The deal for 30-year-old Robert Williams puts him in the estimable company of bestsellers David Mitchell and Sarah Waters, who also began their literary careers behind the counter. All he needs to do now - in return for a £2,000 advance that is unlikely to encourage him to quit the bookshop just yet - is finish his book, Luke and Jon.
"Luke and Jon is my first attempt at writing young adult fiction," he said, "but
I don't think it will be my last. I have found the process captivating,
fulfilling, frustrating and inspiring. At times it feels like the easiest
thing in the world, and at others it feels almost impossible ... I have
spent many moments with my fingers poised over the keyboard wondering, 'Is
this actually any good?' However, I will finish it and I'm enjoying every
second of the story as it unfolds."
The story so far is written from the perspective of a young boy who starts a new life with his
father, a toy maker, after the sudden death of his mother.
"from the very first paragraph".
"The hairs on my arms bristled," she continued, "[they] literally stood to attention. He
has a unique and outstanding voice and a captivating, original story. It's a
highlight of my career that I've been part of the process that will bring
his work into the public's attention. I hope he becomes a household
Another of the judges, writer Francis Spufford, praised Williams's "strong voice" and
"thoughtful writing", adding that the judges were unanimous in
their decision to award the prize to a book for teenagers rather than the
three books for adult readers which made up the rest of the shortlist.
The award was organised as part of National Book Tokens' 75th anniversary celebrations, and, as a tribute to the contribution of booksellers to the book voucher scheme, was
only open to submissions from people currently working in bookshops.
Previously unpublished booksellers were asked for submissions of no more
than 10,000 words, which could include an extract from the work, a proposal,
an outline or a synopsis and a covering letter.
Spufford said it had been a "pleasure to judge this unique prize to recognise the creativity of
booksellers". He was also joined on the panel by Faber's Lee Blacktone
and Julian Loose, the Observer's Alex Clark and the independent bookseller
There are, as yet, no plans to run a similar competition next year.