I have not been to many book prize ceremonies, in fact the first one I went to was actually for The Green Carnation Prize only last year, but who doesn’t love a ceremony and wish they were invited to them all? Last night I had the pleasure of attending the Gordon Burn Prize 2015 ceremony which was, frankly, a ruddy marvellous event for anyone who likes a good book. Not that any of you who pass this blog would be up for that sort of thing would you?
The night was held in the splendour of Durham Town Hall and kicked off as the very lovely Claire Malcolm, Chief Executive of New Writing North, took to the stage to tell us about why the prize was born and the aims it has and what makes a Gordon Burn Prize longlisted or shortlisted book. In essence it is a book that some how combines the world of the fictional and the factual, yet looks at either from a different standpoint, they also inhabit the kind of world that Gordon Burn was interested in with his own writing, which was varied and covered crime, music, the human condition. Basically rather unusual but bloody brilliant books. Lee Brackstone then got up to talk to the audience, which I should add unlike many a swanky prize was open to the public to get tickets which I think is a marvellous touch as they are the ones who are going to buy the books, about Gordon Burn himself. Well I was already intrigued from the premise of the prize, now I want to go away and read anything and everything that he wrote. I shall be scouring the shelves of every bookshop until I have them all.
Then the shortlisted authors took to the stage to read from their work and also talk about their books, their influences, the prize and Gordon Burn (who felt very much like he was alive and living and breathing in the room with us) chaired by Peter Guttridge. I found this really fascinating. First up was Dan Davies whose In Plain Sight; The Life and Lies of Jimmy Saville is naturally causing some unease but I can vouch (being halfway through) that whilst being incredibly uncomfortable at points is an amazing book though I can also vouch you will get some really dirty looks, occasionally sneers, if you read on public transport. Dan talked about the first time he was in a room with Jimmy Saville when he saw his TV show being filmed and how whilst everyone else seemed to be in his thrall, he remembered being slightly scared of him and feeling this lack of warmth and emotion. Then as he got older he started to do more journalism around him and then the rumours started and so did the book. Really interesting stuff.
Honor Gavin, who I feel might be the Lady Gaga of authors (and I mean that in the nicest of ways), read from her novel Midland. She talked about how she used her own memories of Birmingham and the stories of her family (her Gran in particular, and how her Gran reacted to that)to create another kind of literary landscape. In doing so Peter said she creates a city of memories that is slightly out of sync yet very much part of the world at the same time, in which her characters inhabit making it ‘a novel out of time’ which I was enthralled by and could have heard her talk about for hours. I need to crack on and read that book pronto don’t I?
Romesh Gunesekera read from Noontide Toll, which you may know I think is really, really fantastic having read it earlier this year. His reading was possibly my favourite as he went totally into the head of his main character, Vasantha a cab driver in Sri Lanka, and made us laugh, think and then moved us with the last line – which he does in every short story that forms the novel. He talked about how the novel started as non-fiction and then how he found the voices of Sri Lanka calling to him and becoming more vivid and then the narrative of Vasantha took over. He also talked about the state of Sri Lanka in a post war and post tsunami world, unsure of itself and where it fits in its own history and skin let alone in the world. If you haven’t read the book do, his back catalogue of work is now calling to me.
Finally, last but certainly not least, was Peter Pomerantsev (Richard King couldn’t make the event due to personal reasons, though has made a video) who talked about his book Nothing is True and Everything is Possible which is all about his experiences of moving back to Russia in the mid noughties and working in the TV industry to get into all the nooks and secret crannies of the country we are all both fascinated and rather scared of. He talked about how he feels about the country as a Russian and a Londoner, and how he felt as his book became more and more timely and what he feels about the country right now. I suddenly got the Russian bug as he talked and will be attended the Modern Russia talk at Durham Book Festival later today to hear even more.
We then had a chance for more wine and chatter (I was sat next to Ben Myers who is as lovely as I had hoped after falling in love with Beastings earlier this year) before a musical interlude from Paul Smith of Maximo Park, who had been commissioned to make a song around one of Gordon Burn’s works.
Then it was time for the winners announcement made my Doug Johnstone, Suzanne Moore and Gavin Turk, and the winner was… Dan Davies!!!
And then the merriment continued well into the night at Empty Shop, with much book chatter, more wine and possibly with me getting into bed with a pizza at the small hours of the morning – maybe. Seriously though, if you haven’t read the shortlist (or indeed the longlist) of the Gordon Prize please do go and get your mitts on them. I am going to look at all the previously longlisted, shortlisted and winning novels (as well as Gordon Burn’s books) and make it a mission to read them all over time. Who doesn’t like reading something different/unusual/quirky/edgy and a bit out of your comfort zone, after all?