Monthly Archives: June 2015

A Readers Road Trip & A Readers Retreat

I am very, very excited. Some of you might have seen mumblings of this on Twitter, or may have heard it on The Readers Podcast earlier today, but if you haven’t… I am going on a Readers Road Trip in September through Northern America with Thomas of Hogglestock, who is my cohost on the podcast! How ace is that?

Some of you may remember I went to Ann and Michael of Books on the Nightstand’s wonderful Booktopia in Asheville, where book lovers and authors meet and have a whale of a time (where does that expression come from?) over a few days, last year. Well this September sees the last ever Booktopia (for now) in Petoskey and after much planning, plotting and some magic Thomas and I are going to be there to take part in all the fun and have the most bookish few days of our lives. Only that wasn’t enough for Thomas and I, we needed to take it further and make it bigger. So we decided that we would turn it into something I have wanted to do all my life… A road trip through America.

I am thinking of it being like Thelma and Louise (which shockingly Thomas has not seen) but with less police chases and more bookshops.

I will be arriving in Washington DC and then instantly be whisked, or driven, away (after an eight hour flight) and heading up through West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Far Western New York to Niagra Falls, then going through Canada and possibly stopping in Toronto and Stratford Ontario before heading back down into the US to Lake Michigan and Petoskey, obviously staying for a few days there. Then we drive back via Ohio and Cleveland before returning to DC where I will have a few days to recover. So if you have any places, basically bookshops and lovely fooderies, in those places and Pittsburgh, Ann Arbour etc then please let me know where we should head to, I would be grateful for your recommendations. I cannot wait to see Thomas, Ann, Michael and some of the wonderful folk I met in Asheville as well as meeting some lovely new bookish sorts. It’s going to be ace.

If that isn’t enough excitement for one week I am also off on an exciting reading retreat this week as I will be heading off on the train back down to London tomorrow for an unusual Reading Retreat for one, in the Shangri La Hotel in The Shard. I know, bonkers.

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This is because they are hosting a new and really interesting selection of Cultural Events and Salons in order to add something extra special to guests and London locals. This week sees author and poet Tishani Doshi talking about her books and her life, there might still be some tickets going so head here for more. I will be reporting back on the event, and the hotel, next week and letting you know more about their future line ups.

Blimey, that is quite enough excitement for me. Do let me know if you have any recommendations of bookshops, booky tourist hot spots or good places to eat for my trip around the Northern US  as you are always great with recommendations. Also, do let me know of any unusual and amazing reading places you have been and if you would like a series of reading retreats to start to feature on the blog more often such as this trip to the Shard or more like when I went to Sweden. I think it could be an interesting new range of potential posts. Anyway, over to you.

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On the Radio, Whoa, Oh, Oh, On the Radio…

Just over a week ago, which seems such a long time ago now weirdly, I had the pleasure of doing something I have always dreamed of… Live Radio. (If any of you are thinking ‘well he’s got the face for radio’ you are very mean and naughty, ha!) Last Sunday afternoon Fiction Uncovered took over Resonance FM and took to the airwaves and I got to be one of hosts and also interviewed on a few sessions. Weirdly I found being interviewed much tougher than doing the interviews. Anyway I thought you guys might want to listen in to some of the interviews, discussions and debates that took place…

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First up myself and my fellow judge, who has become a really good mate, Matt Bates were interviewed about judging the prize by Matt Thorne. We talked about the process of reading, judging, whittling down to the longlist and the final eight giving you a bit of insight into those titles too. We also talked about the state of British fiction and bookshops which Matt, being the buyer for WHSmith Travel stores in stations and airports, had some fascinating insight into. You can hear it here.

Next Matt Bates stayed on air to interview Susan Barker about her wonderful Fiction Uncovered winning novel The Incarnations, which I will be reviewing very soon. Listen here.

I was then in the host seat, and got to say the immortal words you dream of ‘and that was a song by…’, to interview David Whitehouse about his Fiction Uncovered winning novel The Mobile Library which is the best fairytale for adults I have read in quite some time AND a must read if you love books, which of course you all do.

Nikki Bedi chaired a really interesting and topical debate with Danuta Kean, Nikesh Shulka and Naomi Frisby (who blogs at Writes of Woman) about diversity in publishing and proved a fascinating discussion which I only heard snippets of so need to listen into myself for the full chat.

