We are gathered here today, or rather not gathered, to celebrate eight truly wonderful books and their authors. We are immensely proud of this shortlist, which reflects how the breadth and wisdom and humour and power of language and literature still makes sense of this crazy world better than any other art form, and I would particularly like to thank the Folio Academy for sending so many excellent nominations our way this year.

I would also like to thank the judges, Paul Farley, Nikita Lalwani and Ross Raisin, who, with the deep respect and scrutiny we’ve come to expect of a jury composed entirely of writers, have analysed and teased out, with such passion and commitment, the very best of the best. It has been my joy and my privilege to watch them at work and to eavesdrop on their discussions.

Many thanks also to our brilliant sponsors, Rathbones; to FMCM, particularly Annabel Robinson, Daniel Kramb and Fiona McMorrough; and to my colleagues, Andrew Kidd and Asima Qayyum – for the Herculean effort in making this thing happen against considerable odds. I hope our winning book will reassure you that literature is thriving, and that losing yourself in a book proves, as ever, the perfect solace at all times but in particular in the unprecedented and frightening time we find ourselves in now.