Tag Archives: The Green Carnation Prize

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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Judging A Book…

So in the not too distant future (or in the recent past if you read this later than I posted it, which is pretty late) there will be a big announcement in the bookish world as to which novel and author have gone and won some award they call the Man Booker Prize, just a small thing no biggie. Of course I jest. In actuality within the next twenty four hours, and actually possibly weeks months and years to come, most of the bookish world is going to be discussing the decision made by five people in a room on the very subjective nature of what makes a truly great book… or possibly which book they all liked equally and therefore chose as the winner. So, not afraid to open a tinned can of worms, I thought I would talk a little bit about the whole book judging thing really.

You see when the Man Booker winner is announced there will be arms in the air with jubilation and also arms in the air with indignation. That is the way with books awards, well with any awards. I have experienced this a few times having judged both The Green Carnation Prize (for a few years) and then this year, yesterday in fact, I had the pleasure of judging the Not The Booker Prize for the Guardian. The latter was all the more nerve wrecking as the judging was all done live, we had no four walls and a swanky lunch (I am imaging the lunch, it might just be a cup of tea and a digestive) unlike the Booker.

Not The Booker’s Prize… a coveted Guardian mug.

For the judges there were two clear favourite books and forerunners, not in the eyes of the public but more on that shortly, those were Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ and Meike Ziervogel’s ‘Magda’. Two books which couldn’t be more different in terms of length but are equal in how brilliant their stories, writing and vision were – oh and how much they made us think. The winner in the end was ‘Life After Life’ which will tick some people off. Interestingly as we were talking having said at the start I wanted ‘Life After Life’ to win I started thinking ‘hang on a minute Simon, Atkinson doesn’t need the publicity, she probably has plenty of mugs and doesn’t need a Guardian one and Magda is as amazing in so many ways and think what this could do for a debut novelist…’ yet I had to be true to what I considered the best read FOR ME on the list. Which is of course a very personal and subjective thing, for me though I was looking for prose, voice, story, characters, something new, impact and thought provoking nature. Both books had all these things, personally Atkinson just hit that chord where I felt it had been written for me even when Ziervogel blew me away. This probably makes no sense so let us move on; suffice to say I was very torn.

We also went against the popular and public vote of Zoe Venditozzi’s debut novel ‘Anywhere But Here’. We didn’t do this because we were being controversial, we did it because we all agreed that Zoe can write bloody brilliantly (review coming soon) and it is a very impressive debut but we all had a slight issue with what happens in the book as it goes on, which I won’t spoil. That doesn’t mean we didn’t like it, quite the opposite is true, it means we can’t wait to see what she (and indeed Lucy Cruickshanks) do next. Unlike the Booker, or any of the main awards actually, we COULD say that publically which was really nice. I don’t think the Booker longlisters who don’t make the short list get more than a ‘nope’, though I could be wrong – doubts it. Back to my point, the public weren’t wrong, the judges weren’t wrong, it is all subjective. Different judges could have had a completely different outcome.

Books are subjective by their very nature; we will all read a book differently. Even with the people that I respect the most in terms of books, I can sometimes think ‘what on earth did you see in that twaddle?’ It is the same with loved ones; I cannot begin to tell you how many books Granny Savidge Reads and I would debate, be they crime series, classics or modern literature. Yet some books you just meet on the middle on how much you love. It is those, above the ones you all like, that you discuss the most and get excited about the most. Like at a book group. You see when it comes to books we all judge them and that is what makes me laugh when people are up in arms about a set of judges decisions. (I include myself in this; I have been very cross with panels before, and then laughed at my outrage.) From the cover of the book till the final page – if we make it that far – we are constantly judging a book on everything we have read before and what we deem a good read for whatever reason be it on the writing, the enjoyment factor or the dreaded ‘readability’.

The best things about prizes are though that they get us all talking about books and igniting the passion for literature of all types and genres. And they make people want to read long and short lists. All good stuff! So before we judge the judges on what they have judged the best book of the year (remember that the publishers were the ones who actually chose which books to put forward) in whatever prize they are judging, that we all judge books all the time don’t we?

