Tag Archives: Random Savidgeness

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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Sometimes You Have To Kickstart A Dream…

We all have dreams don’t we? Those ideas/projects/goals which we think about when things are a bit rough or just have as a focus for the future. Sometimes though you have to take a brave step and think ‘right, I want to make that a reality.’ This is what myself and The Beard have been thinking about over the past few months and plotting how we could make a dream become a reality. The first dream was a bookshop and cafe, me with the books and The Beard (being a trained chef, have you seen some of my Instagram dinners?) being in charge of the food. Lately that dream has shifted a bit as down the road a building came up on the market that instantly made us both think ‘Bookish B&B or readers and writers retreat’. We are seeing it at 4.15pm today*…

Bookish B and B

It’s huge (7 beds), it needs a lot of work, it could just be a pipe dream but it isn’t millions of pounds so not a bonkers hair-brained scheme. It could also, if we managed it be amazing. Well, we think so – but we would. A retreat where people can come, read and write lots, work with the local museum and bookshop and be ferried to the seaside/woods/island in the welsh channel and just escape – with some corking grub on offer.

What we have been wondering is if people think it is a good idea and also what people’s thoughts are on it being a creative kickstarter/crowd funding project. Now I have no clue about crowd funding and kickstarting (I don’t even know which are the best sites) but I thought that some of you might. So I was wondering if you guys had any thoughts on the best potential places we could head to and any examples of some great projects that have been done through this. Oh and of course if you think our idea is a brilliant one or really, really silly.

All that said we are just going to assess it today and it might not be a viable property for what we have in mind, yet it might give us more of an idea of what we are looking for. Sometimes you have got to go and find out though haven’t you, and dare to dream a little bit or even a big bit.  Let me know your thoughts and also let me know of any dreams or projects you have for the future!

*UPDATE – The Beard didn’t manage to get to the viewing so I am going back again with him on Thursday at 10am!

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Could I Read Books Only By Women For A Year?

This is the question that I have been asking myself on and off all week as the book world is all a chatter about the lack of equality, which also equates to the lack of diversity in both the reading industry and it seems the habits of the reading public. Questions around women have been high on the agenda with a report that novels with female protagonists or narrators being less likely to win an award, then Kamila Shamsie wrote a provocation asking publishers to only publish women for a year and then today one publisher, And Other Stories, saying that they were indeed going to do just that in 2018. Let’s all catch our breath for a second and calm down…

My initial reaction to all of this was ‘well do you know what; I will read only female authors for the next year’. But that is just reactionary and equality is about more than just reacting on the spot. For equality to work we need all those parties/genders/minorities involved to make things equal. I know that sounds obvious and makes it all sound so easy, yet at the heart of it that is the truth. We all have to take responsibility in enabling equality with our own habits first, yet sometimes we don’t even realise what our habits are.

Let me be really honest. When I read a book, be it for work or pleasure, I just want to be lost in a bloody brilliant book. Call me naive but I don’t tend to think about the gender, age, colour or sexuality of the author. I honestly don’t think many general readers do either. I think I read more women than I do men by a mile, at the end of the year it tends to almost be 50/50 which always surprises me. Another prime example was with judging Fiction Uncovered, we had X amount of submissions and as judges we all went off read like loons and then came back with the books we thought were the best (for all sorts of reasons, a whole different discussion for another time) and we discussed them and whittled them down to a longlist of fifteen. Until we looked at that final selection we hadn’t even been aware that it was a selection of four men and eleven women, it was about the books and the way those books and their words and language had affected us, isn’t that what reading should be all about? Not once did we then think ‘oops better add some more men into that mix’, and this was a panel of two men and two women completely equal but the outcome was what it was. Those were just the best of some utterly corking books. End of.

However something was highlighted to me the other day that showed I don’t always read as diversely as I think, and at the end of the day it is only you yourself who can make you read more diversely, no one else is going to read for you. Nikesh Shukla, who will be sharing his shelves with you all this weekend, was asking on Twitter for recommendations of BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) authors books for a summer reading list. Off I skipped to my shelves thinking this would be a doddle… I only had about ten such books on my shelves, which are plentiful, I was horrified. I genuinely thought I read much more diversely than that. It bothered me.

