Anthony Quinn’s speech announcing the Authors’ Club Best First Novel 2016 Award, 7 May 2016:


The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock nods to some august literary forebearsTom Wolfe, Raymond Carver, James Salterand yet moves to an internal beat of its own.


Covering an era of American aviation from breaking the sound barrier to the space race of the 1960s, its dry, laconic prose is as acute in unpicking the mysteries of marriage and bereavement as it is in conveying the vertiginous limits of ambition and daring.”


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“One novel stood out for its disciplined craftsmanship, its immersion in an historical era, and its profound engagement with human loss.


Benjamin Johncock’s The Last Pilot seems at first to be a brilliant pastiche of distinct American classics, the Tom Wolfe of The Right Stuff, the short stories of Raymond Carver and James Salter of Burning The Days.


The author’s grasp of the intricacies of life among American test pilots and their perilous pursuit of the demon of speed is remarkable enough. What gives the novel its emotional lift-off is its portrait of a marriage going wrong, harrowed by the pressures of American machismo and by the consuming tragedy of familial loss. Benjamin Johncock somehow dovetails these two different agonies and wrests from them a dreadful sense of breakdown, of life being torn apart in front of our eyes. It is achieved by a stark use of pared-down dialogue and a metalled prose that conveys an absolute understanding of its subjectthe technical daring of pilots in the age of the space race, and the awareness of their fragile mortality.


The Last Pilot is a memorable achievement, and a hugely deserving winner of this prize.”