Introducing the 2023 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize Longlist
Niso Smith, Founder of The Wilbur & Niso Smith Foundation, said
Whether you seek it or it finds you, an adventure story must take you away from your everyday life. Each of these twelve authors do exactly that, for their protagonists and for us as readers.
These books take us to a 1990s Sarajevo under siege, on an overland trip through the unforgiving Australian landscape, to a top secret research facility in a mysterious Soviet town, and challenge us to go off-grid for 30 days in a world even more technologically advanced than our own. We’re thrilled by the imagination and creativity these authors show, and salute each of them for their stellar, electrifying novels.
The Foundation encourages readers to select the one that appeals to them most, then read, share and recommend. Show your support by sharing the poster in your library, bookshop, or even in your living room window.
Download: 2023 Longlist Poster
Please get in touch if you would like a high resolution version to print.
Find out more about each of the novels in the running for the £10,000 award below:
Laurie Lico Albanese HESTER (Duckworth)
Glasgow, 1829: Isobel, a young seamstress, and her husband Edward set sail for New England, in flight from his mounting debts and addictions. But, arriving in Salem, Massachusetts, Edward soon takes off again, and Isobel finds herself penniless and alone.
Then she meets Nathaniel, a fledgling writer, and the two are instantly drawn to each other: he is haunted by his ancestors, who sent innocent women to the gallows during the Salem witch trials – while she is an unusually gifted needleworker, troubled by her own strange talents. Nathaniel and Isobel grow ever closer. Together, they are dark storyteller and muse; enchanter and enchanted. But which is which?
William Boyd THE ROMANTIC (Viking, Penguin Random House)
Soldier. Farmer. Felon. Writer. Father. Lover. One man, many lives.
Born in 1799, Cashel Greville Ross experiences myriad lives: joyous and devastating, years of luck and unexpected loss. Moving from County Cork to London, from Waterloo to Zanzibar, Cashel seeks his fortune across continents in war and in peace. He faces a terrible moral choice in a village in Sri Lanka as part of the East Indian Army. He enters the world of the Romantic Poets in Pisa. In Ravenna he meets a woman who will live in his heart for the rest of his days. As he travels the world as a soldier, a farmer, a felon, a writer, a father, a lover, he experiences all the vicissitudes of life and, through the accelerating turbulence of the nineteenth century, he discovers who he truly is. This is the romance of life itself, and the beating heart of The Romantic.
From one of Britain's best-loved and bestselling writers comes an intimate yet
panoramic novel set across the nineteenth century.
Rory Clements THE ENGLISH FÜHRER (Bonnier Books UK)
Autumn 1945 - Off the east coast of England, a Japanese sub surfaces, unloads its mysterious cargo, then blows itself to pieces.
Former spy Professor Tom Wilde is enjoying peacetime in Cambridge, settling back into teaching and family life. Until a call from senior MI5 boss Lord Templeman brings him out of retirement.
A nearby village has been locked down by the military, its residents blighted by a deadly illness. No one is allowed in or out. There are rumours the Nazi machine is still operational, with links to Unit 731, a notorious Japanese biological warfare research laboratory. But how could they possibly be plotting on British soil - and why?
What's more, Wilde and Templeman's names are discovered on a Gestapo kill list. And after a series of assassinations an unthinkable question emerges: could an Englishman be behind the plot?
Paddy Crewe MY NAME IS YIP (Doubleday, Penguin Random House)
Yip Tolroy and his fiery Mama run the general store in Heron's Creek, Georgia. An uneventful life, until gold is discovered nearby and Yip is caught up in a bloody, grievous crime forcing him to flee. On the run, friendless and alone, he meets Dud Carter a savvy but unlikely companion. Together, they embark on a journey that thrusts them unwittingly into a world of menace and violence, of lust and revenge. And, as Yip and Dud's odyssey takes them further into the unknown - via travelling shows, escaped slaves and the greed of gold-hungry men - the pull of home only gets stronger. But what will they find there if they ever return?