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Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden

As regular visitors to this blog will know, I am a huge fan of the Fiction Uncovered prize. Any initiative that promotes books I am likely to get behind, what I particularly love about Fiction Uncovered though is that it aims to promote marvellous books by British authors that for some unknown reason haven’t had the coverage or exposure that they should. Oh and if that wasn’t enough, so far, I have yet to meet a Fiction Uncovered title I haven’t liked. Niven Govinden’s ‘Black Bread White Beer’ (which has also been longlisted for The Green Carnation Prize, though I didn’t know this at the time of reading it) was one of the titles I had been meaning to read for a while and so popped straight on the bedside table.

The Friday Project, 2013, paperback, fiction, 183 pages, sent by Fiction Uncovered & the publisher

‘Black Bread White Beer’ is a novel set within a single day. As it opens Amal, our protagonist and our eyes and opinions, is sat in a park contemplating nothing and everything all at once. His wife Claud is in hospital after having a miscarriage and Amal is feeling at a loss with the world and with his marriage. Terrible personal events change the way we think and our perspective on life and it is this situation Amal and Claud find themselves in as they try and cope with what has happened and each other’s reactions, both visual and hidden, to it.

What I most admired about ‘Black Beer White Bread’ was Govinden’s ability to encapsulate so much into a relatively short novel, and so deftly and beautifully. Throughout the novel Amal and Claud’s marriage is revealed and we are often reminded that we don’t always like the people that we love all the time and that we don’t always marry the people that we think we have. Marriage can change you (take it from one who knows) and the other person and despite all those fairytales we are told they don’t always mean a happy ever after. Ladybird Books and Disney forget to remind people of the everyday minutiae that follow any honeymoon period, Govinden doesn’t.  What happens when the sex wears off or becomes a perfunctory act? What follows then?

Govinden wonderfully, and heartbreakingly, also looks at the fact that no matter how well we know a person we never really know what they are thinking and never can. As Amal arrives to discover that Claud is waiting in the reception having discharged herself he is both furious at himself, for not having been there earlier ready to protect her, and also at Claud for having done so and therefore excluding him from hearing what the doctors said as if Amal himself doesn’t matter. The couple are not only undergoing a time of great tension, they are at odds with each other – and then Claud announces they are going to see her mother and father, who they mustn’t tell. The word ‘awkward’ doesn’t begin to cover the car journey there or what unravels on their arrival.

As if not content at all that fodder ‘Black Bread White Beer’ also looks at other themes. As we meet Claud’s parents, and indeed on the way as we get flashbacks throughout the couple’s relationship, divides between Amal and Claud’s backgrounds. Class; Claud’s family being rather well to do middle and Amal’s working class backgrounds, religion; Amal’s conversation – to the horror of his family – to Claud’s lax Catholicism, race; involving an incident in a tea shop and lifestyle; the divide between urban and countryside, are all looked at. It is also the first book I have read that deals with the pressures that I think befalls people in their thirties (and as I near thirty two I have some notion of these) and the expectation of what they ‘should be doing’ by that age.

Some books, especially the more compact ones, would struggle with all these themes (oh I forgot to throw in the theme of ‘blame’) or make them all melodramatic and give as much ‘show’ as they would ‘tell’ but not in the case of ‘Black Bread White Beer’. Every word and sparse sentence is made to do its work. Every character in this book lives and breathes, each one is flawed and (on more than one occasion) rather unlikeable yet that is what makes them so interesting to read about and, dependent on how the words in books enter your brain, watch.  It is a book that looks at humans, their hopes, dreams, foibles and dark thoughts and heads not to the black and white, as the title would suggest, but the grey areas in between. Highly recommended reading.

Note: You can also hear Niven in conversation with me about ‘Black Bread White Beer’ and more on this episode of You Wrote The Book.

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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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Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

It is very rare that I re-read a book, even my favourites. I always have a fear that in doing so some of the charm will wear off or the surprises that you had on the first read won’t reappear. One series of books and indeed one book in particular, that I have returned to again and again over a good few decades is ‘Tales of the City’ by Armistead Maupin. As it is LGBT History Month this month I decided it was a fitting time to return to Barbary Lane once again, hopefully bringing a few of you along with me.

