Tag Archives: Neil McKenna

The Green Carnation Prize Shortlist 2013…

As the press release (which I wrote) states, the shortlist for the Green Carnation Prize has now been announced and “With subjects from the abolition of death in Civil War 1836 to dysfunctional families in modern America; from marital breakdowns to crime and conspiracy over continents; from transvestites in London to tolerance in modern times, it seems that this year’s Green Carnation Prize shortlist has shown once again just what diverse list of titles the prize can produce.” Which I think I can agree with even though, as yet I haven’t read all the short list (I am still working on the longlist, and the blinking ‘Luminaries’ when I can) but I will be reading them all. The six titles are…

Doesn’t my lounge look lovely in this shot?

  • Gob’s Grief – Chris Adrian (Granta Books)
  • Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project)
  • May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Homes (Granta)
  • The Kills – Richard House (Picador)
  • Fanny & Stella – Neil McKenna (Faber and Faber)
  • Far From The Tree – Andrew Solomon (Chatto & Windus)

Congratulations to all of them, I did rather large cheers for Neil McKenna (review coming soon) and Niven Govinden (review here) and am really interested in reading the three that I still haven’t read. Yes, I know I am missing one but will be talking about it in due course as it’s a book that is so good it actually started to annoy me. You see this year it has been really interesting for me as I haven’t judged the books or read all the submitted novels  so I can be rather impartial, which is quite exciting. I get to watch the judges judging and clap or tear out my hair with their decisions; mind you I have done that in past years when I was part of the panel.

You see I trust the judges and their discussions and have been chatting with them about the list since they informed me of it last week (aren’t I good at keeping secrets) and so when I did an initial ‘oh no’ for both ‘Maggie and Me’ by Damian Barr (which I loved and beyond) and ‘Almost English’ by Charlotte Mendelson (which recently charmed the reading glasses off me), instead of getting cross (which nearly happened) I just had to think ‘wow this must be a bloody brilliant shortlist’ which of course makes me very excited about the reading I have ahead of me. Though I will also admit the size (and font size too) of ‘Far From The Tree’ scares me somewhat. I am looking forward to the surprise of finding out the winner in two weeks.

It is interesting though as after the initial ‘who is and who isn’t on the list’ discussion dies down the same question rears its head. ‘Why do we need a prize like this?’ It is one I will be answering in the Guardian tomorrow but until then I would be interested in hearing both what you think of the Green Carnation Prize shortlist this year and do you think we need a prize that celebrates LGBT writing?

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The Green Carnation Prize 2013 Longlist

Some of you will have already probably heard the news that the Green Carnation Prize 2013 longlist, which celebrates LGBT writing, was announced earlier today. For the first year in the prizes four years I’ve actually not done been on the judging panel or indeed been involved in the judging process/discussions (I have been doing all the admin behind the scenes) so it has all been rather weird and also extremely exciting as I have been desperate to know what the longlist would be. Well, here it is…

  • Gob’s Grief – Chris Adrian (Granta Books)
  • Five Star Billionaire – Tash Aw (4th Estate)
  • Maggie & Me – Damian Barr (Bloomsbury)
  • Environmental Studies – Maureen Duffy (Enitharmon)
  • Fallen Land – Patrick Flanery (Atlantic Books)
  • Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project)
  • The Sea Inside – Philip Hoare (4th Estate)
  • May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Homes (Granta)
  • The Kills – Richard House (Picador)
  • Fanny & Stella – Neil McKenna (Faber and Faber)
  • Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson (Mantle Books)
  • Far From The Tree – Andrew Solomon (Chatto & Windus)

What an eclectic mix! I have only read two and a half of these so far (loved the Barr, need to review the brilliant Govinden – though I have interviewed him – and am now reading the Homes, by coincidence. for book club this week) and so I have decided that I will try, when the mood takes, to read them before the shortlist is announced on November the 5th. You can find out about the longlisted titles in more detail here.

What do you think of the list? Which of these have you read and what did you make of them?

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What Makes Us Tougher or More Forgiving Of The Books We Read?

I am currently reading ‘Fanny and Stella; The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian London’ by Neil McKenna and so far I am really enjoying it. As many of you will know I am fascinated by the Victorian period and will generally purchase or seek out any book that is set in that era either written at the time or the contemporary neo-Victorian novels. One of the things that I have noticed lately, though less with non-fiction like ‘Fanny and Stella’, is that I am much, much tougher on these books, particularly the latter and I have been meaning to chat on here about it for a while. Do you think we are tougher on the books that we assume we will love when we start them?

I noticed recently that with two really good books, ‘When Nights Were Cold’ by Susanna Jones and ‘Tom-All-Alones’ by Lynn Shepherd, which I had picked up in part because they were set in the Victorian era and so the Victoriana magpie in me had simply had to have them both. Yet I think, in hindsight, I was tougher on them than if I had read anything by either author set in another period. So therefore what drew me to the books was what made me all the more critical of them.

