Tag Archives: Gordon Burn

Announcement of The Gordon Burn Prize 2015

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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Then it was time for the winners announcement made my Doug Johnstone, Suzanne Moore and Gavin Turk, and the winner was… Dan Davies!!!

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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?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #64 – Benjamin Myers

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 in the beautiful landscape of West Yorkshire, where we are joining author Benjamin Myers, whose novel Beastings blew me away when I read it earlier in the year – I will be reviewing it tomorrow here on the blog, as a taster (if you are passing a bookshop today) I gave it the following quote…  “Thomas Hardy meets Cormac McCarthy, need I say more?”  Anyways, Benjamin has got the Yorkshire Tea out so let’s grab a piece of Parkin and get to know him better.

I’m an author and journalist. I’ve published poetry too, though I don’t feel qualified to call myself a poet. I live in the Upper Calder Valley in the West Yorkshire stretch of the Pennines. I’ve been writing professionally since the age of 20 – nearly half of my life. I’ve published a number of novels, the most recent of which is Beastings, and won some awards (like the Gordon Burn prize for Pig Iron). I also recently published a poetry collection entitled Heathcliff Adrift.

I tend to write stories about corruption, survival, hardship; stories about people on the fringes of society. Those who are perhaps overlooked in the majority of modern literature. I’ve had letters and emails from readers who are academics, hairdressers, travellers, students, famous writers, oil rig workers, fishermen, bare knuckle boxers – my readership is modest but very diverse. I’m interested in the way that society has shifted from the rural/agricultural, through the industrial, and onto the urban – and all the things that are being lost along the way. So landscape plays a huge part in my writing too. I like animals. I’m a sentimental bastard.

I lived in London for many years and spent a lot of my time following rock stars around the world. Sometimes I would go to America every month but the sheen wore off that a bit; I still have one foot in that world but I feel that deer are more interesting to watch than most bands. I’m happy existing away from the cut and thrust and passing fads of the literary scene. James Ellroy calls himself “the black dog of American literature”; I think I might start calling myself “the lone goat of British literature”. I currently write about the arts for publications including The Guardian, New Statesman, Mojo, New Scientist, Caught By The River and others.

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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?

For a long time I lived in small flats in London, including a squat for four years, and then a tiny studio flat in Peckham for six years, in which I slept, worked, and ran a record label from. I am something of a hoarder and I filled them entirely with books and music. But now I have a regular culling. I buy a lot of second-hand books and get quite a few sent for review, so every few months I get rid of anything I may not read again, or have a duplicate of. I used to sell them but most I give to Oxfam; I think to own books and have the time to read them is a privilege so it’s good to pass them on. This week I gave away my entire Judy Blume collection to my eight year old niece; I think anyone who has read my work might be surprised I’m a big Judy fan but she taught me everything I know about bras and periods. I wrote a piece about this for The Guardian several years ago and she got in touch with me as a result, and offered to take me out for a cup of tea the next time she was in London. Those books that remain on my shelves are the ones I value – which happens to be several thousand…

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?

My partner Adelle Stripe is an academic and a writer, and as voracious a book-buyer as I am, so at some point our book collections merged. This, to me, is as significant a commitment as wedding vows. Once you combine book collections with someone it’s serious business… Last year we finally had some book cases made to impose some sense of order. So all the novels are in my office, only very roughly arranged alphabetically so that I have a vague idea where titles are. I also have a collection of nature and landscape books in there too. In Adelle’s office are all the non-fiction books, art books, theory, a fairly substantial poetry collection and way too many music biographies. I also have a ‘To Read’ pile by my bed, which tends to feature about fifty books at any given time. Come to think of it, I also have books on the dining room table and in the bathroom too.

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

It was possibly George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl or maybe Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian. Both were published in 1981 and therefore coincided with me starting school and learning to read. As with so many readers and writers of my generation, Roald Dahl was a gateway. I read everything by him as soon as I could, including all of his Tales Of The Unexpected at the age of eight or nine, and also a lot of Alfred Hitchcock short story anthologies. I still have a lot of my Dahl books. I remember My Side Of The Mountain by Jean George having a significant impact too.

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?