I then came back on air to chat to Lavie Tidhar about his brilliant, harrowing and thought provoking Fiction Uncovered novel A Man Lies Dreaming where we discussed how humour can be used both to combat and highlight the horrors of history, or in this case and alternative history.

Where do great writers live and the importance of landscape was the next discussion as Matt Thorne hosted a chat with Catherine Hall, Alex Wheatle and Luke Brown. I love books about the English countryside as you know and was busy with a sandwich and bag of crisps while they were recording so will be catching up with this one very soon.

I was back being grilled again by Matt Thorne, along with Naomi Frisby about the state of reviewing, blogging and social media and how books and writers are, or sometimes aren’t, excelling in the digital world. I almost got myself in trouble twice in this part of the show, but I think Naomi and I did a good job in talking about the blogosphere and the digital world.

The penultimate discussion was with Sophie Rochester and Rosa Anderson who co-founded Fiction Uncovered about five years of the prize. Again I missed this one as I was having a coffee so will be catching up with this one very soon.

Finally Matt Thorne was joined by Bethan Roberts to discuss her Fiction Uncovered winning novel Mother Island which I think is a brilliant suburban thriller and family drama which I will share my thoughts on soon. Listen to them discussing it here.

So there you have it, a good few hours of bookish chatter, discussion and debate for your listening tackle. I am not sure when they will go on iTunes and be podcasts but you can play these sneakily with your headphones on at your desks in work. Oh go on, we all do it… Oh. Just me then. Whoops.

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This Book is Gay – James Dawson

So I thought I would end my mini Pride weekend with a book that I spent the whole of Pride reading as I was stuck in bed with the snuffles. Shockingly despite how forward thinking we are as people sex education in the UK, and as far as I am aware in the US, Canada and Australia, still fails to encompass information for LGBT people – and at a time when HIV is rising in the younger generations. And this is in progressive countries around the world where it is legal. I certainly wish I had been able to get my younger gay hands on this when I was going through some of my turbulent (to say the least) teens. Oh and if you think this book is just for LGBT people, think again this is a book for anyone and everyone whatever your sexuality or preferences.

Hot Key Books, paperback, 2014, non fiction, 272 pages, kindly sent to me by the publisher

Lesson One

  • Sometimes men fancy men.
  • Sometimes women fancy women.
  • Sometimes women fancy men and women.
  • Sometimes men fancy women and men.
  • Sometimes people don’t fancy anyone.
  • Sometimes a man might want to be a woman.
  • Sometimes a woman might want to be a man.

Got that? It really is that simple.

Of course whilst things should be that simple, taking into account that some men fancy women and some women fancy men obviously, they aren’t. This is where James Dawson starts This Book is Gay, because things aren’t that simple, which when you see it written in black and white like that makes it seem all the more idiotic, or ‘cray’ as James often mentions in the book. What follows is a guide to the world of the LGBT community from the very beginning and those first questions in their heads to what the possibilities can be in the future.

Now I am a 33 year old gay man and I thought this might be preaching to the converted but I learned so much from this book, which I binge read in just over twenty four hours, so I can only imagine how eye opening James frank yet funny book would be to someone at the early ponderings of what they may or may not be. First there is the history of LGBT rights, which again we didn’t learn at school, then there is the state of LGBT affairs all over the world. I still cannot believe that it is illegal in some countries let alone be treated with the death penalty.

Then there comes the science bit. Dawson looks at all the varying scientific discussions there have been from genetics to epignetics, from brain structure to evolution as to why people might be gay (making me feel so much cleverer) yet also highlighting that it doesn’t really matter and we should all just get on with it. He also looks at other things which are often just as complex to negotiate. Coming out, the gay scene, apps, dating, and sexy times Dawson looks at every possible angle of sexuality whatever yours might be. So much information and yet delivered in such a digestible and upfront way, marvellous. I came away understanding so much more, especially as Dawson intersects his text with the accounts of LGBT people of all ages from places all over the world.

Before you think that this is just some rainbow bright version of events, think again. Dawson also looks at all the darker and more difficult parts of LGBT life. From bullying in schools or parents and friends having issues with you when you come out, to homophobia in general and things like drug addiction, cheating spouses and other difficulties that can be faced. I have to give huge credit to Dawson here as he could have just said ‘these people are idiots’, instead he looks at reasons for their homophobia (internal, religion, uneducated, etc) tries to get you to see where its coming from and then how to deal with it. Even the more negative aspects of the books have a positive message or way of dealing with them.

