The Profile Aiken Alexander Non-Fiction Prize

15 May 2020

Our editorial director Ed Lake tells us about the Profile Aitken Alexander Non-Fiction Prize. Entries close on 30th June – find out how to submit your entry here.
non fiction writing prize
When Profile and Aitken Alexander launched our nonfiction prize last year, we couldn’t have known that the winner would be the story of one man’s quixotic quest to penetrate Britain’s clandestine brotherhood of whale scavengers. The prize, after all, was set up to celebrate and promote popular writing by academics. We naively imagined that this would mean research-driven, argumentative, world-explaining books by experts – the kind of thing we absolutely love to read and publish. Sure enough, we did receive many wonderful projects in that vein. But we also received many quite surprising things, and sometimes, a proposal is so perfectly unexpected that you realise it was the expectation, and not the proposal, that was at fault.
Strandings, by Peter Riley, was like that. Peter is a literary scholar with a special interest in Melville, but the book he wanted to write set out from his realm of credentialed expertise in a quite startling way. At the age of 14, during a family holiday to the seaside, he went to the beach alone and saw a blue-haired young woman tending to the body of a stranded whale. When he got closer it became clear that she was trying to saw its jaw off. She enlisted his help moving the jawbone to the boot of her car, and then drove out of his life. He spent the following two decades trying to discover just what he had been a part of.
Peter’s investigations took him into the cultural history of Britain’s whale strandings, but also into a elusive subculture with bizarre connections to pagan magic, far-right politics and still murkier worlds, and his book is shaping up to be a wild, chronicle of a nation in decline, fascinated by monsters and peopled by grotesques. It is also extremely, indecently funny, the kind of nature book Withnail might have written with Douglas Adams. I am thrilled to be publishing it and I can’t wait to see what readers make of it.
What do we hope to find on our prize’s second stroll along the ocean-edge of human knowledge? Well, we still want those research-driven, argumentative, world-explaining books by experts! But we have learned our lesson, and are keeping an open mind. If you have a PhD or equivalent, and an idea for a trade book that has something to do with it, send us a pitch of 3,000-4,000 words to by the end of June. We can’t wait to discover what you’ve been thinking about all this time.