UBER driver and barman turned last-chance best-selling novelist Adrian McKinty has won the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for his “life-changing” thriller The Chain.
His success in the coveted Harrogate trophy represents Lucky 13 for 52-year-old Irishman McKinty, who, two years earlier, had called time on his writing career after 12 books when faced by financial hardship.
McKinty’s win was announced last night in a virtual awards ceremony held to launch the HIF Weekender, this summer’s free virtual festival run by Harrogate International Festivals, which manages the novel award.
Born in Carrickfergus near Belfast, McKinty now lives in New York, where he was forced to give up his writing career two years ago when, earning less than the minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet, McKinty and his family were evicted from their home.
He began working as an Uber driver and bar tender, but a late-night phone call from agent Shane Salerno – who had read McKinty’s blog about his situation – persuaded him to give his writing one last shot.
Inspired to write something completely new, McKinty penned The Chain, a thriller that became an overnight success: an international bestseller published in 36 countries, now set for the big screen after Universal snapped up the film rights in a seven-figure deal.
“I am gobsmacked and delighted to win this award,” said McKinty, after winning Britain’s premier crime-writing prize from his fourth such nomination. “Two years ago, I had given up on writing altogether and was working in a bar and driving an Uber, and so to go from that to this is just amazing.
“People think that you write a book and it will be an immediate bestseller. For 12 books, my experience was quite the opposite, but then I started this one. It was deliberately high concept, deliberately different to everything else I had written – and I was still convinced it wouldn’t go anywhere… but now look at this. It has been completely life changing.”
The Chain’s chilling tale of parents being forced to abduct children to save the lives of their own was chosen by public vote and the prize judges, triumphing against a shortlist also featuring Oyinkan Braithwaite, Helen Fitzgerald, Jane Harper, Mick Herron and Abir Mukherjee.
McKinty’s win comes at a time when Britain is experiencing a boom in crime fiction, first seeing an explosion in popularity during lockdown and now soaring sales since bookshops have re-opened.
McKinty was nominated previously for the Theakston award in 2011, 2014 and 2016 for his Sean Duffy series. Victorious at last in 2020, he now receives £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from the T & R Theakston brewery in Masham.
Theakston executive director Simon Theakston said: “Looking at the titles in contention for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020, it is clear to see why crime fiction remains the UK’s genre of choice.
“Adrian McKinty is a writer of astonishing talent and tenacity, and we could not be more grateful that he was persuaded to give his literary career one last shot because The Chain is a truly deserving winner.
“While we might be awarding this year’s trophy in slightly different, digital circumstances, we raise a virtual glass of Theakston Old Peculier to Adrian’s success – with the hope that we can do so in person before too long and welcome everyone back to Harrogate next year for a crime-writing celebration like no other.”
Last night would have been the opening chapter of Harrogate’s crime-writing festival, cancelled alas by the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Harrogate International Festivals is running the HIF Weekender from July 23 to 26: a free virtual festival of 40-plus free events “bringing world-class culture to everyone at home, featuring performances and interviews with internationally acclaimed musicians, best-selling authors and innovative thinkers”.
For the full programme for today, tomorrow and Sunday, go to: https://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/live-stream/the-hif-weekender/.