughout the world, and in 2013 she was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her services to literature.
Sir Vidia Naipaul. Author
Born and raised in Trinidad, the distinguished British writer V S Naipaul won a scholarship from the Trinidad Government to study abroad and thus Naipual ended up studying English at Oxford. Naipual was lonely at Oxford and felt that his first attempts of writing were unsuccessful. Naipaul found gaining employment in post-war Britain difficult, his job applications were rejected repeatedly and he felt pressurised from his family in Trinidad to aid them financially with his graduate status. Finally, Naipaul gained a contract with the BBC presenting a weekly programme. Whilst working, inspiration eventually struck and he began writing. He has since produced many noteworthy successful fiction and non-fiction works, including the Booker Prize-winning In A Free State.
Philip Pullman, CBE. Novelist
Philip Pullman is the greatly acclaimed writer of the His Dark Materials trilogy. The first book in the trilogy, Northern Lights, won Pullman the Carnegie medal, and the third book, The Amber Spyglass, won both the Whitbread Prize for best children's book in 2001 and the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 2002. When Pullman was seven his father, a Royal Air Force pilot, died in a plane crash. His mother later re-married and moved to Austria. Pullman found solace in John Milton’s Paradise Lost, which provided a certain amount of inspiration for His Dark Materials. Pullman has published many other pieces including Fairy Tales from The Brothers Grim, The Butterfly Tattoo and The Firework-Maker’s Daughter.
JK Rowling, OBE. Novelist
JK Rowling needs no introduction. Harry Potter has become a worldwide fantasy phenomenon, selling more than 400 million copies worldwide, being translated into 72 languages, and forming the foundation for the highest-grossing film series in history. The idea for the series was born on a delayed train from Manchester to London. In the seven years that followed, Rowling lost her mother, saw her marriage end and had little money to live off. Despite these setbacks Rowling persevered, crafting some of the most celebrated works of the century. Rowling has subsequently published novels for adults such as The Casual Vacancy and The Cuckoo’s Calling. Her words have made her one of the most influential women in Britain.
Simon Schama, CBE. Historian
Simon Schama was born in London to Jewish parents with links to Turkey, Romania and Lithuania. With his diverse roots, it is no wonder that Schama’s novels cover an extensive and assorted subject matter. Schama once said his childhood home was a removal van as his father was frequently penniless. Despite this, he won a scholarship to an independent school before continuing his studies at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Schama’s first noteworthy book was published in 1989 to coincide with the bicentenary of the French Revolution, entitled Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution. Since this time, Schama has had great success with his various novels and documentaries.
Martin Amis. Novelist
British novelist Martin Amis is perhaps best known for his novels London Field and Money. He was educated at various schools including Swansea Grammar School and Cambridgeshire High School for Boys, where one of his many headmasters described Amis’s talent as “unusually unpromising.” When Amis was twelve his parents divorced and Amis attributes much of his early inspiration and creative insight to his step-mother, who first tore him away from comics and introduced him to Jane Austen. Thanks to his illustrious career as an author, Amis has gone on to influence many upcoming and influential writers, such as Zadie Smith and Will Self.
Julian Barnes. Novelist
At the age of ten Julian Barnes was told by his mother than he had too much imagination. It is this imagination that has inspired and led Barnes to become one of the most accredited writers of the day. His recent publications include The Sense of an Ending, which won the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Through the Window: Seventeen Essays (and One Short Story), and Levels of Life. In 2011 Barnes won the David Cohen Prize for Literature. When Barnes first began work, he had debilitating levels of shyness which led him to be seen as a mute member of staff. Replacing his spoken word with written word, Barnes has developed himself to become one of the most influential writers of our time.
Zadie Smith. Novelist
As a child, Zadie Smith considered a career as an actress in musical theatre. She attended the local state schools, Malorees Junior School and Hampstead Comprehensive School, and went on to study English literature at King's College, Cambridge. It was at university that Smith started publishing her short stories, which attracted much attention and earned Smith her first publishing contract for a novel. Smith’s novels have been met with great acclaim and she was included in a list of best young authors in 2013. Her 2000 novel White Teeth earned Smith the Orange Prize for fiction and was adapted for television.