So how do we combat these reading habits we get into, what can we actually do to change things? We can do things like starting prizes/ initiatives/readalongs etc that highlight voices or people that might be going under the radar. That is why  I co-founded the Green Carnation Prize, I wanted to highlight LGBT authors (not the gayest books as some journalists lazily think) and so I put my money where my moaning mouth was, and created something positive with all that energy. However first I think we have to start much closer to home and with our very own choices of books.

So could I read only books by women for a year? Yes, easily and I bet it would be a real treat at times and less of a success of times, just like and (and every) reading year. Will I do it? No. You see only reading books by women by its very nature wouldn’t be me reading for equality, it would be halving the experiences I could have in missing out great male authors of all walks of life and backgrounds. Narrowing your reading options really doesn’t do anyone any good. For example, if I chose to only read BAME authors or LGBT authors I would be missing out on white or straight novelists of both genders. In any of these scenario’s I am going to be cutting out some wonderful reads and with books that is what I want wonderful reads, so only I would be missing out really.

So rather than ‘not’ read or ‘only’ read any particular group of authors, I will try to do my best to make sure I read as equal amount of books by men and women, of all different races, backgrounds and sexualities (more translated fiction would do that which is something we need to be looking at with a very fine toothcomb frankly) as I can. After all, surely that is going to give me the best future reading life possible, the best of all worlds, walking in all sorts of different types of people’s shoes – or stories.

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When You Fancy An Author Binge…

As I was going through my book cull I was astounded by how many authors I didn’t realise I had rather a lot of works of. This is the problem with housing your books on doubled up shelves and in boxes. Admittedly some of them had been sent to me, yet I wouldn’t have kept a hoard of an authors work if I hadn’t read one of their books or didn’t think that they would be my cup of tea, would I? In many of the cases of these authors whose backlist I didn’t realise I owned lots and lots of I kept a note that I really should get a wriggle on and read some of their books. (I have started to wonder if I should try the whole book jar thing to make this happen more often!) In one case though as I looked at their books, and remembering what I have read of them before, I suddenly had the urge to have a complete book binge on one author.

This does not happen often. In fact I don’t think, apart from Discovering Daphne way back when or with the Sensation Season when I had a big Wilkie Collins binge, is it something I have done more than two or three times since I have started this blog seven and a bit years ago. Yet on rare occasions I have been tempted to just have a big old binge (mainly with crime series) and have held back. Why? I am not 100% sure, I think it is magpie syndrome and I simply always have a peak at all the other books I have to read between every few chapters, well when I am reading in bed anyway. I also don’t want to run out of reading material, which is why with Discovering Daphne I only selected a certain amount of books as I don’t think Du Maurier is going to publish anything else anytime soon being dead and all, though maybe some gems will suddenly be found.

This time though I am going to follow my gut instinct and see what happens as I head off into the world of Philip Hensher.

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As you can see the binge urge took over so much I went to the library and got King of the Badgers and The Northern Clemency  from the library even though I had The Emperor Waltz, The Missing Ink and Scenes from Early Life on my shelves. You see I have actually read one and a quarter of his books before. The first was King of the Badgers which I got from the library, it was a huge hardback and some other so and so ordered it so I had to give it back and have always meant to re-read/finish off, the second was Scenes from Early Life which I read for The Green Carnation and we shortlisted. I haven’t reviewed it for that reason and actually fancy re-reading it without the judging pressure. I also want to read some new to me stuff and will be taking The Northern Clemency, a book that is actually on my draft 40 before 40 list I am recreating, to Newcastle with me next weekend when I need a nice long read or two.

I think I will restart The King of the Badgers tomorrow after I finish the new Kate Grenville. Whilst I say this is a binge, I will probably read something or some things in between the two though, and maybe if once I have discovered I love his writing (I am going for the positive because its in my nature and because of what I have read before) I want to save The Emporor’s Waltz for a rainy day that is fine too – I am getting better at no pressure.

Does that make this more of an author urge (which sounds filthy) than an actual binge? Either way I am following my gut. Have you read any of Philip Hensher’s work and what did you make of it? Which authors have you binged on and how did the binge go, or have you never binged at all?

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