This week it was announced that Booktrust “have taken the difficult decision not to run the John Llewellyn Rhys in autumn 2011. This Prize is incredibly important, highlighting and celebrating the best new books by writers under 35, as well as being very dear to Booktrust. We have not taken this decision lightly and we strongly intend to bring back the Prize with a bang in the very near future.” There has been disappointment and shock, there have also been a few mumbles of ‘well we have enough book prizes don’t we?’
This news, which Ben Johncock has been great at updating us on, did a few things to me. One, I felt saddened that one of the UK’s longest running book awards (almost seven decades) has been pulled, people are saying it will be back in 2012 but ‘near future’ doesn’t suggest it is definite. Next I found myself emailing Booktrust’s Prize and Awards Manager Claire Shanahan expressing my concerns and how sad I was, I also said how I thought maybe rather than postpone it, unless it’s done to make a statement or impact, could they not find a judging panel who will do it for free, or less than usual, because they have a passion for it? I haven’t heard back but if I do I will update you all here.
I then found myself – after reading peoples reactions – getting a bit cross by one author, who has previously won, and their comment of “well, it can’t cost very much to administer, can it?” which made me think, “well why don’t you put your hand in your pocket and save it then?” especially as the author has since become well known rather well selling and more than likely very well off. In fact why aren’t some of the other previous winners who are now well known and well onto their 4th or more bestselling novel doing just that? Working together and creating a John Llewellyn Rhys Fund or something, what could be better to further mark the death of a young author in 1940 for which the award was set up, what could be a more apt thank you?
There are of course lots of people who have said ‘well its more signs of the death of the book’. Rather than thinking ‘look at what a mess this Tory lead coalition government continues to make’. There are also people who are thinking ‘well, who needs all of these book prizes anyway?’
Being one of the co-founders, and driving forces, behind The Green Carnation Prize one of the things I have most often heard, and in fact come up against when trying to push the prize, is ‘oh do we really need another book prize?’ Erm, yes, we bloody do. All book prizes promote reading and books and push authors into peoples conciousness. That is why we need them and the more the merrier.
The prizes where the authors get money (and this is where the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and The Green Carnation Prize differ as we are currently a kudos award – in fact until we get a sponsor the judges also do all the reading for free) this is incredibly helpful. It can fund the next book, or with something like the Booker the next few books – though the JLR Prize is especially helpful as the authors are under 35 and that’s a key time in their careers. Of course prizes which are just kudos based also get a book publicity. The winner of the Green Carnation Prize was mentioned in the UK press and also on some further shores like Canada, Australia and the US. Anyway, I could go on and on but I will stop… for now.
What are your thoughts on the ‘break’ in the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize after almost 70 years? What could be done to prevent this? Do you have a favourite prize? Or do you simply think there are too many book prizes about?