The books we cherish the most are often the unexpected ones, foisted upon us by fervid friends and colleagues.
There’s something uniquely appetising about discovering a novel that garners its hype from grass root recommendations, as opposed to the bells and whistles that accompany hotly-anticipated hits.
So, we were delighted to see word-of-mouth fiction pave the way at the British Book Awards this week (as reported via the Guardian).
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry nabbed top honours at the ceremony, as it was crowned fiction book of the year.
This beguiling gothic novel is set in 1893 and tells the story of amateur palaeontologist Cora Seabourne, who, liberated by her husband’s death, is free to investigate rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent has returned to the parish of Aldwinter.
The Essex Serpent was not widely known upon release last year, but sold 40 times more than the initial sales target – this despite the fact that publicist Anne-Marie Fitzgerald only had a three-figure sum to promote it with.
She was also hailed at Monday’s awards, for her "superb planning and execution of a budget campaign for a potentially difficult book".
The runaway success of The Essex Serpent saw Chelmsford-born author Perry awarded the Costa fiction award for a novel Stylist described as “unsettling and brilliant”.
“There are some writers who have the ability to feed your soul as you read: they educate and entertain simultaneously,” we said of Perry.
“The Essex Serpent … made me wish I was a bookseller again so I could press it into the hands of all my customers,” said chair of judges and contributing editor at the Bookseller, Cathy Rentzenbrink.
“Luckily, booksellers up and down the land felt the same urge and it has been a delight to see the care and attention lavished on this book.”
The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargreave was another word-of-mouth champion at the British Book Awards this week.
Winner of the Waterstones Children’s Prize 2017, this lyrical YA tale follows the journey of cartographer’s daughter Isabella Riosse, who is forbidden to leave the island she lives on.
Spurred on by the disappearance of her best friend, she ventures into the monster-filled wasteland of the island’s Forgotten Territories, armed with her intricate ink maps and knowledge of the stars.
With beautifully written prose that’s been compared to the work of Philip Pullman and Frances Hardinge, The Girl of Ink and Stars has flown off shelves and developed a cult fan base among children and adults alike.
Harry Potter author JK Rowling was also singled out at this week’s event, landing the BA Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Book trade.
The writer’s impact on the trade was described as “remarkable” and the panel saluted her as “a loud and proud force for good”.
“Twenty years ago I would hardly have believed I’d have a book published, let alone an accolade as wonderful as this,” she said. “I am truly honoured and overwhelmed.”
Photos: iStock and Rex Features