Dr Laura Jean McKay from Massey University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, has just won one of the world’s most prestigious science fiction writing awards, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, for her novel The Animals in That Country. This is the first time a book by an Aotearoa-based author has won the award.
Dr McKay’s novel is a stunning and disquieting account of a virus which gives infected humans the ability to understand animals. While the book was written before the onset of Covid-19, Dr McKay says “aspects of the pandemic theme turned out to be scarily accurate”.
Dr McKay teaches Ecofiction and Nonfiction and other creative writing and expressive arts subjects at Massey’s Manawatū campus. She holds a PhD from the University of Melbourne for Creative Writing with a focus on Literary Animal Studies.
Accepting the prize, Dr McKay said: “Twenty years before Margaret Atwood won the first Arthur C. Clarke award, she published a small but important collection of poetry called The Animals in That Country, a title I borrowed for my book. That this book could become one of the Clarke award winners alongside Atwood – as well as other writers I adore like Miéville and Whitehead – is a momentous honour. I wrote The Animals in That Country to look closely at the relationship between humans and other animals. In these strange times, I find that, more than ever, reading and writing connects us humans as well.”
The Animals in That Country previously won the 2021 Victorian Prize for Literature, the ABIA Small Publisher’s Book of the Year, was co-winner of the Aurelias Award for Best Science Fiction Novel and is a Slate and Sunday Times Book of the Year.
The annual Arthur C. Clarke Award is awarded to the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year, and is the UK’s biggest science fiction award.
The first ever winner was Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale and has since been won by highly-acclaimed science-fiction writers such as China Miéville from the United Kingdom and Colson Whitehead from the United States.
“The shortlist was especially exciting this year because we were all debut novelists,” Dr McKay says.
Dr McKay receives a trophy in the form of a commemorative engraved bookend and almost $4000 in prize money; a tradition that sees the annual prize money rise incrementally by year from the year 2001 in memory of Sir Arthur C. Clarke.
The award judges are a voluntary body with members nominated by the award’s supporting organisations, currently the British Science Fiction Association, the Science Fiction Foundation and the Sci-Fi-London Film Festival.
You can find more information about The Animals in That Country here.