***** Transworld Books, paperback, 1978, fiction, 269 pages, from my own bookshelves

At the end of her vacation from her homeland of Cleveland, Mary Ann Singleton decides, rather recklessly for her, that staying in the city of San Francisco should be a more permanent move. Initially moving in with her old friend Connie, who is a little more free and easy that Mary Ann can believe, she finds her own apartment at 28 Barbary Lane above her mysterious and initially rather odd seeming landlady Anna Madrigal, neighbours Mona, Mouse, Brian and soon Norman. It is Mary Ann’s story of arriving and settling in San Francisco that makes the initial tale in which more and more tales of the mixed bunch of characters around her diverge and merge off of, some linking back on each other and some adding twists and turns you wouldn’t see coming. All together they do, as the title suggests, make a wonderful collection of tales, and indeed a narrative of, the city. I don’t want to spoil the tales and their twists for you though so I won’t discuss the plot/s further.

For me the main joy of the book and this has been the case every time, in the fifteen years that I have re-read it on and off, is the fact that it feels like real life. The city of San Francisco comes straight off the page, I haven’t been there (and would love to if anyone fancies treating me, ha) but I feel I have, so vivid is the description and the atmosphere of the place from the luxury of the Halcyon’s apartments to the supermarkets and dry cleaners of downtown. In fact it does very much feel like a love letter to and from San Francisco in many ways.

‘Well, take your time. There’s a partial view, if you count that little patch of bay peeping through the trees. Utilities included, of course. Small house. Nice people. You get here this week?’
‘That obvious, huh?’
The landlady nodded. ‘The look’s a dead giveaway. You just can’t wait to bite into that lotus.’
‘What? I’m sorry…’
‘Tennyson. You know: “Eating the lotus day by day, To watch the crisping ripples on the beach, An tender curving lines of creamy spray; To lend our hearts and spirits wholly to the influence of”… something, something… You get the point.’
‘Does the… furniture go with it?’
‘Don’t change the subject while I am quoting Tennyson.’
Mary Ann was shaken until she noticed that the landlady was smiling. ‘You get used to my babbling,’ said Mrs Madrigal. ‘All the others have.’ She walked to the window, where the wind made her kimono flutter like brilliant plumage. ‘The furniture is included. What do you say dear?’
Mary Ann said yes.
‘Good. You’re one of us then. Welcome to 28 Barbary Lane.’
‘Thank you.’
‘You should.’ Mrs Madrigal smiled. There was something careworn about her face, but she was really quite lovely, Mary Anne decided. ‘Do you have any objection to pets?’ asked the new tenant.
‘Dear… I have no objection to anything.’

It is the characters that steal the show, Mrs Madrigal, Mary Ann and Michael/Mouse in the main, walking off the page as they do so with flaws and all. Maupin is a master of characterisation and prose each character being multifaceted with good sides and bad, secrets here and there and just regular people of all walks of life. I don’t think in any book I have read outside of the ‘Tales of the City’ series have I found a set of characters that depict all aspects of society, in terms of ages, sexuality, backgrounds, wealth, races, etc, without feeling false of like the author is trying too hard. Maupin covers homophobia, terminal illness, affairs (of people of all ages and sexualities), spies, murder, lies and even cults without any effort or feeling like he is trying to make a shocking statement. There is also a short sharp episodic feel to the book, no surprise as originally it was serialised in a San Francisco paper, that makes it almost unputdownable; you find yourself saying ‘just one more, oh go on another one’ as you go along.

For me at fifteen, and still at thirty if I am honest, what Maupin says to me is that these are characters who are all trying to figure themselves out and so you can too at the same time. As the series goes on, and the more you return to it, all these characters feel like friends. Here I have to admit I wanted to – okay I still do a bit – take the place of Mouse when I was fifteen and have best friends like Mary Ann Singleton and Mona and live in one of Mrs Madrigal’s apartments. In that teenage phase we all have, I think, where I used to save up 20p a week to runaway it was Barbary Lane that I was aiming for. I owe a huge thanks to Armistead Maupin for not only for making me love reading and providing me with escape in my younger years but for also making me realise it was okay to be a bit different from everyone else, that it didn’t matter – or that it wouldn’t matter to those people who really cared about me – and that I would find my way in life okay. It was books like this one and how it reached out to me, way back when in my teens, and made me want to start something like The Green Carnation Prize so other people could find books like this as well, be they a teenager or adult.

