She floated on to the stage last night as if in a dream, a character in her own novel, and shook the hand of Stephen Fry.
“The circus goes on,” she reflected.
Fiona Mozley, a Yorkshire bookseller whose first novel earned her a place on last year’s Man Booker shortlist, was being feted by the Society of Authors.
An audience of 400 in Marylebone saw her accept a Somerset Maugham Award for Elmet, her story of a family who build a house on land in South Yorkshire that they don’t own.
She was among 31 writers, four from the county, who shared a prize fund of £98,000, the biggest in the UK.
A year ago, she was an almost unknown first-time novelist. Then, late last July, came the Man Booker longlist and then the shortlist.
She had become more used to the literati since the, she told The Yorkshire Post, but only slightly.
“I still feel as if I’m floating around in a fantastic world. But I’m absolutely delighted. It’s always lovely to be put up for these things and to be thought about, and a wonderful opportunity to meet other writers,” she said.
Of the £5,250 cheque handed her by Mr Fry, last night’s presenter, she said: “I’m very excited about where the money might take me. I’m thinking that I want to make the most of Europe while my passport still allows it.”
The Somerset Maugham Award is bestowed each year upon three writers under 35, for published works of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, to enable them to gain experience of foreign countries. Past winners include Julian Barnes, Zadie Smith and Jonathan Freedland.
One of the oldest awards in literature, it was set up personally by William Somerset Maugham, whose novels were inspired by his travels through the late imperial world of the 1920s and 1930s.
However, Ms Mozley, who juggled writing Elmet with studying for a PhD in medieval studies at the University of York and working in the city’s Little Apple Bookshop, must first travel to the closer shores of Ireland and Thirsk to fulfil book festival engagements.
“Tomorrow I’m flying to Cork and back in a day to then a festival in North Yorkshire,” she said.
“On Sunday I was supposed to be back working in the shop, but Tim and Philippa, who own it, said they would cover for me. They thought I might be tired from the travelling.”
With a year’s experience under her belt, Ms Mozley is a veteran of the literary circuit compared to another of last night’s Authors’ Award winners.
Joe Eastell, a 29-year-old IT professional from Haworth, was handed an Eric Gregory Award worth £4,050 for his unpublished poetry collection, Blossom Boy Beta Test.
“This is a bit surreal,” he said, upon arriving in London. “I’ve not been to an event like this before.”
He had entered the awards several times but has not sought a publisher for the poetry he has been composing since his teens.
The poet Inua Ellams, who judged his category, said his work was “startling” and “masterful”.
Not available in the shops or online, Mr Eastell printed his work as a pamphlet on a home computer.
“It doesn’t exist,” he said. “If this exposure attracts a publisher, it would be wonderful.”