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Press / Andrew Crumey wins Northern Rock Foundation Writer's Award 2006

  Andrew Crumey wins Northern Rock Foundation Writer's Award 2006  

Theoretical physicist wins Northern Rock Foundation Writers Award

Andrew Crumey scoops 60,000 prize

Quantum physics, telepathy and a young boy who embarks on a space mission.welcome to Sputnik Caledonia, Newcastle writer Andrew Crumeys work-in-progress which has scooped this years Northern Rock Foundation Writers Award, the largest in the UK, with a prize of 60,000.

Andrew is one of Britains most interesting and original writers whose academic training as a PhD in theoretical physics has provided rich material for his literary work to date with its recurring questioning of the boundaries between reality and fantasy.

The prize, which is only available to previously published authors living and working in the North East and Cumbria, allows its recipient to give up the day job and live on a salary of 20,000 a year for a three-year period. Now in its fifth year, the Award last year went to poet Gillian Allnutt and was previously awarded to Anne Stevenson, Julia Darling and Tony Harrison.

Andrews previous novels Mobius Dick (2004) and Mr Mee (2000), amongst others, have already won praise from literary luminaries such as Jonathan Coe, Fay Weldon and Michael Holroyd and been shortlisted for the literary worlds most prestigious awards and translated worldwide.

A characteristic of his work is its intellectual playfulness, surrealist structuring and content. With his entry for the Award, his current work-in-progress Sputnik Caledonia, the author has departed from his usual style adopting a much more linear approach to the narrative which incorporates a coming-of-age story within a wide-ranging novel of ideas.

The story centres on the life of a young boy, Robert Coyle, growing up in 1970s central Scotland. He daydreams about becoming an astronaut, while his father, a socialist trade union official with utopian ideals, inhabits a different kind of fantasy. As we follow Robert into adolescence, reality and imagination meld. The setting changes to an imaginary communist Scotland, where Robert finds himself involved in a space mission to explore a newly discovered world.

Andrew explains where the idea for the book came from:

"I'm a child of the sixties, and I remember what it was like growing up with the fear of nuclear war, the belief that space tourism was just around the corner, and the sense that the world was split between two irreconcilable ideologies. I wanted to write a book based partly on my own childhood memories and also bringing in political and scientific ideas, but I couldn't quite find the unifying theme I was looking for. Then I spent a while researching ways in which writers and thinkers have responded to science throughout history. Among others I read Engels and Lenin, Goethe, the Dalai Lama - quite a mixed bag. What surprised and excited me was that all these people, in very different ways, took a holistic view of nature. You can have people at completely opposite ends of the political, ideological or philosophical spectrum, and they're basically saying the same thing - everything is connected. That's the theme of my book: it branches off into fantastic realms, but the core idea is that all these varieties of experience are part of a single story, the search for wholeness."

With his dual career in physics and literature Andrew is in a unique position to comment on the "two cultures" of art and science, and the current widespread interest in bridging the gap between them:

"There has always been a very fertile interplay - Dante based The Divine Comedy on the accepted cosmology of his day, and Voltaire wrote a book about gravity. Increasingly, though, our culture becomes specialised, compartmentalised and divorced from the material world - a great many people can't even cook; the night sky disappears in a haze of streetlights. People think science is something done by people in white coats looking through microscopes - they feel alienated from it. And art has acquired its own specialists too. But all these activities are about life, and how we look at the world, and I think it's great that there are so many people who want to escape from compartmentalised thinking towards something more interconnected."

The judging panel consisted of literary critic and author DJ Taylor, novelist Maggie Gee and award-winning poet Don Paterson who selected Andrews work as a clear winner despite the international stature of several other entrants. Fiona Ellis, director of the Northern Rock Foundation, commented:

The judges were unanimous in their praise for Andrews work to date noting its originality and breadth of subject matter. Its a heady mixture of reality, fantasy and exoticism making for novels which can be read on many levels and by a wide audience of readers. Despite Sputnik Caledonias many serious themes its a very accessible and entertaining read.

Andrews literary stature is already established and hopefully the prize will allow him the time to focus on writing full time which is certain to lead to exciting and valuable new works. He is an extremely deserving winner and a writer with a great career ahead.

Andrew who is currently literary editor of Scotland on Sunday has lived in Newcastle upon Tyne since 1992 which qualifies him to enter the Northern Rock Foundations literary competition which is only available to previously published writers living and working in the north east and Cumbria.

The award is unique in as much as it does not operate on a shortlist basis, thus publicly pitting writer against writer, nor does it seek the involvement of celebrity judges.

Andrews own approach to his work has also a hint of the renaissance man about it with his ability to seamlessly cross disciplines between science, culture, political theory and humour. He commented:

It has become increasingly popular to think in narrow bands. But its wrong to think of the worlds of science, culture and politics being somehow divorced from one another, they all inform each other and impact on us as individuals.

It would be fantastic to think that other regions of the UK could benefit from similar prizes. I feel extremely honoured to have won and I hope the work I eventually produce will repay the faith and support I have been shown.

The Award will be handed over at a ceremony at Newcastle upon Tynes Baltic Centre for Contemporary Arts on Thursday 30th March at 6pm.


For more information about the Award contact either Tanya Garland or Kaye Jemmeson at Cool Blue on 01642 351011 or by email on or

Andrew Crumey is represented by Picador Publishing. Contact Camilla Elworthy on 020 7014 6178 for information on the authors previous work.
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