Anyway, I have gone off on a tangent, as you can see ‘Tales of the City’ is a book that means a huge amount to me. It is a book, for me, which epitomises what reading is all about, exploring worlds we don’t know and with characters walk off the page and we befriend from all walks of life. It’s one that is a joy to discover for the first time, which I hope some of you have done or will do, and even more of a joy to return to time and time again – and it never seems to age. I cannot recommend, or love this book, enough.

Who else is a fan of ‘Tales of the City’ and the series? Who also loved the TV show, why can’t they do the whole lot? Who has returned to it again and again? Who has tried it for the first time and what did you make of it?

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Savidge Reads’ Top Ten LGBT Books…

As I mentioned yesterday I am in a little bit of a reading funk. So I was routing through my bookshelves, and preparing for the event I have coming next Tuesday, I thought that I would make a little video of my personal top ten LGBT themed books. This is by no means what I think are the best LGBT themed books, it is a list of the ones that have a special place in my heart from my young teens all the way to now. So have a gander if you fancy it…

I know there are some celebrated books and authors missing yet these are the ten books that I mentioned.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs
The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
My Policeman – Bethan Roberts
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett
A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

I am aware I have missed some of my favourite authors like Stella Duffy, Sarah Waters, Geoff Ryman, etc, lots and lots of Green Carnation books, nonfiction and classics, the latter mainly as I am playing catch up with Larry Kramer and Radclyffe Hall etc.

That is of course where you come in… What are the books you love with LGBT themes? Which books have I missed and might I have read and need to re-read (I feel I need to pick up ‘Rough Music’ by Patrick Gale again at some point) or try for the first time? Which of you the books I mention have you read? Who is coming to Leeds on Tuesday for my scary solo event? Who is currently reading ‘Tales of the City’, which I will be picking up to re-read today, to discuss on Friday on the blog? Lots of questions for you there.

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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?

Rainbow_flag_and_blue_skies

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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Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before he Stole my Ma – Kerry Hudson

If any book last year was talked about because of its title then it would be ‘Tony Hogan Bought me and Ice Cream Float Before he Stole my Ma’, the title of Kerry Hudson’s debut novel. There was no question that the title of the book was a discussion point, which is always a good thing in a market that is getting tougher especially for new authors, yet it was also a risk because people either thought it was a brilliant idea or were completely put off buy it. I have to admit I was in the latter camp, until I read the book that is.

***** Chatto & Windus, paperback, 2012, fiction, 266 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Janie is born into the long line of Ryan women. A line of women who on the outside simply seem like loud, abrasive, confrontational wasters by onlookers yet underneath all the front, or anger, they are really just rather mixed up. When Janie is born her grandmother would rather be at the bingo gossiping and getting drunk than coming and picking her daughter and granddaughter up. Within hours of being ‘home’ World War Three is raging through the Ryan household and Janie and her Ma end up on the streets in the rain with nowhere to live. Life is a bit grim and really it doesn’t seem to get better, especially when Tony Hogan, of the exceptionally long title, turns up.

No sooner are Janie and her Ma (she is called Ma so much you forget she has a name) settled into some accommodation by social services and the housing association, than her mother meets local hard man/drug dealer/abuser Tony Hogan and things spiral out of control and history just keeps on repeating itself, even when Janie and her Ma try and leave Scotland for places anew. There is hope in there somewhere but I won’t go into too much detail of that for fear of spoiling the book.

“I didn’t tell her that that face meant I was scared, scared for Frankie and scared for her and us even more. We were a glass family, she was a glass ma and I needed to wrap us up, handle her gently.”

I loved ‘Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Before He Stole my Ma’ (which will henceforth be known as ‘Tony Hogan…’) partly as I think it is an incredibly brave, honest and confronting – yet also very funny in parts – novel that looks at the part of society many people write off or brush under the carpet. Those people on the dole, or who find themselves living on benefits, who get sneered at and slated in the press as ‘wasters’ and looks at the people behind that label. Okay, some of the people, like Tony Hogan himself, are wasters but what about the others? What about those people who find themselves victims of circumstance who want to make a better life? What about either of these camps children, where is the hope for them? That is what ‘Tony Hogan…’ looks at, rather bluntly, and even though the book itself is set in the 80’s and 90’s its incredibly relevant considering the climates of finance, benefits and employment in the UK, and elsewhere, at the moment.

