The story of how fungi have shaped our planet and lives wins biologist Merlin Sheldrake the 2021 Royal Society Science Book Prize

Tonight, Monday 29th November 2021, Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures (Bodley Head) by biologist and writer Merlin Sheldrake becomes the 34th winner of the annual Royal Society Science Book Prize, sponsored by Insight Investment.

Chosen from a shortlist of six titles celebrating the depth, accessibility and joy of popular science writing, Entangled Life pulls back the curtain on the multifarious and surreal world of fungi − organisms with no brain yet they can solve complex problems and manipulate animal behaviour with remarkable precision. 

The existence of fungi predates human history by millions of years, and without them, plants would not have evolved onto land, an essential milestone without which humans would not exist. Fungi have given us bread, alcohol and vital medicines. Primitive communities worshipped mushrooms as others do gods, and their ability to digest plastic and crude oil could make them a potent weapon in the fight against climate change. Despite these critical contributions to life on earth, 90% of species remain undocumented. 

Sheldrake reveals the ubiquity of mycelium, or networks of fungal threads, creating symbiotic relationships with plants and linking them together in the so-called ‘Wood Wide Web’. He explores psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient found in magic mushrooms, resulting in the psychedelic qualities that have sparked curiosity in humans for thousands of years. Lichens, meanwhile, are the only living organism observed to survive in full space conditions.

Through these remarkable stories, Sheldrake sheds light on a neglected and surreal world, showing how fungi could be the key to understanding our planet, and perhaps even saving it.

Merlin Sheldrake received a Ph.D. in Tropical Ecology from Cambridge University for his work on underground fungal networks in tropical forests in Panama, where he was based at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. 

The panel of five judges praised Sheldrake for his scientific rigour, illuminating an important but little understood topic and the entertaining nature of his excellent writing. 

Chair of the 2021 judging panel, Professor Luke O’Neill FRS, Professor of Biochemistry in the School of Biochemistry and Immunology, Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, comments: “Entangled Life is a fantastic account of the world of fungi, which to the uninitiated might seem unpromising as a topic, but which Merlin Sheldrake brings alive in the most vivid of ways.  We learn all kinds of interesting things about fungi, from how they helped plants colonise land (which means without them we wouldn’t be here) to how they form huge networks allowing trees to communicate (in the form of the ‘Wood Wide Web’), to stories of fungus-gathering enthusiasts, how fungi might help save the planet by digesting plastic, and even how they can manipulate our minds.  This is science writing at its very best, which yet again emphasises how the scientific method is so important in our effort to understand the world around us. Entangled Life is an important, scientifically rigorous and most of all entertaining read.”

Brian Cox OBE, FRS, The Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science, added: “At a time when science is front and centre of everyone’s lives, making it accessible and understandable through great writing is more important than ever. The best science writing invites people to explore the world around them and view it in a new way, and Entangled Life is a perfect example. Exploring Nature always delivers insights that are surprising and often resonate way beyond the initial research or subject matter, and Merlin’s wonderfully written book is a perfect example. From antibiotics to parasitic ‘zombie infections’, Entangled Life brings the reader face to face with the beauty and terror of Nature.” 

During a ceremony at the Royal Society, which was also streamed via the Royal Society’s YouTube Channel, Sheldrake received a cheque for £25,000 and the five shortlisted authors were each awarded £2,500.

Professor Luke O’Neill FRS was joined on the 2021 panel by television presenter Ortis Deley; mathematician and Dorothy Hodgkin Royal Society Fellow Dr Anastasia Kisil; author and creative writing lecturer Christy Lefteri; and journalist, writer, and film maker Clive Myrie.

For 33 years, the Prize has promoted the accessibility and joy of popular science writing. It has celebrated some truly game-changing reads: books that offer fresh insights on the things that affect the lives we lead and the decisions we make, from neurodiverse perspectives on everyday living (Explaining Humans by Dr Camilla Pang, 2020) to gender bias (Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez, 2019) and the harms humans are wreaking on the planet (Adventures in the Anthropocene by Gaia Vince, 2015, and Six Degrees by Mark Lynas, 2008).

Drag Kings put on a spectacle to celebrate first ever archive donation drive from the community at Bishopsgate Institute

Drag Kings archive donations

On Friday 19th November 2021, Bishopsgate Institute – home to the UK’s largest queer archive – hosted a sold-out event to highlight and celebrate the contribution of drag kings to LGBTQ+ culture.

Dragging the Archive – run in partnership with Louche Magazine – included panels discussing the history of male impersonation dating back to Mary Frith in the 1580s, make-up tutorials and queer zine and badge making, as well as performances from London-based drag kings CYRO, Hardik Mistry and Orlando, and readings from host and Louche founder Georgeous Michael. The event also provided a safe space for queer people to examine and uplift their history and come together to celebrate butch and trans masc culture in the LGBTQ+ community.

Bishopsgate Institute has identified a lack of donated materials documenting the rich and diverse history of drag kings, which is at real risk of being lost. As part of the event, drag kings were encouraged to bring archive donations to help preserve the current history of the UK drag king scene. Drag king icon Frankie Sinatra donated their first ever hat and Pecs, the drag king troupe, donated collectable items from their shows, including a script, write-ups, flyers and tickets, and a pin badge that was exclusive to their Patreon followers.