I don’t really view any reading as guilty – what should invoke guilt is not reading at all, which applies to about nine people out of ten in this country. I do have a special fondness for books by rogues, criminals, football hooligans, brawlers and blaggers – stories of skulduggery, violence and wrong-doing. True crime memoirs. Most of them are totally unreliable, but I’ve always believed in the age-old maxim “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. I’d rather someone made up an exciting story about themselves than told a boring one. One of my favourite ever autobiographies is Kinski Uncut by Klaus Kinksi, which is just pure self-aggrandising fiction. A completely ridiculous read, but I appreciated the effort he put in to entertaining the reader.

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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?

There are a few writers that I collect, and can’t resist buying repeat editions of. I’ll buy anything I find by BS Johnson, Richard Brautigan, Ted Lewis, JL Carr, Sid Chaplin, Ian Niall, Gordon Burn, Knut Hamsun, Billy Childish, Charles Bukowski. Between us Adelle and I have also amassed a lot of quite hard-to-find poetry chapbooks and underground publications. Quite a lot from west coast American writers of the 60s and 70s.

I also once won a special limited edition of the cocaine smuggling memoir Snowblind by Robert Sabbag, which was published by Canongate. It is designed by Damien Hirst, made out of mirrors and features a slot dug into the text in which there is a special rolled up and numbered bank note. It is also signed by Sabbag, Hirst and Howard Marks, who wrote the introduction. So I would probably rescue that first as it is quite collectible. Some books that I may have bought for £1 in the 1990s are just hard to find now. Ask Dr Mueller: The Writings Of Cookie Mueller is a good example. Everyone should read Cookie Mueller.

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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?

I think perhaps it’s Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, which I am about to re-read. That was certainly one of them. I also recall reading a lot of my sister’s books too. She is seven years older than me and bought Killing For Company by Brian Masters about the murderer Dennis Nilsen, not long after it came out. Nilsen slept with then killed and dissected many men in his flat in Muswell Hill in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I must have been about ten when I read that, and only recently realised the profound effect that it had on me. Coupled with Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror across the North in a similar period – a case that was unavoidable at the time – I feel I became aware at a fairly early age that man’s potential for acts for horror was quite significant. I had a lovely childhood but beyond the safety of the lower middle-class suburbs there were clearly strange, unimaginable things going on out there. Books were the portal.

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 buy book that I want to read. I buy books I know I will probably never read.  I buy books I feel I should read. I buy books that are recommended to me by people. I buy books I want to have because the covers are nice. I’m addicted.

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

Sunrise and The Dead Of Winter, both by Dominic Cooper. He is one of the greatest living British writers, but he has not published anything for thirty years. I am single-handedly attempting to raise awareness about his writing and kickstart his revival. He lives in the Western Isles of Scotland now and told me that he simplt “ran out of words”. He also realised that there is no living to be made from writing fiction so retrained as a watch-mender instead. He’s a really lovely and humble guy, whose writing on man’s relationship with landscape is second to none. It’s only a matter of time before he lauded by influential writers such as Robert Macfarlane. I’ve also just added Englaland a poetry collection by Steve Ely, who I rate as one of the UK’s finest poets. A wonderful book – it’s funny, violent, colourful, explosive and totally in love with language.

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

Yes: thousands. There are so many authors I have not yet read.

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

Book collections are certainly a projection of one’s ego – I have no doubt about it. We display certain books to send certain messages. Years ago a friend of mine, who was then playing guitar in The Prodigy and probably only knew me as a music journalist out and about on the London scene, once ended up staying at my old flat. In the fog of a Saturday morning hangover/comedown he pointed at all my books and said “Well, there’s obviously something else going here…”, which I took to mean “something else intellectually” beyond his initial understanding of who I was – which at the time was a drunk prick. So I suppose that’s what many of us want our book collections to project: ‘Look over here: there may be more to me than meets the eye.’ Isn’t this that, after all, the reason I’ve doing this piece for the venerable Savidge Reads….?

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A huge thanks to Benjamin for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, you can find his website here and also stalk him on Twitter here. 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 Benjamin’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Filed under Benjamin Myers, Other People's Bookshelves