Anthony McCarten GOING ZERO (Pan Macmillan, Macmillan)
Going Zero, a high-concept thriller from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Anthony McCarten. Erase yourself. The hunt has begun.
TWO HOURS TO VANISH
Ten people have been carefully selected to Beta test a ground-breaking piece of spyware. Pioneered by tech-wunderkind Cy Baxter, FUSION can track anyone wherever they are on earth. But does it work?
ONE CHANCE TO ESCAPE
Each participant is given two hours to 'Go Zero' – to go off-grid and disappear - and then thirty days to elude the highly sophisticated Capture Teams sent to find them. Any Zero that beats FUSION will receive $3million in cash. If Cy's system prevails, he wins a $90 billion-dollar contract with the CIA to develop FUSION and revolutionize surveillance forever.
For contestant Kaitlyn Day, the stakes are far higher than money, and her reasons for entering the test more personal than Cy could have ever imagined. Kaitlyn needs to win to get what she wants, and Cy will stop at nothing to realize his ambitions. They have no choice but to finish the game and when the timer hits zero, there will only be one winner...
Susanna Moore THE LOST WIFE (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Summer, 1855. Sarah Brinton sets out from Rhode Island, leaving an abusive husband and child behind to head west across the country, looking for a refuge where nobody knows her history - or cares to discover it.
Sarah's journey ends at a small frontier post in Minnesota Territory, on lands claimed both by white settlers and Native Americans. There she finds herself another husband, a Yale-educated doctor who serves the nearby Sioux reservation, and settles into a new life.
Her days on the edge of the prairie are idyllic if tough, as Sarah befriends and works with the Sioux women. But trouble is brewing in the territories. The Sioux tribes are wary of the white settlers and resent the rampant theft of their land.
When the tribes take their fate into their own hands - knowing that death will be the only outcome, Sarah's loyalties are split between the Sioux and her fellow white settlers. As the conflict rages, she finds herself lost to both worlds.
The first novel in ten years from the author of In the Cut and Miss Aluminium, this is an unforgettable story about freedom and oppression, intimacy and violence, and a woman caught in the crossfire of one of the most seminal and shameful moments in American history.
Priscilla Morris BLACK BUTTERFLIES (Duckworth)
Sarajevo, spring 1992. Each night, nationalist gangs erect barricades, splitting the diverse city into ethnic enclaves; each morning, the residents – whether Muslim, Croat or Serb – push the makeshift barriers aside.
Zora, an artist and teacher, is focused on her family, her students, her studio in the old town. But when violence finally spills over, she sees that she must send her husband and elderly mother to safety with her daughter in England. Reluctant to believe that hostilities will last more than a handful of weeks, she stays behind. As the city falls under siege and everything they loved is laid to waste, black ashes floating over the rooftops, Zora and her friends are forced to rebuild themselves, over and over.Inspired by real-life accounts of the longest siege in modern warfare, only thirty years ago, Black Butterflies is a breathtaking portrait of disintegration, resilience and hope.
Natasha Pulley THE HALF LIFE OF VALERY K (Raven Books, Bloomsbury Publishing)
The truth must come out. In 1963, in a Siberian gulag, former nuclear specialist Valery Kolkhanov has mastered what it takes to survive: the right connections to the guards for access to food and cigarettes, the right pair of warm boots to avoid frostbite, and the right attitude toward the small pleasures of life. But on one ordinary day, all that changes: Valery’s university mentor steps in and sweeps Valery from the frozen prison camp to a mysterious unnamed town hidden within a forest so damaged it looks like the trees have rusted from within.
Here, Valery is Dr. Kolkhanov once more, and he’s expected to serve out his prison term studying the effect of radiation on local animals. But as Valery begins his work, he is struck by the questions his research raises: what, exactly, is being hidden from the thousands who live in the town? And if he keeps looking for answers, will he live to serve out his sentence?