I think this is partly because of my personal knowledge of, and fascination with, the time (the amount I studied to be a tour guide at Highgate Cemetery, which involves tests and allsorts or did when I joined) and also because I read so many of them. It is natural that the more we read the tougher we are with what we do and don’t like isn’t it? Here I may as well say that I now compare more Victoriana novels to Jane Harris’ ‘Gillespie and I’ or something by Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins. I am not sure it is such a fair comparison with the latter two as they are classics of the time and two of the great writers of the time. Yet that does stick in my mind a tiny bit.

This doesn’t just happen with books on my favourite subjects or set in my favourite eras though, it can happen with hyped books or the latest book by our favourite authors. I find it harder to be so impartial with those books too. I know that I am always harder on books that have received a lot of hype from the press, bloggers, friends etc. I am also much more forgiving if the latest novel by my favourite author is not as great as I was expecting, just because it is my favourite author. Fickle aren’t I? Though aren’t we all to varying degrees? It is something I have been pondering so I thought I would throw it out there to all of you.

Do you find that you are harder on books when you love the subject, genre or author or do you find it is the other extreme? What are those subjects, genres, authors or even types of literature? Do you think the more we read the pickier we naturally get? Do you have books that you set as milestones for other books to be compared to and if so what are those books and why?

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LGBT History Month 2013

Some of you may be well aware of this already, though I thought I would bring it up anyway, that today marks the start of LGBT History Month. The idea behind the initiative of a whole month of LGBT history is to bring to the fore tales of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people who have not just done amazing things recently but also those who have done things in the past and might have been forgotten. It is about remembering, or highlighting, these people and the history of LGBT culture and using it to educate people of all orientations at the same time. For more details pop and check out the website. Now despite the fact that I co-founded an LGBT book award (which launches at the end of the February to coincide with all this) I have never really gotten involved in the month and so I thought this year I should, especially as I won’t be judging the Green Carnation Prize 2013. The question is though… how?

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I wanted to make sure that I was doing something, even if it was just something small, on the blog really, as whilst hopefully I don’t bash you over the head with it, I am a member of the LGBT community – if a bit of a rubbish one – and actually I am rather clueless (which I am almost ashamed to admit to) on the history of the LGBT movement. So therefore I wanted to read a nonfiction book that might open my eyes to more of that. I also thought it would be fun to read a book that has become an LGBT ‘cult classic’ though it is difficult to get hold of AND I thought I might try and get you all to join in with reading an LGBT book that if you have read, like me, you will be desperate to read all over again or have you not yet read it will open up your eyes to a wonderful series of books with some amazing characters, and so I have dug these three books of various shelves…

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Neil McKenna’s latest nonfiction book ‘Fanny and Stella; The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England’ sounds like it is going to be right up my street. Fanny and Stella were two male clerks who were also part time actresses and prostitutes, so good was their guise as women. Yet when their impersonating nature was discovered their court case was one of the most sensation trials of the Victorian era, should they be found guilty of their many supposed crimes they would face life in prison. This just sounds incredible and is an LGBT tale that I’d never heard of, or even seen flickers f in neo-Victorian literature really, until a buzz started about this book. I will be starting this today.

‘Queens’ by Pickles is a book that is apparently quite difficult to get hold of as it has been out of print for many years. I picked it up about 4 years ago in London when I had that amazing 5 for £2 second hand bookshop down the road and have still not read it and I really feel I should. It is apparently a visceral, blunt and confronting novel that tells of the underground lives of gay men in the 1980’s and is told with wit and cynicism in third-person ,omniscient narrator, overheard dialogue, and epistolary. It should be something quite different and special; apparently the pessimistic tone of the book is what makes it both hard hitting and also darkly funny, as it is hard to get I decided not to make this the unofficial read-a-long choice instead going for…

‘Tales of the City’ by Armistead Maupin and easily, easily, easily one of my favourite books of all time. I love the characters, I love the descriptions of 1970’s San Francisco and I can remember falling in love with everyone and wishing so badly I could move to Barbary Lane when I first read this in my early teens. Please, please, please (not that I am begging much, ha) do join in for an unofficial read-a-long of this if you fancy it, I plan on discussing it on Friday the 22nd of February and would genuinely love to get you all picking it up. I have a feeling I will want to read the whole series again. Can you tell I am excited?

I am also joining in with The Guardian’s Reading Group this month which too has gone all LGBT and is reading, deep breaths now, ‘Swann’s Way’ the first in Marcel Proust’s series ‘In Search of Lost Time’ – I won’t lie, I am petrified of this book and I haven’t even picked it up yet, in fact I don’t have a copy as yet but I am working on it. I will also be doing an event at Leeds Library at the end of the month called ‘Wilde About Literature’ and will be looking for your help with some thoughts on that, but more on that in another post.

So who is up for reading ‘Tales of the City’ and just out of interest what have been your favourite LGBT themed books, not necessarily by an LGBT author but a book that deals with it, nonfiction books recommendation books especially welcomed, as I mentioned I need to brush up on my knowledge of the LGBT past, though fiction recommendations are always welcomed of course!

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