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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
Cured agoraphobic lands top UK literary prize
Wed Feb 7, 2007

By Paul Majendie
LONDON (Reuters) - Debut novelist Stef Penney, once an agoraphobic too terrified to travel, landed one of Britain's top literary awards on Wednesday for a haunting novel about the Canadian wilderness she has never visited.

Penney, a screenwriter who now has her fear of open spaces under control, landed the Costa Award for The Tenderness of Wolves, which literary critics hailed as an astonishingly assured debut.

Utterly astounded by her surprise win, Penney told reporters afterwards: "I am still shaking. I am supposed to be a writer but I don't know how to describe that."

Penney said of her agoraphobia: "It isn't a distant memory. I don't think it ever goes away completely. I can now fly which is great."

Asked what message she had to offer to agoraphobics after her personal journey of the imagination, she said: "Don't give up. It might take a long time, you might not know how you are going to get over it, but you can."

Comedy writer and director Armando Iannucci, who chaired the judges, said "Within 50 pages, I was completely in love with it."

The 37-year-old British writer took the coveted award after a close fought tussle with novelist William Boyd for his spy drama "Restless" and Brian Thompson for his quirky wartime autobiography "Keeping Mum," Iannucci said.

It was only the fourth time that a debut novelist had landed the book of the year award since 1985.

Agoraphobia often confines sufferers to their homes. Penney conquered hers after a two-and-a-half-year battle before going out to research the book in the British Library in London.

She told Reuters at the ceremony: "I was fascinated about Canada because I couldn't go there. It made me want to armchair travel," she said. "Something did eventually cure me. Whether it was part of that, I don't know but perhaps it was."

"The more I researched, the more fascinated I got and the bigger the canvas got," she said of the novel that starts with a brutal murder and the sudden disappearance of a teenage boy in a remote corner of 1860s northern Ontario.

The Costa, formerly known as the Whitbread, is split into five categories -- for best novel, first novel, poetry, children's book and biography -- with 5,000 pounds ($9,856) going to each winner and 25,000 pounds to the overall winner.

Poets Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney and children's writer Philip Pullman are among previous book of the year winners.

The prize, selected this year from a record 580 entries, is designed to reward the most enjoyable read of last year, whereas winners of the prestigious Booker Prize are picked above all for their literary prowess.


"Don't give up. It might take a long time, you might not know how you are going to get over it, but you can."

I liked this message and I think that it can be applied to anything not just agoraphobics.

Great message and great post David, thanks :)
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