Press release

Wellcome Trust Book Prize: 2010 shortlist announced

The Wellcome Trust Book Prize today announces its second ever shortlist for works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health, illness or medicine. One will win the £25,000 Prize celebrating medicine in literature.

Continuing the precedent set in its inaugural year, the Prize recognises works of the highest literary quality and is unique in bringing together the worlds of medicine and literature, appealing to literature lovers and science enthusiasts alike. This year's shortlist brings to life the fascinating role that medicine plays in all our lives and recognises writing that engages readers with any aspect of health and illness.

The shortlisted books are:

  • 'Grace Williams Says It Loud' by Emma Henderson (Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre)
  • 'Medic: Saving lives - from Dunkirk to Afghanistan' by John Nichol and Tony Rennell (Penguin - Viking)
  • 'Teach Us to Sit Still' by Tim Parks (Random House - Harvill Secker)
  • 'So Much for That' by Lionel Shriver (HarperCollins)
  • 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot (Pan Macmillan - Macmillan)
  • 'Angel of Death: The story of smallpox' by Gareth Williams (Palgrave Macmillan).

Subjects covered in the shortlisted books range from the fascinating story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells, taken without her knowledge, were used in research that changed medical science forever ('The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot), to a poignant novel about a severely disabled child who grows up in an institute and falls in love with a fellow patient ('Grace Williams Says It Loud' by Emma Henderson).

The shortlist also addresses topical themes ranging from the US healthcare system, in Lionel Shriver's novel 'So Much For That', to the role of medics in war zones such as Afghanistan ('Medic' by John Nichol and Tony Rennell).

Chairing the judging panel of five, former barrister, comedy writer and presenter Clive Anderson said: "In this impressive shortlist of medical books, there is plenty to impress everyone from the hyper-critical to the hypochondriac. These are books which engage the interest and inform the reader in equal measure."

Clive's colleagues for the 2010 prize include: writer and former Man Booker judge Maggie Gee; writer, professor and former Man Booker judge A C Grayling; University College London-based medical historian Michael Neve; and anatomist, anthropologist, presenter and author Alice Roberts.

Clare Matterson, Director of Medical Humanities and Engagement at the Wellcome Trust, adds: "This is an inspiring shortlist. In this second year of the Prize, it's a pleasure to see the variety of novels and non-fiction books that once again demonstrate how enthralling and how dramatic books on the theme of medicine and literature can be. I'm thoroughly enjoying the reading."

The winner of the £25,000 Prize will be announced at an awards reception at Wellcome Collection in London on 9 November 2010. To find out which book has won, readers can log on to the Wellcome Trust Book Prize website.

Ahead of the winner announcement, Clive Anderson and judging panel members will host a discussion at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Sunday 10 October from 16.00 to 17.00. The panel will each choose their favourite medical characters in literature, theatre or film and TV, and explore the complex and often ambivalent role that they play in our artistic culture.

Members of the public may hear from some of the shortlisted authors at a further event taking place on Saturday 6 November, 15.00-16.30, at Wellcome Collection.

Shortlisted books

'Grace Williams Says It Loud' by Emma Henderson, Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre, £16.99 (fiction)
This is a spirit-soaring debut from Emma Henderson. A novel about love against all the odds, in the unlikely setting of a 1950s care home. Grace is the severely disabled child of the Williams family and has lived at the Briar Mental Institute since the age of 11.

We discover the world through Grace's eyes as she grows from a child into a woman, constantly striving to rise above the humiliations and indignities often heaped upon her by the very people employed to care for her. We share her triumphs, disasters and revelations, but above all, we experience the discovery of first love. At her story's heart is the special relationship she shares with the charmingly flawed Daniel - a fellow patient, who has epilepsy and lost his arms in an accident. Daniel’s brash effervescence changes Grace's world for ever.

Grace's is a tremendously bold and challenging voice, and through her astounding story we chart the real change in attitudes to mental health in the past few decades. Emma Henderson has based the character of Grace on her own sister, who was admitted into an institution as a child - a guilty secret that was harboured in her family throughout her childhood. She spent most of her life in care and was the inspiration for this novel.

Emma Henderson ran a ski chalet in France for several years and now lives in London. 'Grace Williams Says It Loud' is her first novel.

'Medic: Saving lives - from Dunkirk to Afghanistan' by John Nichol and Tony Rennell, Penguin - Viking, £8.99 (non-fiction)
Doctors, nurses, medics and stretcher-bearers go where the bullets are thickest. Through bomb alleys and minefields, ducking mortars and rockets, wherever someone is injured and the cry of "Medic!" is heard. War at its rawest is their domain. An ugly place of shattered bodies, severed limbs and death. This is the story of those brave men - and, increasingly, women - who go to war armed with bandages, not bombs, scalpels, not swords, and put saving life above taking life. Many have died, the ultimate sacrifice for others, to ensure that when the cry of "Medic!" is heard, it will be answered, regardless of the cost. From the beaches of Dunkirk to the desert towns of Afghanistan, there can be no nobler cause.

