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…
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.