Press release

'Keeper' by Andrea Gillies wins first ever Wellcome Trust Book Prize

A thoughtful and moving book that takes the reader on a journey into dementia has won the first £25,000 Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

The prize, which is in its inaugural year, is open to outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health and medicine. Andrea Gillies's book 'Keeper: Living with Nancy - a journey into Alzheimer's' (Short Books) - which is about the author's decision to take on the full-time care of her mother-in-law, an Alzheimer's sufferer - beat a shortlist of five other books.

The diverse shortlist featured both factual accounts and gripping novels on broad subject matter from a thriller set in a US laboratory to real life accounts of living with illness.

'Keeper' is a very humane and honest exploration of living with Alzheimer's, giving an illuminating account of the disease itself.

Jo Brand, comedienne and former psychiatric nurse chaired the judging panel and made the announcement at an awards ceremony at the Wellcome Collection, London. She said:

"Andrea Gillies's account of living with Alzheimer's is the perfect fusion of narrative with enough memorable science not to choke you. It's a fantastic book - down to earth and darkly comic in places. The judges found it compelling".

Clare Matterson, Director of Medicine, Society and History at the Wellcome Trust, added:

"The prize aims to examine the links between medicine, culture and society by celebrating excellent writing and bringing it to the attention of a broad and varied audience".

Jo Brand's judging panel included BBC science journalist Quentin Cooper, Welsh poet and non-fiction writer Gwyneth Lewis, physician and author Raymond Tallis and Richard Barnett, expert in the history of modern medicine. The shortlisted books were:

  • Havi Carel, 'Illness' (Acumen Publishing)
  • Brian Dillon, 'Tormented Hope' (Penguin - Ireland)
  • Andrea Gillies, 'Keeper' (Short Books)
  • Allegra Goodman, 'Intuition' (Atlantic Books)
  • Jonny Steinberg, 'Three Letter Plague' (Random House - Vintage)
  • Abraham Verghese, 'Cutting For Stone' ( Random House - Chatto & Windus)

Shortlisted books

'Illness: The art of living', Havi Carel, Acumen Publishing, £9.99 (non-fiction)
Havi Carel is a philosopher, lecturer and writer. She is also one of only 120 women in the UK to suffer from the potentially life-threatening illness, lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM), a rare lung disease. On diagnosis, in 2006, Havi was told that life-expectancy was approximately ten years. Since then, her life has changed beyond recognition and yet, at the same time, has remained the same. Despite being young and healthy looking, she has had to reinvent her life, rethink her aspirations and plans and, more than anything, learn to love the life she has.

While 'Illness', a unique and often moving book, is founded on Havi's experience of living with a degenerative illness, it was her training as a philosopher that pushed her to reflect more generally on the nature of health and illness. Havi explores illness by weaving together the personal story of her own illness with the insights drawn from her work as a philosopher. Too often illness is viewed as a localised biological dysfunction while ignoring the actual experience of the ill person, her fears, her hopes, the way she interacts with others and, ultimately, experiences life. This neglected dimension is the focus of this book. Havi shows how illness is a life-changing process rather than a limited physiological problem.

Havi Carel is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of the West of England. She is married and lives in Bristol.

Tormented Hope, Brian Dillon, Penguin Ireland, £18.99 (non-fiction)
'Tormented Hope' is a book about mind and body, fear and hope, illness and imagination. It explores, in the stories of nine individuals, the relationship between mind and body as it is mediated by the experience, or simply the terror, of being ill. And in an intimate investigation of those nine lives, it shows how the mind can make a prison of the body, by distorting our sense of ourselves as physical beings.

Healthy or unhealthy, robust or failing, ignored or obsessed over, our bodies respond daily to our shifting state of mind, whether we are aware of the process or not. This book is about an especially dramatic instance of that relationship: the mind's invention of physical disease. Through his witty, entertaining and often moving examinations of the lives of nine subjects - James Boswell, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Daniel Paul Schreber, Alice James, Marcel Proust, Glenn Gould and Andy Warhol - Brian Dillon brilliantly unravels the tortuous connections between real and imagined illness, irrational fear and rational concern, anxiety and imagination, the mind's aches and the body's ideas.

Brian Dillon was born in Dublin in 1969. He writes on the arts, books and culture for a number of publications. His first book, 'In the Dark Room', won the Irish Book Award for Non-fiction. He lives in Canterbury.

Keeper: Living with Nancy - a journey into Alzheimer's by Andrea Gillies, Short Books, £11.99 (non-fiction)
Andrea Gillies made the decision to take on the full-time care of her mother-in-law, Nancy, an Alzheimer's sufferer. With her family, she moved to a remote peninsula in northern Scotland to a house with space to accommodate Nancy and her elderly husband, and there embarked on an extraordinary journey. 'Keeper' describes the emotional strain of living with Alzheimer's, the trials faced by both sufferer and carer, when patience and obligations are pushed to the limit.The book is also a brilliantly illuminating examination of the disease itself.It explores the brain and consciousness, and tackles profound questions about the self, the soul and how memory informs who we are.