The word ‘gay’ started life meaning joyful, carefree, bright and showy, from the French term ‘gaiety’, which is still used. However, by the seventeenth century, the word had evolved: a ‘gay woman’ was a prostitute, a ‘gay man’ was promiscuous, and a ‘gay house’ was a brothel. Nice.

Initially I did worry that when the book started that there might be one too many stereotypes and what if people didn’t feel they fit in with bears, twinks, otters, butch, femme etc. Or indeed what if they don’t identify themselves as L, G, B or T. But as one chapter is entitles ‘Stereotypes are poo’ and while Dawson discusses labels he is by no means saying you should identify with any particular one, he also says while being gay/lesbian/trans/pan/queer is an important part of you it shouldn’t be the only important part and define you. Bravo!

What is I found oddly uplifting and amazing is that This Book is Gay is only a year old and is already slightly out of date. This is not James’ fault of course, I am sure that he is thrilled by the fact that progress keeps on coming. Ireland has of course had the referendum vote on equal marriage which went through and the supreme court in the United States has ruled that that equal marriage is legal in every single state. Yet with countries like India going backwards, the all kinds of crazy stuff going on in Russia and the fact there is still no mention of LGBT in sex education (due to old legislation in 1988 and its ripple effects still lingering) in the UK we still have a long way to go for full equality.

Once upon a time, there was a very bad lady – let’s, for the sake of argument, call her Maggie. She decreed that teachers must not include ‘gay lifestyles’ in sex education lessons. This was called ‘Section 28’, and it explains why I, as a young man, had no idea what a gay man was OR what they did.

I am the same generation as Mr Dawson and I feel exactly the same, whilst my life wouldn’t have necessarily been less difficult growing up as a gay man if I’d had a copy of This Book is Gay I would certainly have felt less alone and at least a little more prepared for what might have been coming my way. With This Book is Gay James Dawson writes a guide to gay lifestyles from coming out, to dating, to sex, relationships and beyond in a style that makes you feel like you having a conversation with a caring friend.

I think This Book is Gay is an incredibly important book and one which needs to have several copies stocked in libraries and schools everywhere so it can be read by LGBT people, people questioning their sexuality or just people who want to know more or understand, whatever their ages. (As the book states our heterosexual allies are incredibly important too.) It’s rare that you can say a book could save lives, but this one could especially as education of safe sex for young gay men is so thin on the ground and HIV transmission is increasing. Mr Dawson, I applaud you and this book.

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Ten LGBT Books That You Might Not Have Read But Should…

I don’t normally think about doing posts especially around Pride, not because I am not proud – I’m out and happy about it, I never know if proud is the right word – but because I always think that co-founding a prize like The Green Carnation Prize (which celebrates LGBT writing) means that I promote LGBT stories and LGBT authors. However with the reissue of three Vintage Classics, which you can win here, then the amazing news in America yesterday it felt the time was write for me to share my top LGBT novels, until I realised I had done it before. Oops. I then thought about doing a list of ten contemporary books you might not have read but should until I saw that Eric of Lonesome Reader had already done one this morning. Drats! However once he gave his blessing for me to do the same I popped a list together and neither of us have a book or author in common. Interesting. Here are mine, if I have reviewed them I have linked them in the title so you can find out more…

With A Zero At Its Heart – Charles Lambert

A collection of snippet like stories which create the whole of a human life. Experimentally it wonderfully evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it. You can read a full review here.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

Now if I told you that a book about an impending apocolypse caused by giant horny mutant grasshoppers could be one of the most touching stories I have read this year about friendship and love and the blurred (and often confusing) lines between the two, you would probably think that I was mad. This is how I felt last year when everyone, and I mean everyone, who had read Grasshopper Jungle in America raved about it to me and said I simply had to read it. I did and they were right. It had also lead me into more YA fiction which by the looks of it is where some of the most exciting and intellegent LGBT themed writing is coming from. You have to read this book. I have to post my review sooner than soon.

He Wants – Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s writing is so deft in so many ways it is hard to try and do it justice, or without spoiling any of the many delights, twists/surprises and ‘did I just actually read that then?’ moments which the novel has in store as we discover the ins and outs of widowed Lewis’ life. It is a story of the everyman and a story that, if you are anything like me, will leave you feeling completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. It is a perfect example of the sort of book I want to be reading. I loved it and you can see my full review of it here, was one of my books of 2014.