Based on real events in a surreal Soviet city, and told with bestselling author Natasha Pulley’s inimitable style, The Half Life of Valery K is a sweeping historical adventure.
Alastair Reynolds EVERSION (Gollancz)
A small group of intrepid explorers are in search of a remote and mysterious artefact. It's a well-funded expedition, well organised, which is lucky as they're sailing north of Bergen on the schooner Demeter, searching for a narrow inlet which will lead them to a vast uncharted lake - and their goal - until disaster strikes.
Doctor Silas Coade wakes from disturbing dreams, on the steamship Demeter, in pursuit of an extraordinary find almost too incredible and too strange to believe, secreted within a lagoon in the icy inlets of Patagonia. But as they come in sight of their prize he and the crew see they are not the first to come so far: there is a wreck ahead, and whatever ruined it may threaten them as well.
Shaking off his nightmares, Doctor Silas Coade joins his fellow exploders on the deck of the zeppelin Demeter and realises something has already gone dangerously wrong with their mission. If any of them are to survive, then he will have to take the exploration - and their lives - into his own hands.
Emma Styles NO COUNTRY FOR GIRLS (Sphere, Little, Brown Book Group)
Charlie and Nao are strangers from different sides of the tracks. They should never have met, but one devastating incident binds them together forever.
A man is dead and now they are unwilling accomplices in his murder there's only one thing to do: hit the road in the victim's twin cab ute, with a bag of stolen gold stashed under the passenger seat.
Suddenly outlaws, Nao and Charlie must make their way across Australia's remote outback using only their wits to survive. They'll do whatever it takes to evade capture and escape with their lives...
Thelma & Louise for a new generation, No Country for Girls is a gritty, twisty road-trip thriller that follows two young women on the run across the harsh, unforgiving landscape of Australia.
Alice Winn IN MEMORIAM (Viking, Penguin Random House)
In 1914, war feels far away to Henry Gaunt, Sidney Ellwood and the rest of their classmates, safely ensconced in their idyllic boarding school in the English countryside. At seventeen, they're too young to enlist, and anyway, Gaunt is fighting his own private battle - an all-consuming infatuation with his best friend, the dreamy, poetic Ellwood - not having a clue that Ellwood is in love with him, always has been.
When Gaunt's German mother asks him to enlist as an officer in the British army to protect the family from anti-German attacks, Gaunt signs up immediately, relieved to escape his overwhelming feelings for Ellwood. The front is horrific, of course, and though Gaunt tries to dissuade Ellwood from following him to the battlefield, Ellwood soon rushes to join him. Before long, their classmates have followed suit. Once in the trenches, Ellwood and Gaunt find fleeting moments of solace in one another, but their friends are all dying, right in front of them, and at any moment they could be next.
An epic tale of both the devastating tragedies of war and the forbidden romance that blooms in its grip, In Memoriam is a breathtaking debut.
Jenny Tinghui Zhang FOUR TREASURES OF THE SKY (Penguin Michael Joseph)
Zhifu, China, 1882. Daiyu never wanted to be like the tragic heroine for whom she was named, revered for her beauty and cursed with heartbreak. But when she is kidnapped and smuggled across an ocean from China to America, Daiyu must relinquish the home and future she once imagined.
Over the years that follow she is forced to reinvent herself to survive. From a calligraphy school, to a San Francisco brothel, to a shop tucked into the Idaho mountains, we follow Daiyu on a desperate quest to outrun the tragedy that chases her. As anti-Chinese sentiment sweeps across the American West in a wave of unimaginable violence, Daiyu must draw on each of the selves she has been - including the ones she most wants to leave behind - in order to finally claim her own name and story.
Six of these titles will progress to the shortlist and then on to the 2023 judging panel. Have you read any? Vote for your favourites over the summer and the top reader’s choice will equate to one seat on the judging panel. Tell us what you think on social media using #AdventureWriting.
For information on previous longlists, shortlists and winners, click here.