Cheltenham Literature Festival – Interaction betwen medicine & literature

8 10 2009

Wellcome Trust Book Prize shortlist announced

8 October 2009

The Wellcome Trust Book Prize, a new award open to outstanding works of fiction and non-fiction on the theme of health, illness or medicine, today announces its first ever shortlist.

The aims of the Prize – to stimulate interest and debate around medicine and literature – are reflected in the diverse subject matter of the shortlisted books. Featuring both factual accounts and gripping novels, the shortlist includes a frank and profound account of a journey into dementia, a philosophical approach to illness and a tender novel about the lives of conjoined twins.

The Wellcome Trust created the £25 000 annual award to bring together the traditionally diverse fields of medicine and literature. Chairing the judging panel of five, comedian and former psychiatric nurse Jo Brand comments: “The shortlist is incredibly broad, exciting and wide-ranging. I now feel I’m a medical expert and will be setting up a consulting room soon.”

Jo’s colleagues for this inaugural year of the Prize include 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. Their shortlisted books are:

‘Illness’ by Havi Carel (Acumen Publishing)

‘Tormented Hope’ by Brian Dillon (Penguin Ireland)

‘Keeper’ by Andrea Gillies (Short Books)

‘Intuition’ by Allegra Goodman (Atlantic Books)

‘Three Letter Plague’ by Jonny Steinberg (Random House – Vintage)

‘Cutting for Stone’ by Abraham Verghese (Random House – Chatto & Windus)

Clare Matterson, Director of Medicine, Society and History at the Wellcome Trust, adds: “We have been delighted with the response to the Wellcome Trust Book Prize in its first year and the array of themes and genres covered in the shortlist reflects this. Writing that engages with medicine – be it fiction or non-fiction – can be especially powerful and we hope that this Prize will bring new audiences to these books”.

The winner of the £25 000 Prize will be announced at an awards reception at Wellcome Collection, London on 4 November 2009.

Ahead of the winner announcement, Jo Brand and judging panel members will host a discussion at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival, Friday 9 October 2009, 16.00-17.15, exploring the extraordinary interaction between medicine and literature (The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival Box Office, tel. 0844 576 7979).

Members of the public may hear from some of the shortlisted authors at an event taking place on 29 October 2009, 19.00-20.30 at Wellcome Collection, London. To book tickets go online or telephone 020 7611 2222.

To find out more, please visit the Wellcome Trust Book Prize website.

Shortlisted books

‘Illness: The Cry for Flesh’, 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 rare and potentially life-threatening lung disease, lymphangioleiomyomatosis (LAM). On diagnosis, in 2006, Havi was told that her 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.

For further information please contact Kate Shepherd, tel. 01993 815835 or email

‘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.

For further information please contact Patricia McVeigh, tel. 01 661 7695 or email

‘Keeper’ 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, who has Alzheimer’s. 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 carer and cared for, 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.
For further information, please contact Vanessa Webb, tel. 020 7833 9429 or email

‘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 member 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 ‘Intuition’ 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.

For further information, please contact Fran Owen, tel. 020 7269 1623 or email

‘Three Letter Plague’, Jonny 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 first-hand the firmly held suspicions that 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.

For further information please contact: Sue Amaradivakara, tel. 020 7840 8425 or email

‘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.

For further information please contact: Sue Amaradivakara, tel. 020 7840 8425 or email

Notes to editors:

For an invitation to the winner announcement VIP reception at Wellcome Collection, London, 4 November 2009, please contact Rachel Duffield at Colman Getty, email or tel. 020 7631 2666.

The Wellcome Trust is the largest charity in the UK. It funds innovative biomedical research, in the UK and internationally, spending around £600 million each year to support the brightest scientists with the best ideas. The Wellcome Trust supports public debate about biomedical research and its impact on health and wellbeing.

The Wellcome Trust Book Prize Judges:

Richard Barnett
Richard studied medicine in London before becoming a historian. He took a PhD at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine at UCL, and now teaches the history of modern medicine and the history of evolution in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. His first book, ‘Medical London: City of diseases, city of cures’, is published by Strange Attractor Press for Wellcome Collection. He received the 2006 Promis Prize for poetry, and is currently working on a first collection of poems.

Jo Brand (Chair)
Before hitting the UK comedy circuit at the age of 29, Jo Brand spent ten years as a psychiatric nurse in London, experiencing first-hand the day-to-day troubles of people with clinical depression. She soon became one of the most successful alternative comedians in the country. Her award-winning Channel 4 programme, ‘Through the Cakehole’, made her a household name, and she has remained a television favourite, appearing on shows including ‘QI’, ‘Have I Got News for You’ and ‘Question Time’, while also touring theatres regularly as a stand-up. In 2005, Jo was one of the judges of the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has written two novels, with a third soon to be published.

Quentin Cooper
Science journalist Quentin Cooper presents Radio 4’s ‘The Material World’, the show that reports new developments in science around the world. He is a film, television and radio critic and hosts the annual X-Change debates for the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He recently presented a discussion of science in crime fiction at the BA Festival of Science 2008.

Gwyneth Lewis
Gwyneth Lewis was appointed Wales’s first National Poet from 2005 to 2006. She has published six books of poetry in Welsh and English, two non-fiction books and three libretti for the Welsh National Opera. She was Poet in Residence at the Physics and Astronomy Department of Cardiff University in 2005, and is currently a member of the Welsh Academi. She is also a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.

Raymond Tallis
Between 1987 and 2006 Raymond Tallis was Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester and a Consultant Physician in Health Care of the Elderly in Salford. In March 2006 he became a full-time writer, though he remains Visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, University of London. He has published fiction, three volumes of poetry, and over a dozen books on the philosophy of mind, philosophical anthropology, literary theory, the nature of art and cultural criticism.

Media enquiries

Rachel Duffield or Ruth Cairns at Colman Getty
020 7631 2666
020 7631 2699
E or

Katrina Nevin-Ridley at the Wellcome Trust
020 7611 8540




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