Exmoor writer, Hazel Prior, was thrilled to learn that her latest novel, Away With The Penguins, has been chosen for the prestigious Richard and Judy Book Club. Away With The Penguins went through a rigorous selection process to reach the longlist, then it was read by Richard and Judy themselves (alongside a group of book industry experts) who picked it for the final selection.
“This news has been a marvellous boost,” says Hazel, whose book launch had to be cancelled, along with all the other author events she had scheduled for this year. “It’s a real privilege to meet Richard and Judy, and to have my novel picked out of all the thousands. I have to keep pinching myself.”
The book tells the story of feisty octogenarian millionairess, Veronica McCreedy, and her adventures in Antarctica with some penguins. It is a fun, uplifting read but also addresses serious issues about climate change, ageing, and the importance of family and community. “It’s a story full of hope,” Hazel says. “I want my writing to say something important, but also to entertain readers and help them feel better about life. I always turn to books myself during hard times and when I started writing I decided that I’d try to put something life-affirming out there. That has become more important than ever during these difficult times.”
Hazel’s debut novel, Ellie And The Harp Maker, is set on Exmoor and only came out last year. It is a quirky, lyrical read influenced by Hazel’s love of the local landscape and music (she is also a harpist). Inspired partly by the fact that she had a two-book deal with the publishers ‘Penguin’ and partly by a friend’s marvellous penguin photographs, Hazel decided to write her second novel based around these fascinating birds. She spent a lot of time researching and met a few penguins in the process.
Away With The Penguins has already been selected as a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick, and Hazel had a conversation about her writing live on air with Jo Whiley earlier this year.
To coincide with the book’s paperback publication this week, Hazel had a private Zoom meeting with Richard and Judy themselves, who are always keen to meet the authors of the books they love. She chatted with them about living on Exmoor, writing and, of course, penguins. Richard and Judy’s famous Book Club, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this October, is run by WHSmiths, so Away With The Penguins (complete with a written interview between Hazel and Richard and Judy) will be stocked in all the branches of Smiths up and down the country as well as in Waterstones and other outlets.
You can read the announcement here.