“Davey and Leanne’s parents liked a drink. That’s what Ma said when I asked her why they sometimes couldn’t walk. It was true; whether I called for Leanne morning or night there would be a sweating can of lager and a plastic bottle of cider on the table and her ma and da would be lounging on the sofa watching the one channel they could with a bent coat hanger.
Ma called them Jack Spratt and his wife because Leanne’s da was so skinny you could see his bones and her ma’s big arse spilled over the sofa’s edge. They both had blurry sea-green tattoos up their arms and if you stared long enough you could make out the dragons and lions and words crawling up their skin and under their T-shirt sleeves. The only thing I ever heard Leanne’s da say was, ‘Leanne love, fix us a snakebite.’”

I also loved all the things that you should love in a good book. Kerry Hudson is a wonderful writer; she can break your heart and make you laugh in a sentence or two. Her characters, whether you like them or not – and sometimes you won’t be sure which it is, are vivid, fully formed with warts and all, and walk of the page. The themes in the book are thought provoking, as I have mentioned, and you will be thinking about Janie long after you have left the book. I was slightly concerned at the start that the voice might bother me, not the Scottish dialect which is used on occasion, as Janie narrates the book from birth. This could have really annoyed me, with another author I might have been questioned the fact a child wouldn’t understand it all, yet interestingly with Hudson at the helm I went with it and really loved the narrative voice.

On a personal level ‘Tony Hogan…’ also really chimed with me, which of course made me love it all the more – though if this was a professional review I would have to cut all this out completely, as its not let me waffle on further. I too was the only child of young single mother in the 1980’s, whilst my father wasn’t a random American and we didn’t get chucked out of the family home – my mother took me with her to university actually, I do remember moving around a lot, never being poor but things being tough (I didn’t get the latest ‘trendy’ shoes – Dr Martens or Kickers, remember them – until after everyone had moved onto the next ones and once I think we had cereals  with water as we couldn’t afford milk, it was just once – and then I had a phase of pouring Ribena all over my dinner, anyway) and I, like Janie, remember loosing myself in the world of libraries and books. Unlike Janie I was more a Spice Girls fan than an Oasis one, though I did see the latter at Knebworth, get me. Also unlike Janie I always felt I was wanted and loved and the fact Janie questions, and has to question, that was another thing that I found so moving and so deftly done in this book. I wanted to be her best friend and Kerry Hudson’s too because of the world and people she had created.

“Running to sit at the little plastic chairs I felt the library’s warm, still air push inside me to slow my thumping heart and the second-hand-shop smell snake up my nostrils, winding itself snug around my insides. When I opened the books, and I could open as many as I liked because it cost us nothing, the pictures lay on my eyes like oil on water and the dancing letters settled on my tongue with the smell and the taste of black-jack sweeties. Whilst Ma bit at her lips, ripped at her cuticles and read old magazines, I was learning how stories made me feel safe.”

You may have hazarded a guess that ‘Tony Hogan Bought me an Ice Cream Float Before he Stole me Ma’ was one of my favourite reads of last year and you would be right. It is a very assured, bluntly honest and highly crafted debut novel filled with laughter and heart ache, it is full of reality, it can be grim but it also celebrates life and all walks of it and might have you reassessing some of the subconscious assumptions you find you make about some of the people you pass in the street, and about books with quirky long titles. I can’t wait to see what Hudson writes next. Highly, highly, highly recommended reading!

After that rave review you may be wondering why I didn’t have this as one of my books of 2012, as it clearly was, yet even though this was the case so were all the shortlisted books for the Green Carnation last year (the book was also shortlisted for The Guardian First Book Award and I have fingers crossed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction) and it seemed a bit odd to just make up a list of them when you already have one, if you know what I mean? Anyway, who else has read this book and what did you think? What are your thoughts on the title? Are there any books you’ve picked up because of a quirky title or avoided because of it and did the book match up?

