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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New Man In London

This post has nothing to do with books, it has lots to do with one of my fantastic friends, Leng Montgomery, who I think is just wonderful and was so proud of after I finished watching it I had a big beardy happy cry as I think he and the video are just immense. Please watch and share.

Thank you. Hope it makes you all do happy cries too, be they beardy ones or not.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #62 – Scott Pack

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are down in London town to spend some time with a man who I love much more than is right, and much more than he probably knows – you’ll see why. Yes this week we are spending time with the lovely Scott Pack. Now before we go and rummage through his shelves, let us grab a nice cuppa and learn more about him…

I am a publisher (just setting up a new independent imprint called Aardvark Bureau after six years at HarperCollins) and writer (a couple of toilet books under the pen name Steve Stack and bits and bobs of journalism). I sometimes host literary events of my own making and at festivals. I have a blog called Me and My Big Mouth. Outside of the book stuff I bake cakes and biscuits.

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I am happy to read pretty much anything but I only keep books I love, am likely to re-read or that I think a member of the family will enjoy at some point.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

We live in a four-floor townhouse. On the ground floor is a set of shelves containing books I have read and loved and these are alphabetical by author. Alongside these are a bunch of classics, many read but some as yet unread. I designed the shelves myself and included a long shelf for my battered old Penguin paperbacks (see above) which are arranged by colour because I got bored one day and it killed an hour or so. Any old or particularly gorgeous hardbacks are on the opposite wall. In my bedroom are more shelves and here are kept all the unread books. There are lots of them. These are grouped by genre and then alphabetically.

Next to my bed are a couple of TBR shelves.

tbr pile

The basement kitchen has the cookbooks. My son has temporary residency in the loft (he’ll leave home at some point, I am sure) and shares the space with piles of books I couldn’t fit anywhere else. When we moved here I got rid of 50 boxes of books that I had accumulated over the years and knew I would never re-read or get round to reading. The charity shops were very pleased. I do still cull quite regularly.

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I am not sure. I am getting on a bit so it is hard to remember back that far. I definitely recall buying the Narnia books from a pokey little bookshop on Canvey Island but I don’t think I actually got round to reading them all (habit of a lifetime started right there). The late 1970s and early 1980s were not particularly affluent periods in my neck of the woods but my parents would always find money if I wanted a book, something for which I shall be forever grateful.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t like the idea of guilty pleasures. You know how one of the posh newspapers will ask literary authors for their guilty pleasures every now and again and the authors will pick Ian Rankin or Georgette Heyer or someone like that? Fuck the fuck right off! What the newspapers are really asking is ‘Are there any genre authors you’ll admit to reading?’

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Reading books is a bloody marvellous thing to do and no one should ever be made to feel guilty for reading anything. Ever. That being said, I know you didn’t mean it in quite that way. I hope every reader has books on their shelves that would surprise people. I love the novels of Miss Read. I have read them all. She is often assumed to be very Olde English and twee but her early work, in particular, makes for great social commentary. She charted village life accurately and with great wit. Her books are proudly displayed on my shelves, though.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

My single most prized volume is The Satanic Mill by Otfried Preussler which was my favourite book as a child and probably still is. Much later I was able to re-publish it in the UK under it’s original German title of Krabat. Neil Gaiman rates it as one of his best spooky reads for kids so I clearly had great taste even back then. I do own a couple of books from the collections of famous people. I have a set of The Forsyte Saga that once belonged to Maria Callas and I also have Peter Cushing’s entire Noel Coward collection. And then there is my Fuck Off collection. 70+ books in which the authors have signed ‘To Scott, Fuck Off…’ or some similarly insulting message. John Le Carre, Marian Keyes, John Grisham, David Mitchell, all swearing their tits off.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

My dad collected the Kings & Queens series from the BCA book club back in the 1970s. He would remove the dust jackets and put them on the shelves with their purple spines glaring out at me. From time to time I would take one down and flick through it. Recently I inherited his full set—he hasn’t popped his clogs yet, he was just getting rid of them—and they now sit on my shelves glaring out at my kids.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I am lent books quote often and I do use my local library. My collecting instinct has dropped off a bit as I have grown older but if I really love a book I do indeed need a print edition somewhere on my shelves.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

No idea. Not a clue. A sign of having too many books but I don’t care.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

You know what? I don’t think there is. Until the next time I see something in a bookshop and covet it.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

They would, of course, think I am charming, witty, handsome, a great cook, intelligent and a careful and considerate lover.

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A huge thanks to Scott for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, and making me laugh and my slightly inappropriate crush even bigger! If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Scott’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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And The Fiction Uncovered Winners 2015 Are…

I am thrilled to announce that after many weeks of wonderful reading and re-reading, some brilliant debate and lots of laughter with three other judges who are all stars (India Knight, Matthew Bates and Cathy Galvin) and now some of my new favourite bookish chums, we have chosen the eight winners of Fiction Uncovered 2015. They are…

  • The Incarnations – Susan Barker (Transworld)
  • The Redemption of Galen Pike – Carys Davies (Salt)
  • The Offering – Grace McCleen (Sceptre)
  • Significance – Jo Mazelis (Seren Books)
  • Mother Island – Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming – Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Animals – Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate Books)
  • Mobile Library – David Whitehouse (Picador)

To whittle them down from fifteen marvellous books was no easy feat at all, it took quite a few hours of pleading, threats, swearing and it all kicking off – okay I am joking, it did take several hours of debate and was much, much harder than I anticipated. The eight books are corkers from a very strong longlist. To find out more about the books and the authors do head over to the Fiction Uncovered website here as I am off for a celebratory sherry or three. I will be reviewing the winners and the longlist in due course though…

You might think that was it now, no more Fiction Uncovered 2015 for me, but you’d be wrong. There’s events being planned for the books and authors over the summer which will be announced in due course. More imminently, in fact this Sunday, there will be Fiction Uncovered FM taking over your speakers on Resonance FM from 12pm – 5pm, guess who they have gone and asked to co-host? So if you want a wonderful five hours of book chat co-hosted by a slightly rogue Savidge DJ then tune into that. In the meantime what do you make of our list of the final eight; which have you read, what did you think and which are you going to read? Obviously the correct answer is all of them!

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The Green Carnation Prize 2015 (Book Prize Update #1)

Today is a day of prize updates. Tonight the eight winners, from a stonking longlist (slightly biased but very true), of the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize will be announced which I have had the pleasure of judging. Another prize I have the pleasure of working on, as the co-founder and Honorary Director, is The Green Carnation Prize which I am thrilled to announce is back and open for submissions. We have a wonderful new logo (thanks Gav) which I looove…

We also have a new judging panel which I was delighted to reveal yesterday and is an absolute corker of a panel. The judges are Jack Monroe, campaigner, writer, blogger and chef; Sophie Ward, actor and writer; Eric Karl Anderson, writer, blogger and reviewer and Celise Galloway, Local Marketing Manager of Foyles. The judges will be chaired by author Niven Govinden…

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For more information on the judges head here where you can see there may be a bake off amongst them all, as well as some serious reading ahead. The prize is now open for submissions, for more information on the submissions you can visit the guidelines page here.Now it is down to some serious summer reading for our five new judges as the Green Carnation Prize 2015 in association with Foyles starts officially.

Exciting times! Back later for the big reveal of the Fiction Uncovered titles, in the meantime any books you think you might see on the Green Carnation longlist in the next few months? Or any thoughts on the Fiction Uncovered longlist this year?

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