Physical – Andrew McMillan

Slight cheat here because this collection of poetry is not actually out for another two weeks (my blog, my rules) however you might want to order or put a copy on hold now. McMillan has the power to titillate and disturb in each of the poems that he writes whilst also, in particular the middle section, constructing poems the like of which I have never seen or read before. It is playful and also perturbing, saucy and sensual aswell as being masculine and moving. I haven’t read or experienced anything quite so like it, or so frank about all the forms of male love.

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower is a road trip tale started when which ten year old Ian and his local librarian Lucy accidentally kidnap each other. This book is not only a love story to the powers of books and a good story, it looks at friendship and also the scary reality of some of the extremist views in certain parts of America (where I bet they are seething today) and the movement of ‘straightening therapy’. Bonkers and brilliant, it is one of those books that you hug to yourself afterwards and also cleverly packs one hell of a punch over a subject that is current and we need to talk about more – find out more here.

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

In part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a horrendous childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India until his mother’s death when Ritwik moves to Oxford to find himself. Yet also a story of his elderly Oxford landlady Anne Cameron. As Ritwik experiments with his new found freedom and who he really is as a person he must also face is past and find a friend in Anne like he never expected, the story of their relationship is beautifully told. It is also a very vivid and, occasionally quite graphically, honest look at the life of some gay men in the early 1990’s – which as someone reminded me rudely today on the radio is over 20 years ago. I feel like I need to read this book again.

Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I could have chosen this or The Long Falling also by Ridgway as they are both exceptional. Is Hawthorn & Child a novel or is it a series of short stories, who cares when it is this good. One of the many stories that make up the book will stay with me forever, ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it’s three separate narratives; one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The way Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which and plays a very interesting game with so called acts of masculinity. Brilliance. A sexy, quirky, stunningly written book which should have won the Booker.

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Yes I too now have Shabba Ranks in my head. Back to the book though, the tale of Mr Barrington Jedediah Walker, Esq is one you are unlikely to forget, just like its protagonist. As his elderly years start to approach more and more Barrington decides it is time to leave his wife and follow his true heart which lies with his best friend Morris, much to the horror of his family and many people he knows. Evaristo writes a wonderful, funny and moving novel which gives a much missed voice in the literary scene and in the LGBT scene a change to be heard, understood and by the end celebrated. You have to read this book.

Sacred Country – Rose Tremain

Possibly the oldest out of this selection of books but one which I think addresses something that we need to be discussing more and seems to be missing in literature in general, unless it is just me… the transexual story. Tremain introduces us to Mary Ward, who has felt different from everyone all her childhood, as she realises that she should actually be a boy. We then follow her journey from the turbulence of her youth in Northern England to London where believes she will be able to live just as she was meant to, yet can she?

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

So with my last choice, I have slightly cheated again as this isn’t out in the UK for another month and a half (though if you’re in the US it has been out a while) yet this is probably a book I am going to urge everyone, no matter their sexuality/class/colour, that they have to read as not only is it one of the best books I have read on love and sexuality and friendship, but one of the best books I have ever read on what it means to be human. Seriously that good. I cannot praise it enough, it’s tough to read but so it should be. Will easily be one of my books of the year and very likely to be one of the best LGBT books I ever read. Yep, that good.

Now if you are wondering about my favourite LGBT books that I hinted at back at the start, well below is a video I made discussing them when I was flirting with the idea of being a booktuber. Have a gander as there are ten more tip top recommended books, even if I do say so myself.

If you need a list of the titles they were; Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones, The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller, Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs, The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall, A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood, My Policeman – Bethan Roberts, In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett, A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White and Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin.

If that wasn’t enough, and as if there can ever be enough book recommendations, then do check out Eric’s blog post today (where I have gained ten new to me recommendations) and also the Green Carnation Prize website for all the previous long and shortlists. Oh and don’t forget you can win those Vintage Pride Classics here. Happy Pride and well done America! Love wins.

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Vintage Pride – A Giveaway

This weekend sees the launch of the UK’s Pride season (which seems all the more apt after the news in America today, well done United States you should be very proud) where the cities, towns and all sorts of places celebrate everything LGBT up and down the country over the (hopefully sunny) summer months. To coincide with this, the lovely folk at Vintage have decided to proudly (see what I have done here) celebrate some of their classic novels both by LGBT authors and with LGBT themes. The books they have chosen are Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library and Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle.  None of which I have read yet, shame on me. They look gorgeous and I happen to have a spare set…

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I couldn’t even line them up straight, ha!