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The Winners of the Green Carnation Prize 2012 are…

Well it is a bit of a shocker as for the first time in the prizes history the judges announce two winners in a tie as Patrick Gale and André Carl Van Der Merwe become joint winners of The Green Carnation Prize 2012. And what a pair of winners they are…

Patrick Gale’s ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ is his sixteenth novel, a story of the moral dilemmas of a Cornish priest and his family and looks at what makes people good or bad. André Carl Van Der Merwe’s debut novel ‘Moffie’ is a tale of coming out in South Africa in the military during some of the country’s most turbulent times.

9780007465088 9781609450502

As you can imagine after all the reading that has lead up to this and all the discussion (which we had to extend the announcement of the winner/s by several days in order to come to a final agreement) I am rather shattered and booked out, though fear not it won’t last long. If you want to see all the official thoughts from the judges, including my thoughts on the whole shortlist, then you can go to the Green Carnation website here. I will be reviewing the winners, the short listed and long listed (well the ones I haven’t already) books in the new year, I can tell you though that they are all corking and it has been the hardest whittling down process I have ever encountered in three years. It might be just the high point for me to hang my judging boots up for a while.

Have you read either of the two winners and if so what did you think? If you haven’t yet, might you give them a whirl now?

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Books By The Bedside #6

I am just sorting out which books to take with me back to Matlock while I go and look after Granny Savidge for a while and thought it might be quite timely to share with you the books on my reading periphery at the moment. I have noticed that reviews are piling up at rather an alarming rate at the moment, especially now I can talk about any of the Green Carnation Prize books submitted apart from the shortlisted ones. So while you might not see my thoughts on the books below for a while here is what I am getting my reading tackle around currently…

The first was a book I ran out and bought (okay, I didn’t run I just went online and got it for a bargain) as on the Halloween special of The Readers I waffled on about a short story, about a man who moves into a house that smells of almonds, that really freaked me out but I had no idea what it was. Big thanks to Goodreads member Kristin who knew it was Roald Dahl’s ‘The Landlady’ and I have read it and been freaked out all over again and am really enjoying ‘Kiss Kiss’ as a very odd collection. More on it soon…

Second and third up are books that might seem a little morbid with all that is going on and yet I think will be proof that books can help you in difficult times. ‘Mortality’ by Christopher Hitchens is a book that AJ has raved about and then Karyn recommended I try with everything going on, as it is Hitchens’ memoirs/essays that he wrote for Vanity Fair after he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Here he shares everything he goes through from that point and I have heard that whilst I might not agree with him and his views his writing is incredible. Another book that has recently arrived is ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ by Will Schwalbe, this is an account of the conversations he had with his mother as she was having treatment and then dying of cancer about books as something else to discuss and yet at the same time use to address what was going on. Oddly Gran and I mainly talk about books at the moment, sometimes books really can mirror your life.

The book I really want to pick up after these two is ‘Gossip from the Forest’ by Sara Maitland. I hadn’t heard of the book until I caught up with a recent episode of the BBC Book Cafe where she took one of the presenters around a wood talking about the history of forests and fairytales and where the two meet and how forests inspired the latter. This is exactly what this book is all about and as a big, big fan of both forests and fairytales this sounds like one of those rare non-fiction books I might actually ‘get’.

The final book on the bedside is one that I mentioned in my library loot vlog post. If there is one thriller that I have noticed seems to have the word of mouth buzz, rather than publisher hype, then it is ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn which sounds like an ideal escapist thrilling read which I could do with right now. So I think I will be packing all of these for my trip to Grans where we have already agreed we will have some reading time together as she isn’t getting enough. Like I would say no to that!

So which of these titles have you read and what are you reading right now? What have you been reading and what might you read next?

