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Alice Winn’s In Memoriam scoops Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize 2023

A historical love story set in the First World War has been named as the winner of the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize 2023.

In Memoriam, by Brooklyn-based writer Alice Winn, was described as “comfortingly classic yet daringly original” by judges.

Winn was announced as the winner of the prize at an evening ceremony at the Waterstones flagship bookshop in Piccadilly on Thursday.

Voted for by Waterstones booksellers, the prize consists of £5,000 and the promise of ongoing commitment to the winner’s writing career.

Inspired by old clippings from a student newspaper, In Memoriam traces the love story between two soldiers, whilst meditating on the tragedies of war and the precious sanctuary that can be found in deep human connection.

Bea Carvalho, head of books and campaigns at Waterstones, says: “We were all blown away by Alice’s powerful and emotive storytelling, and intimate command of her epic historical canvas.

“It is a truly stunning feat of fiction which manages to be at once desperately heart-shattering and full of hope, and comfortingly classic yet daringly original.”

Winn grew up in Paris and was educated in British boarding schools, going on to obtain a degree in English literature from Oxford University.

She now lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes screenplays.

Winn said: “In Memoriam was the book I wrote almost by accident, after I had decided to stop wasting my time writing unpublishable novels.

“This is a wholly joyful and unexpected result.

“It was inspired by the student newspapers from my old school during the First World War, and I wanted it to be a quick and hopeful read despite the bleak subject matter.”

Winn fended off competition from five other shortlisted writers for the prize; Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, Jacqueline Crooks, Michael Magee, Cecile Pin and Colin Walsh.

Last year’s winner of the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize, The Rabbit Hutch by Tess Gunty, was immediately propelled into the bestseller chart.

The novel went on to win both the 2022 National Book Award for Fiction and the Barnes and Noble Discover Prize – and has since also been optioned for screen.