So I thought I would do a giveaway of a set to some lucky person. All I want to know is which book with an LGBT theme you have most loved and why, without spoilers? That simple. Now because postage of books across oceans is so expensive, as I have discovered trying to get some books I want from America, I’m afraid I can only send these to a lucky winner in the UK or Europe*, sorry but the Hall is huge so it’s a bulky set to post – *unless you are coming to Booktopia Petoskey and can wait until September in which case I can pack them in my luggage. Right, get recommending. and good luck. You have until end of play Sunday the 28th of June.

Oh and in case you’re wondering mine would be a tie between Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love or Bethan Roberts’ My Policeman. If you’ve not read either or both of those then you really must!

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Judging A Book Prize…

As I mentioned earlier this week, when I shared a post with you all about finding a literary heritage, whilst my judging role with Fiction Uncovered has been and gone, the essence of what it has taught me and how it has made me think about what I read and how I read it is lingering. Even more so after some of the conversations I had at the winners party and also on Resonance FM (sharing these all with you soon) this weekend just passed. While I mull all that over and before I unleash a new Savidge Reads next week here is the second of two posts I have written for other blogs about the prize. Waterstones kindly asked me to share some of the secrets of what it is like to be a literary prize judge and in essence spend your entire day (and night) reading for their blog. So I did. I thought I would share it with all of you in case you had missed it, do note it was written before the winning eight titles below were announced…

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The Fiction Uncovered 2015 Winners…

Before the final eight winners of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize are announced tonight, we asked blogger, reviewer, journalist and 2015 judge Simon Savidge to share the joys and pitfalls of spending almost three months locked away in a room reading, before the judging commences.

When I told my friends that I was going to be judging the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize their first response was excitedly ‘ooh all that reading’. Then once I started and they asked how many books were submitted (over 70) and how long we had to read (just under 3 months) they would do the maths and then look at me pityingly and say ‘oh all that reading.’ Yet whilst it’s been hard work over all it has been a hugely rewarding and eye opening (occasionally eye bleeding) experience and then there is the judging…

It’s funny because people assumed such extreme reading would put me off books, it hasn’t by a long stretch and that is in part because the submissions we had for Fiction Uncovered were so strong this year, that as we were reading it didn’t feel like a job. I was off on adventures from the British coast to snowy Siberia, from the Lake District to the dark streets of Paris, from ancient China to the clubs and pubs of Manchester and a host of other places in between. All whilst meeting wonderful characters along the way and getting lost in their stories. So engrossed did I become that I had to be reminded that there was a real world out there and maybe I should leave my reading chair and go see it, preferably picking something nice up for tea on the way back.

The second way it’s truly eye opening is that the criteria for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize is quite specific. The authors must have published something before, so not be ‘the next big debut’; they must be British and they must be blooming marvellous and yet for some unknown reason have not made the prize lists, had the word of mouth or been advertised on every tube stop in London and the train stations beyond. I thought I knew my fiction yet when the submissions came I found I had read two and knew of another eight, the other 60 or so I had never heard of before. This was really exciting and as I read writers from Swansea, Newcastle, Bath, Brighton, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Glasgow and London, and publishers from Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland and Norfolk, I was invigorated and excited by the diversity and vibrancy of British fiction and British authors. It was quite a book buzz and a high I am now keen to get again.

On a personal level I also learnt about my own reading which was also insightful and has probably changed my reading habits for good. I learnt that sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as an epic novel.  The first fifty pages overall can be very indicative of a novel as a whole. I learnt font matters. It shouldn’t but it does. Some books get better with distance, others burn out. One bad sentence can kill a book dead. There are lots of ‘very good books’ the ones you really love and want to hug to a pulp are few and far between, this is no bad thing. I learnt all that and more.

This of course leads to the judging, which really makes all the reading before seem a doddle. We have been lucky; we get to chose not one winner but eight yet still it is a fractious process. Firstly you have to work out what you want from a winning book which is really hard to describe. I can only call it ‘the book tingle’ when you read a book and everything flows exactly right. We’ve all had it, you want to hug the book afterwards and pass it on to everyone you know and can’t shut up about it. Though of course everyone has a different version of what that is, so when we make the final choices all the judges will be wearing body armour and crash helmets ready to fight to the death for our winners.