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The Green Carnation Prize Shortlist 2012

I am thrilled to be able to announce the Green Carnation Prize shortlist for 2012. After a whole weekend, yes weekend, of debating and discussing the long list the six shortlisted titles we have chosen are…

The Green Carnation Shortlist 2012

  • Carry The One – Carol Anshaw (Penguin Books, American, 4th novel)
  • A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (4th Estate, British, 16th novel)
  • Scenes from Early Life – Philip Hensher (4th Estate, British, 8th novel)
  • Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus, British, debut novel)
  • Moffie – Andre Carl Van Der Merwe (Europa Editions, South African, debut novel)
  • Jack Holmes and his Friend – Edmund White (Bloomsbury, American, 10th novel)

I think I am allowed to say (though who is really going to tell me off) that in the three years I have judged the prize this was the hardest longlist to shortlist selection we have had to make. That is how good the longlist was. I know that judges of prizes say that all the time and it is a bit of a cliché but in this case it is genuinely true. All the judges individually had to say goodbye to some of their favourite reads of the year (none more so than me – martyr much) and while we are thrilled with the shortlist we were sorry to see seven of the titles go and we have a proper mission ahead deciding the winner. If you are hankering for some great reads though do check out the short and long listed titles. Actually the good thing is I can talk about the books that I loved which didn’t make the shortlist now, can’t I?

The winner will be announced on the 12th fo December 2012. For more info visit the Green Carnation website. Which of these titles have you read and what did you think? Might you be tempted to try any of the shortlisted titles you haven’t read?

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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2012

One of the joys of blogging was meeting lots of new people and getting very excited about books. Three years ago along with Paul Magrs, Nick Campbell and joined by Lesley Cookman I started on an exciting new venture co-founding a prize for LGBT literature of all kinds which eventually, after a small glitch with the initial name, was called The Green Carnation Prize. Well just over three years later the prize has changed a little bit yet the current team of judges, and one is an old ropey judge who refuses to leave, has brought you a very exciting longlist of thirteen books which are…

  • Carry The One – Carol Anshaw (Penguin)
  • Are You My Mother? – Alison Bechdel (Jonathan Cape)
  • Ninety Days – Bill Clegg (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Purple Shroud – Stella Duffy (Virago)
  • Absolution – Patrick Flanery (Atlantic Books)
  • A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (4th Estate)
  • Scenes From An Early Life – Philip Hensher (4th Estate)
  • Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson (Chatto & Windus)
  • Snake Ropes – Jess Richards (Sceptre)
  • Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway (Granta Books)
  • Valentine Grey – Sandi Toksvig (Virago)
  • Moffie – Andre Carl Van Der Merwe (Europa Editions)
  • Jack Holmes and his Friend – Edmund White (Bloomsbury)

It is nice to be able to share at least the titles of some of the books that I have been secretly reading away over the past few months. Alas, I can’t tell you exactly what I thought of these thirteen because there is the short listing and the winning announcement to go, but it might be time to start telling you about some of the amazing books that didn’t make the longlist this year… because that is how good the submitted books were this year.

Always keen to get in on the act, a certain Oscar cat is now casting his eyes over the selected few and will be accompanying me in some re-reading. However I think I might have a week of reading just what I fancy first.

So what do you think of the list? Have you read any of them? What do you think might make the shortlist? Are there any you are surprised not to see? Are you going to give any of them a whirl? All thoughts, as always, most welcome.

Full details and thoughts from all the judges, and updates over the next few weeks, on the Green Carnation Prize can be found on the website.

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Books By The Bedside #5

This week’s posts have all been scheduled in advance, hence why I have been even worse than normal at replying, as with imminent Green Carnation longlisting this week, deadlines galore and visiting Granny Savidge Reads this weekend (who has had some bad health news but I want to talk to her before sharing it, if I do)  it is all a little bit bonkers. So I thought a post on what will be on my reading horizons after having had it somewhat guided in the last few months might make a nice post. Plus it means you get to tell me what you think of the books and authors on the list and then share what you are reading and want to read which I always love hearing about…

I had imagined that once the Green Carnation submissions were done I might be able to be a little freer in whim terms. Yet interestingly it’s not going to be immediately (in part as I will have to read the longlist again) because next weekend is the start of Manchester Literature Festival and I have two events in the first week which means rather a lot of re-reading but also some new gems.

First up is an event with Catherine Hall and Patrick Gale, so I have re-read ‘The Proof of Love’ and have now lined up her debut novel ‘Days of Grace’ which I have been wanting to read for ages. I am also re-reading Patrick Gales ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ (which I have read already once this summer) and pondering if I should get ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ as apparently this is a companion, not a sequel, to that one.