Bishopsgate Institute is continuing to encourage and accept donations from drag kings to ensure this unique and valuable history is preserved for future generations. Donations of materials can be accepted at any time. Contact their Library team to arrange a donation, or book a slot to view their Special Collections and Archives

Stef Dickers, Special Collections & Archives Manager at Bishopsgate Institute, commented:

“Bishopsgate Institute has the most accessible and welcoming special collections and archives documenting LGBTQ+ History in the U.K. We value and celebrate any person or organisation who wishes to share their story with us. Drag King history is underrepresented in LGBTQ+ Archives, and we hope that by partnering with Louche magazine we can encourage more people to donate their memorabilia and personal items so we can record this valuable history for generations to come.”

Georgeous Michael, Founder of Louche Magazine, said: “It felt so powerful taking up space in the Bishopsgate Institute’s historic library and archive, with a vibrant queer event. The evening represented a really special opportunity to bring people together, to foster conversation and connection, and encourage critical thinking around the histories and archiving in relation to drag kings, an often-underrepresented group. I created Louche magazine because I wanted a platform to celebrate, document and archive the vibrancy of the drag scene today, from the grassroots, and this event felt like the perfect way to do this”.

King Frankie Sinatra said of their donation:

“It was an honour to be at the start of an archive that will mean the whole world never being able to forget that drag Kings are here in 2021 just as much as drag Queens.

I personally donated my character King Frankie Sinatra’s first trilby hat. I’m sure it will be of enormous interest in years to come.”

Pecs Drag Kings also commented:

“Drag Kings still have to push for the same level of validation and recognition that some other areas of the LGBTQ+ and drag community receive and archiving our history’s is a key step in that. If we don’t archive ourselves, our rich and important narratives can be lost. Pecs have been around for nearly a decade, we represent part of that history and so it felt important to ensure we donated to the archive. Thank you to the whole team for creating this event.”

Costa Book Awards 2021 shortlists announced

The Nation’s Favourite Coffee shop, Costa Coffee, today announces the shortlists for the 2021 Costa Book Awards.

The Costa Book Awards is the only major UK book prize open solely to authors resident in the UK and Ireland and uniquely recognises some of the most enjoyable books published in the last year across five categories – First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children’s Book. 

2021 marks the 50th year of the Awards. Originally established in 1971, Costa Coffee took over the UK’s most prestigious book prize from Whitbread Plc in 2006.

This year’s Costa Book Awards attracted 934 entries, an increase of over 30% on 2020 and the highest number of entries received in one year to date. Judges on this year’s panels (three per category) included the authors, novelists and writers Jessie Burton, Andrew Wilson and Smriti Halls; novelist, memoirist and filmmaker, Xiaolu Guo; journalists including Sarah Shaffi; poets Rishi Dastidar and Ian Duhig; podcaster Manveen Rana, and booksellers from Waterstones, Blackwell’s, The Book Hive and The Little Ripon Bookshop.

Winners in the five categories, who each receive £5,000, will be announced on Tuesday 4th January 2022. The overall winner of the 2021 Costa Book of the Year will receive £30,000 and be announced at a ceremony on Tuesday 1st February 2022.

Jill McDonald, CEO of Costa Coffee, said: “We are delighted to celebrate these 20 brilliant books as we mark a milestone 50th anniversary year for both Costa Coffee and the Costa Book Awards. My thanks to the judges for putting together such outstanding lists – there’s so much here for readers to explore, enjoy, recommend and share – and my congratulations to all of this year’s shortlisted authors.”

The winner of the Costa Short Story Award, voted for by the public, will also be announced at February’s ceremony. The three shortlisted stories for the Costa Short Story Award, now in its tenth year, will be revealed on the Costa Book Awards website,, on Wednesday 1st December 2021.

To be eligible for the 2021 Costa Book Awards, books must have been first published in the UK or Ireland between Saturday 1st November 2020 and Sunday 31st October 2021 and their authors resident in the UK or Ireland for the previous three years.

Since the introduction of the Book of the Year award in 1985, it has been won 13 times by a novel, five times by a first novel, eight times by a biography, eight times by a collection of poetry and twice by a children’s book. The 2020 Costa Book of the Year was The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey.


2021 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking)

The Manningtree Witches by A.K. Blakemore (Granta)

Fault Lines by Emily Itami (Phoenix)

The Stranding by Kate Sawyer (Coronet)

2021 Costa Novel Award shortlist

Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller (Fig Tree)

The High House by Jessie Greengrass (Swift Press)

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking)

The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak (Viking)

2021 Costa Biography Award shortlist

Consumed: A Sister’s Story by Arifa Akbar (Sceptre)

The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War and Everest by Ed Caesar (Viking)

Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston (Viking)

Free: Coming of Age at the End of History by Lea Ypi (Allen Lane)

2021 Costa Poetry Award shortlist

All the Names Given by Raymond Antrobus (Picador)

A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi (Chatto & Windus)

Eat or We Both Starve by Victoria Kennefick (Carcanet Press)

The Kids by Hannah Lowe (Bloodaxe Books)

2021 Costa Children’s Award shortlist

Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall (Guppy Books)

The Crossing by Manjeet Mann (Penguin)

The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery (Walker Books)

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter (Scholastic UK)