The Wellcome Book Prize 2018 Awards Ceremony

Hey, we got it right! Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine, our shadow panel’s pick, won the Wellcome Book Prize 2018 last night. Of the three shadow panels I’ve participated in and the many others I’ve observed, this is the only time I remember the shadow winner matching the official one. Clare, Paul and I were there in person for the announcement at the Wellcome Collection in London. When we briefly spoke to the judges’ chair, Edmund de Waal, later in the evening, he said he was “relieved” that their decision matched ours – but I think it was definitely the other way around!

Simon Chaplin, Director of Culture & Society at the Wellcome Trust, said that each year more and more books are being considered for the prize. De Waal revealed that the judges read 169 books over nine months in what was for him his most frightening book club ever. “To bring the worlds of medicine and health into urgent conversation” requires a “lyrical and disciplined choreography,” he said, and “how we shape stories of science … is crucial.” He characterized the judges’ discussions as both “personal and passionate.” The Wellcome-shortlisted books make a space for public debate, he insisted.

Judges Gordon, Paul-Choudhury, Critchlow, Ratcliffe and de Waal. Photo by Clare Rowland.

The judges brought each of the five authors present onto the stage one at a time for recognition. De Waal praised Ayobami Adebayo’s “narrative of hope and fear and anxiety” and Meredith Wadman’s “beautifully researched and paced thriller.” Dr Hannah Critchlow of Magdalene College, Cambridge called Lindsey Fitzharris’s The Butchering Art “gruesome yet fascinating.” Oxford English professor Sophie Ratcliffe applauded Kathryn Mannix’s book and its mission. New Scientist editor-in-chief Sumit Paul-Choudhury said Mark O’Connell’s book is about the future “just as much as what it means to be human in the twenty-first century.” Journalist and mental health campaigner Bryony Gordon thanked Sigrid Rausing for her “great honesty and stunning prose.”

But there can only be one winner, and it was Mark O’Connell, who couldn’t be there as his wife is/was giving birth to their second child imminently. The general feeling in the room was that he’d made the right call by deciding to stay with his family. He must be feeling like the luckiest man on earth right now, to have a baby plus £30,000! Max Porter, O’Connell’s editor at Granta and the author of Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, received the award on his behalf and read out the extremely witty speech he’d written in advance.

Afterwards we spoke to three of the shortlisted authors. Kathryn Mannix said she’d so enjoyed following our shadow panel reviews and that it was for the best that O’Connell won, as any other outcome might have spoiled the lovely girls’ club the others had going on during the weekend’s events. I got two signatures and we nabbed a quick photo with Lindsey Fitzharris. It was also great to meet Simon Savidge, the king of U.K. book blogging, and author and vlogger Jen Campbell. Other ‘celebrities’ spotted: Sarah Bakewell and Ben Goldacre.

This time I stayed long enough for pudding canapés to come around – raspberry cake pops and mini meringues with strawberries. What a great idea! On the way out I again acquired a Wellcome goody bag: this year’s tote with a copy of The Butchering Art, which I only had on Kindle before. I’d also treated myself to this brainy necklace from the Wellcome shop and wore it to the ceremony. An all-round great evening. I’m looking forward to next year’s prize season already!

Paul, Lindsey Fitzharris, Clare and me.

20 responses

  1. […] You can read Rebecca’s report of the awards ceremony here. […]


  2. So annoyed that I couldn’t make it to this. It sounds like great fun. Love the ‘girls’ club’, it looked like they were all really getting on at the event I went to!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s a shame you and Annabel couldn’t be there. Tasty prosecco and canapes, and good opportunities to speak to authors. Plus free book swag!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Well done shadow panel – this rarely seems to happen in my blog-reading experience! Kathryn Mannix sounds a delight.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The authors were all lovely in person, but particularly Kathryn Mannix, yes.


  4. Carolyn Anthony | Reply

    What a wonderful night! And a “brainy” necklace to boot!

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well done and lucky you to be at the awards.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Argh I’m so jealous – this sounds like the nicest award ceremony ever!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a good one (not that I’ve been to many to compare it to!). Forgot to mention the jazz trio in the corner.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Funnily enough, as an almost-vegetarian, it’s ‘The Butchering Art’ which most intrigues me from this list. I had a bit of a browse the other day at our book shop. So glad you had a fun evening.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We’re almost veggie, too, but I don’t mind a bit of gore in my reading 😉


  8. 169 books in 9 months!!! I couldn’t do that in two years even.. Kudos to the shadow team though for selecting the winner

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could totally do it 😉 I hope I can officially some day!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What fun! Good job choosing the “right” book! I’m not usually tempted by tech-y books, but this one sounds good. And I think the author definitely made the right decision to stay home with his family!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I would usually run a mile from a techie book, but I’m glad the shortlist had me read it. It’s very different from what you might expect, much more about the psychological and philosophical ramifications of our reliance on technology.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sounds good!


  10. Annabel (gaskella) | Reply

    I wish I’d been able to go – it sounds a wonderful evening, and Kathryn Mannix sounds lovely. Very pleased the winner, and he made the right decision. Here’s to next year – I’m up for it again!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. […] This talk didn’t add much to my experience of reading the book (vice versa would probably be true, too – I got the gist of Roman Krznaric’s recent thinking from his Hay Festival talk and so haven’t been engaging with his book as much as I’d like), but it was nice to see O’Connell ‘in person’ since he couldn’t make it to the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize ceremony. […]


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