The second event is all about my favourite period of history, the Victorian period, and I will be joined by Jane Harris and Essie Fox. Jane, well a firm favourite book of all time ‘Gillespie and I’, is currently on my iPod getting a re-listen (well a first listen as I read the book last time) and if I have time I am planning on revisiting ‘The Observations’ next weekend. In fact I will make time. I have just re-read ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie and am getting very excited about ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ which looks to be a little bit magical and rather dark and twisty – perfect!!

Away from Manchester Literature Festival though, I am also re-reading the wonderful tales in Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short magical and delightful stories ‘Diving Belles’ as Gavin is returning from his podcast presenting holiday this week to record the second episode of the all new Readers Book Group and this is the book in question. None of all this re-reading is a chore at all, just a joy which is lovely.

Reading purely for me and less for events and the like is all quite seasonal and autumnal. Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’ was a naughty purchase because I simply could not not, is that a double negative now? I think I might demand ask The Beard to read me one or two of these every night maybe? Susan Hill’s ‘The Shadows in the Streets’ I have had on my bedside table since last time and will definitely get round to (she is on The Readers in November, thrilled) as I will soon be three behind. Finally, yes your eyes are telling you the truth, I have the debut novel by Judy Finnigan (yes of THE Richard and Judy) called ‘Eloise’ which looks like it might be rather Du Maurier-esque. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, but I am excited to see which.

Phew, that’s my new few weeks/months of reading sorted. Have you read any of these and if so what were your thoughts on them? What are you reading and looking forward to reading next?

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Manchester Literature Festival 2012

I really do love a literary festival. I can’t say I have been to hundreds, in fact it’s more like five or six, but when I saw loads of people I know going off to Edinburgh over the last few weeks I have been, frankly, green with envy. There is something so special about the vibe of these events, the coming together of reader and author and the general love of books that makes me go giddy at the thought. Last year I had the pleasure of going to Manchester Literature Festival, which is the nearest to me (Liverpool doesn’t have one, why?), and seeing many of the events and meeting the authors and event hosts afterwards for The Readers Podcast. This year, in October, I am planning to do the same again, and a little more as you will see, and what an incredible line up there is this year.

I already have sorted tickets for the opening event next week, a trailblazer, which is with none other than Zadie Smith who I am really keep to see talk, especially after having dipped into ‘NW’ already, which I am planning on reading properly this weekend between Green Carnation submissions. This is an event to kick start it all officially and I will be reporting back on for you all.

After the festival starts ‘a proper’ in October I have a mammoth wish list of events to see with authors including; Michael Chabon, Carol Ann Duffy, Penelope Lively, Salley Vickers, Clare Balding, Pat Barker, Jackie Kay, Mark Haddon, Jeanette Winterson, AM Holmes, Jonathan Harvey and ‘Unbound Live’. Phew! You can see these events and many more on the festivals calendar page. I think I am going to miss some sadly as I will be in Iceland, maybe someone reading this might report back for me?

To top it all off though there are two other events on the calendar that I am particularly excited about and that is because… I am hosting them! The first will be on Monday the 8th of October at 18.30 when I will be hosting an event with Patrick Gale and Catherine Hall, who happens to be a fellow Green Carnation judge and also wrote ‘The Proof of Love’ which won the prize last year and was a book I adored. I am going to be re-reading a few Patrick Gale novels over the next couple of weeks including his latest ‘A Perfect Man’ and ‘Rough Music’ which I read, shock and horror, over a decade ago.

The second event I am just as excited about and is at lunchtime on the following day. In the oh so apt Manchester Town Hall, which was used in Sherlock Holmes as the House of Parliament, I will be hosting a Victoriana event with the lovely Jane Harris and Essie Fox, both of whose work I have thoroughly enjoyed as I am sure you are aware. I have had the pleasure of interviewing Jane and Essie before so I know this is going to be a hoot.

Well that is me all excited then isn’t it? I do hope, as I am giving some advance warning, I will see some of you at these events I am hosting or at any of the others I am desperate to see (you’d better say hello). In the meantime though I wondered what your thoughts on literary festivals were. Which have you been to? What was good and bad about them? What makes the perfect bookish event? What makes the perfect host? Oh and would any of you also consider smaller more intimate ‘Reading Retreat’ weekends? Cannot think why I am asking the latter…

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