John Nichol is a former RAF officer who was shot down on a mission over Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1991. He was captured and became a prisoner of war. He is the bestselling co-author of 'Tornado Down' and, with Tony Rennell, 'The Last Escape', 'Tail-End Charlies' and 'Home Run', and the author of five novels. He is also a journalist and widely quoted military commentator.

Tony Rennell is the author of 'Last Days of Glory: The death of Queen Victoria' and co-author of 'When Daddy Came Home', a highly praised study of demobilisation in 1945, and with, John Nichol, 'The Last Escape', 'Tail-End Charlies' and 'Home Run'. He writes regularly on historical subjects.

'Teach Us to Sit Still' by Tim Parks, Random House - Harvill Secker, £12.99 (non-fiction)
Bedevilled by what seemed to be a crippling prostate condition that nobody could explain or relieve, Tim Parks confronts hard truths about the relationship between the mind and the body, the modern world and his life as a writer.

Following a fruitless journey through the conventional medical system in Italy, he finds improvement and relief in an unlikely prescription of breathing exercises that eventually leads him to take up meditation. This was the very last place Parks expected or wanted to find answers; anything New Age simply wasn’t his scene. In the meantime, he is drawn to consider the effects of illness on the work of other writers, including Hardy, Coleridge, Beckett and D H Lawrence, the role of religions in shaping our sense of self, and the influence of sport and art in our attitudes to health and wellbeing.

Most of us will fall ill at some point; few will describe that journey with the same verve, insight and radiant intelligence as Tim Parks.

Tim Parks was born in Manchester, grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy, where he has lived ever since. He is the author of novels, non-fictions and essays.

'So Much For That' by Lionel Shriver, HarperCollins, £15.00 (fiction)
'So Much for That' is a deeply affecting novel with heart: an unflinching portrayal of illness and its effect on a marriage and family, told with Lionel Shriver's trademark originality, intelligence and acute perception of the human condition.

What do you pack for the rest of your life? Shepherd Knacker has been saving all his working life for his retirement escape route: a one-way ticket to a small island off the coast of Africa. He's sold his successful handyman business for a million dollars and is now ready to embark on his 'Afterlife'. However, when his wife, Glynis, is diagnosed with an extremely rare and aggressive form of cancer, Shepherd's dreams of an exotic adventure are firmly put on hold.

Suddenly a million dollars doesn’t seem like all that much, as the exorbitant cost sends this once-well-off couple hurtling towards bankruptcy and both are forced to face the uncomfortable question: how much money is one life worth?

This is classic Lionel Shriver, a profoundly emotive and brutally honest novel tackling the things we don’t talk about: illness, death and money. It is also, perversely, a highly entertaining and compelling novel about illness, the telling of which drives right at the heart of human relationships. Illness brings Shepherd and Glynis closer together and, as Shepherd observes, "Maybe you never really know someone until they’re dying."

Lionel Shriver’s novels include 'The Post-Birthday World', 'We Need to Talk about Kevin', 'A Perfectly Good Family' and 'Checker and the Derailleurs'. Her writing has appeared in the 'Guardian', the 'New York Times', the 'Wall Street Journal' and many other publications. She lives in London.

'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot, Pan Macmillan - Macmillan, £7.99 (non-fiction)
Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists knew her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer whose cancer cells taken without her knowledge and became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first immortal human tissue grown in culture, HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the effects of the atom bomb; helped lead to important advances such as in vitro fertilisation, cloning and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions. Yet Henrietta herself remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey in search of Henrietta’s story, from the coloured ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live, and struggle with the legacy of her cells. Full of warmth and questing intelligence, astonishing in scope and impossible to put down, 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' captures the beauty and drama of scientific discovery, as well as its human consequences.

Rebecca Skloot is an award-winning science writer whose articles have appeared in the 'New York Times Magazine' and 'O, The Oprah Magazine', among others. She has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s 'RadioLab' and PBS’s 'Nova ScienceNOW', and blogs about science, life, and writing at Culture Dish, hosted by 'Seed' magazine. She also teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Memphis.

'Angel of Death: The story of smallpox' by Gareth Williams, Palgrave Macmillan, £18.99 (non-fiction)
'Angel of Death' exposes the life-changing effects of the devastating disease of smallpox through the eyes of those whose lives were changed for ever by the disease, ranging from smallpox victims to those caught up in the battle for and against vaccination, includingDr Edward Jenner, ‘the father of all vaccination’.

A timely, accessible and engaging story, 'Angel of Death' explores contemporary attitudes to disease, including original and engaging insights into the anti-vaccination campaigns that remain active today, and into the many unlearned lessons of smallpox, bringing to life one of the most enthralling, life-changing success stories in the history of medicine and human life.

Gareth Williams is Professor of Medicine and former Dean of Faculty at the University of Bristol.