'Deeply moving' first novel wins prestigious prize for Caleb A Nelson (Brading's 2012)

'Deeply moving' first novel wins prestigious prize for Caleb A Nelson (Brading's 2012)

The debut novel Open Water from alumnus Caleb Azumah Nelson wins the Costa Books Awards First Novel Award for 2021 

Congratulations to alumnus Caleb Azumah Nelson (Brading's 2012) for winning the Costa Book Awards First Novel Award 2021 for his novel Open Water (published in February 2021).

Praised by judges as “deeply moving, searingly intimate and just so now”, Open Water follows the lives – and the subsequent relationship - of two young Black British people in London. “We all loved this contemporary portrait of masculinity – it’s like nothing else we’ve ever read,” they said. 

In an interview Caleb said “I think I am honestly still getting used to the fact that I have not only put a book out, but that it’s been really well received. All writers do this – you kind of commit these acts of bravery by putting words down on the page, and then you close your eyes when you’ve done it and hope someone might read it.” And read it they have - the novel achieving widespread acclaim, including being winner of the Bad Form Book of the Year award, shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Book of the Year, longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and the Gordon Burn Prize 2021 and a National Book Award '5 under 35' honoree.

Caleb Azumah Nelson was working part-time in the Apple Store in London when he decided to “take a gamble” on himself and try to write his first novel. He quit his job and spent the summer of 2019 in the British Library, writing all day. He explains what he aimed to achieve in Open Water:

The main thing I was trying to hone in on was this story of intimacy between people who might feel romantically for each other – these moments that often go unnoticed and undocumented but are really the fabric of our lives,” he said. “I think that my background as a photographer means that I’m just attracted to these really tiny moments in people’s lives that l expand outwards.”

With Open Water described as 'a tender and touching love story, beautifully told' (Observer 10 Best Debut Novelists of 2021), 'an exhilarating new voice in British fiction' (Vogue), 'a poetic novel about Black identity and first love in the capital from one of Britain's most exciting young voices' (Harper's Bazaar) and 'hands-down the best debut I've read in years' (The Times), Caleb’s writing has certainly made its mark and we are delighted to hear that he is now working on a second novel. Small Worlds (also published by Viking) will be out in May 2023 and is available for pre-order here.

A panel of judges chaired by the journalist and broadcaster Reeta Chakrabarti will now select the Costa Book of the Year from the five category winners  including the First Novel Award, and the winner will be announced on 1 February 2022.