Andrea Gillies has had a diverse career, encompassing writing, publicity work, the editorship of the Good Beer Guide, travel and reference book editing, and writing a drinks column for Scotland on Sunday newspaper. She has spent most of the last 18 years raising children, and latterly, living in a mansion on a remote peninsula in northern Scotland.

Intuition by Allegra Goodman, Atlantic Books, £12.99 (fiction)
Sandy Glass is a charismatic publicity-seeking doctor. Marion Mendelssohn is an idealistic and rigorous scientist. They are co-directors of a cancer research lab in Boston. As mentors and supervisors to their young protégés, they demand dedication and respect in a competitive environment where funding is scarce and results elusive. So when the experiments of Cliff Bannaker, the youngest members of their team, begin to produce encouraging results, suggesting the very real possibility of a major breakthrough, the entire lab becomes giddy with newfound expectation.

But jealousy soon breeds suspicion and Cliff's colleague - and girlfriend - Robin Decker begins to suspect the unthinkable: that his findings are fraudulent. As Robin makes her private doubts public and Cliff maintains his innocence, a life-changing controversy engulfs the lab and everyone in it…

Allegra Goodman's 'Intuitio'n explores workplace intrigue, scientific ardour and the moral consequences of a rush judgement. The result is a novel as revealing about human nature as it is about the real life of science.

Allegra Goodman is the author of a number of novels and collections of short stories. Named by the New Yorker as one of the 20 best American writers under 40, she has won several awards, and was shortlisted for the US National Book Award for her novel Kaaterskill Falls. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 'Intuition' is her first book to be published in the UK. She is available for interview.

Three Letter Plague, Johnny Steinberg, Random House - Vintage, £8.99 (fiction)
Award-winning South African journalist Jonny Steinberg sets about telling a grassroots account of HIV and AIDS in South Africa through the story of a young man, Siswe Magadla, who runs a shop in a village in Lusikisiki, a district in Eastern Cape. What he discovers explains a modern day tragedy, why the African AIDS epidemic will continue to spread, even with retroviral drugs and health education freely available.

Steinberg encounters firsthand the firmly-held suspicions which prevent South Africans, especially young men, from getting tested; that AIDS was brought by the white man and is being spread by the needle of doctors; that HIV isn't spread through sexual intercourse; that AIDS is brought into the body by demons as punishment; that anti-retroviral drugs are useless in the face of witchcraft; even that AIDS was spread through HIV-injected blood oranges.

He meets a relative handful of unforgettable medical professionals - Hermann Reuter, MaMarrandi, over-worked nurses in village clinics swamped by the sheer numbers of those needing treatment - struggling against the continual tide of misinformation. The rumour mill is fed by gossip and the parallel culture of divine-healers and herbalists; spirits and magic.

Jonny Steinberg was born and bred in South Africa. His previous two books, Midlands and The Number both won South Africa's premier non-fiction literary award, the Sunday Times Alan Paton Prize. Steinberg was educated at Wits University in Johannesburg, and at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He has worked as a journalist on a national daily, written scripts for television drama, and has been a consultant to the South African government on criminal justice policy. He is currently writing a book about immigrants in New York.

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese, Random House - Chatto & Windus, £17.99 (fiction)
In his debut novel Abraham Verghese transports the reader from the 1940s to the present, from a convent in India to a cargo ship bound for the Yemen, from a tiny operating theatre in Ethiopia to a hospital in the Bronx. 'Cutting for Stone' is an epic of conjoined twins, doctors and patients, temptation and redemption, home and exile.

Marion and Shiva Stone are twin sons of a secret union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon at 'Missing' hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother's death in childbirth and their father's disappearance, bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the brothers come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution. Yet it will be love, not politics - their passion for the same woman - that tears them apart and forces Marion to flee his homeland. He makes his way to America, finding refuge in his work as a surgical intern at an underfunded, overcrowded hospital. When the past catches up with him, Marion must trust his life to the two men he thought he trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him, and the brother who betrayed him.

Abraham Verghese was born in Ethiopia and brought up by Indian parents. He qualified as a doctor in Madras and is currently professor of medicine at Stanford University, California. He is the author of My Own Country, an NBCC finalist made into a film directed by Mira Nair, and The Tennis Partner, a New York Times Notable Book. His essays and stories have appeared in the New York Times, The New Yorker, Esquire, Granta, New York Times Magazine, and The Wall Street Journal. He lives in Palo Alto, California.