Quite from being put off reading ever again by having undergone such extreme reading in the last few months, I am actually more excited about my reading and what lies ahead in my reading life. If I was asked to judge another book prize tomorrow I would without even thinking about it, in fact I am now making it a life goal to judge all the prizes (yes, even the Bailey’s though that might be trickier to achieve) while I wait for the calls and emails to flood my inbox I am off to let battle commence for the judges meeting, then celebrate eight fine winners. Tomorrow I will be back to the real world and falling into every bookshop I pass to find as many other hidden gems as I can.

Don’t forget to keep your eye on the Waterstones Blog, a certain Rob of Adventures with Words, is sometimes the man behind it, as it always has great bookish articles and introduces you to some corking reads. Hope you liked the insight into what goes on a little more behind the scenes – without me having given too many secrets away.

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Finding The Hidden British Literary Landscape…

So whilst my judging role with Fiction Uncovered has been and gone, the essence of what it has taught me and how it has made me think about what I read and how I read it is lingering. Even more so after some of the conversations I had at the winners party and also on Resonance FM (don’t worry I will be reporting on both of these and sending you the radio shows when they are all up) this weekend too. While I mull all that over and before I unleash a new Savidge Reads next week here is the first of two posts I have written for other blogs about the prize. I wrote this for the wonderful Foyles blog last week about the importance of a prize that finds brilliant British authors we should all be reading, as well as the British literary landscape. I hope you like it and have some thoughts on it…

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Sometimes I feel for the British novelist. In a country where well over 150,000 books were published last year from all over the world it is a tough market to break, even on your home turf, especially when the number of readers in the UK is roughly staying around the same figure. I should add that this is the case in every country where books thrive, though when less than 10% of books published here in the UK are translated it makes it all the shoddier to my mind. Anyway, it is of course therefore much harder for a British writer to get the attention they often deserve unless they become ‘the next JK Rowling’, write ‘the next Gone Girl’ or become the next debut sensation. It’s tough.

Before I get accused of xenophobia I should add that the main reason I love reading is that I can escape to anywhere in the world, or even in space should the mood take me. Sometimes I also want to read about my homeland; be they books that celebrate our landscape of bustling cities or the brooding atmosphere of our countryside, or more locally the things that could be going on behind the net curtains of Number 8 down my street as they look a right rum lot. As a reader I want a varied diet and too often we are offered the same things over and over and over again, which isn’t even the good stuff. I’m a blogger and even I am sick of seeing blog tours where one book is on almost every blog for a week, or when you see the same titles appear again and again on social media or advertised on the bus. I want to feel like I have found something a little off the beaten track, something a bit different, don’t you?

Thank heavens then for the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize which celebrates not one great British author, who you might not have heard of yet, but eight of them – in fact since announcing the longlist for the first time this year make that fifteen authors. This is a prize which looks for those authors who we should all be reading yet might not have had put into our hands and gives us a different, eclectic and diverse selection of books to read. As judges this year we were both treated to and had our eyes opened by over 80 submissions of which, and I have quite a keen insight into the industry, I had previously read two and heard of no more than ten. This was exciting for all of us.

Creating a longlist was no easy task, the one that we have I think shows the breadth of what is being written in this country from all over the country. We have short stories, fairytales, magical realism of foreign lands, alternate histories, crimes, high drama and most importantly blooming good stories. These coming from all over the shop; writers from Swansea, Newcastle upon Tyne, Bath, Brighton, Lancaster, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Glasgow and London, and publishers from Yorkshire, Wales, Scotland and Norfolk. The fifteen strong list showcases the breadth and vibrancy of British writing today, which is clearly alive and kicking and we might be missing.

Last night we rewarded eight authors with £5000 each which we hope will go towards buying them time to write the next book, or maybe towards a new kitchen (no to the next book please) whilst highlighting them to a whole new legion of readers. As well as being a winner for those authors who make the list it is also a winner for those of us who love a good book. Firstly there is the diversity of fiction that it brings before our eyes. Secondly these ‘new to us’ authors have a backlist of titles that we can go on and discover afterwards and then introduce to other people. That is what I shall be doing as soon as I take my judges hat off.

For me, Fiction Uncovered is a prize that gives to deserving talented authors. It also gives (and keeps on giving) to us the readers and I am all for that. I can’t wait to see who and what it will introduce us to for the next five years.

Don’t forget to keep your eye on Foyles blog too as it always has great bookish articles and introduces you to some corking reads. Now I want to hear from you, I would love your thoughts on this. Be it on the literary landscape wherever you are or your thoughts on prizes in general. 

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