Tag Archives: The Green Carnation Prize

Happy Bithday To Me & The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2016

Not long before this post goes live, the clocks will have struck midnight and I will have turned 35 years old while I am deep in slumber like Sleeping Beauty. What makes my 35th birthday all the more special is that today The Green Carnation Prize announces its longlist for 2016, which as it’s co-founder seems most apt. Now in its seventh year I honestly couldn’t be more proud that the prize, which started by a conversation on Twitter and administered mainly in my bedroom on my laptop for many years, has grown and grown and the longlist today shows once again the wealth of LGBTQ writing and just why I have kept this prize running to showcase it.

Enough waffle from me here is the list…

  • London Lies Beneath, Stella Duffy (Virago)
  • The Inevitable Gift Shop, Will Eaves (CB Editions)
  • How to Survive a Plague, David France (Picador)
  • What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell (Picador)
  • A Portable Shelter, Kirsty Logan (Random House)
  • Spacecraft, John McCullough (Penned in the Margins)
  • Augustown, Kei Miller (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Where The Trees Were, Inga Simpson (Blackfriars)
  • Straight Jacket, Matthew Todd (Transworld)

Isn’t that just a corking list? You can find out more about the longlist and see my official quote over on The Green Carnation Prize website here. But indulge me on my birthday, which of these have you read and what did you make of them and are there any which you have been really keen to read?

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Farewell 2015, Hello 2016 (and Reading Resolutions)

I have to say both book wise and in the real world (notice how I put the real world second, it is so inferior to books, ha) I think that 2015 might have been one of the best years that I have had in a while. Yes okay, so I had the worst reading slump in the history of ever but there was so much else that was brilliant.

I got to judge Fiction Uncovered (one of my favourite prizes) with some wonderful people and found eight fabulous winners, and many more corkers along the way. I worked with New Writing North and took part in some great events in Newcastle and Ikley (meeting more wonderful people) and mentoring some brilliant young writers, bloggers and journalists before being the inaugural blogger for Durham Book Festival where I hung out with more lovely people. I left a job that was making me miserable with the worst boss in the world and moved to a lovely one where I am working on projects I love, two future and slightly secret ones will be VERY book based, with really lovely people. I stayed at the hotel in The Shard. I read some amazing books and one of the most affecting books of my reading life and then met the author, Hanya Yanagihara, afterwards. I worked on one of the Green Carnation Prize’s strongest years with the wonderful folk at Foyles and a corking judging panel AND got to meet (my future husband) Marlon James in the flesh. I got to chat to lots of authors and all of you lovely lot on here, twitter, podcasts etc about lots of brilliant books and made some wonderful new friends online and in real life. And then there was my road trip with Thomas around America and meeting, you guessed it, lots of wonderful people on that trip especially at Booktopia Petoskey, which was probably one of the highlights of the year. Blimey, that is quite a lot. Catches breath. It was a very good year. All this happened in some way or another thanks to this blog and thanks to books and lovely bookish folk.

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So 2016 has a lot to live up to doesn’t it? I have no real idea what it will hold, which I think it rather exciting. I do have some aims though and have fingers in lots of pies working on lots of projects and one huge one which I am hoping might come to fruition but who knows? I can say reading wise it has already started brilliantly and I am already on book two of the year. I guess I like the idea of the year being open to anything and everything and don’t want to put too much pressure (just the right amount) on myself, which leads to my reading resolutions.

Now my resolutions for 2016 off blog are ‘to do lots of different things and lots of things differently’ and ‘stop bloody procrastinating’. The latter is self explanatory and anyone who knows me will attest this is good self aware advice. The former is a bit vaguer, basically I think we all need to shake things up sometimes, so let us see how I get on. For the blog I have decided, it came to me whilst whatsapping Nina the other day (hairdresser to the literary greats, and me) and it is relatively simple, like me, It is this… 2016 is going to be the year of foraging for quirky books.

Yes, I am just going to see where reading, bookshops, bookish chat on social media and the like just takes me for a year. No pressure, just see where it all goes and what adventures I go on through the pages. The blog will reflect this, it will just carry on being a diary of sorts of my thoughts on books as I read them and other bookish musings that come up as I go along and talking with you lot about them. Okay, that is a second resolution – I will be much, much better at commenting.

So that is it. Simple. 2016 is going to be the year of foraging for quirky books. And I will comment much more. Nothing earth shattering, nothing too challenging or outrageous. Just reading, pondering and talking to you lot about it. Unless I end up judging another book prize in which case it might all go out the window, that isn’t currently on my horizon… Yet!

What about you all? What resolutions both bookish and not bookish have you made for 2016?

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The Winner of the Green Carnation Prize 2015 is…

After several months of reading and re-reading, from the highest amount of submissions yet and an incredible shortlist, followed by several hours of discussion the judges of the Green Carnation Prize were unanimous in selecting Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings as the winner for 2015, in association with Foyles.

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Haven’t I been good at keeping a secret, and indeed not discussing my thoughts on any of the shortlisted books, well bar the one that I had reviewed. I have to say having been sat as a fly on the wall at every meeting the judges have had, they have been very torn as the shortlist was so strong. There has been much lively debate. Now is the time to celebrate though, celebrating a corking winner and an equally cracking shortlist. When this goes live I shall be at the party celebrating with the judges, shortlisted authors, previous winners and short and long listed authors along with other bookish bods, at Foyles flagship store. While I am doing that I will leave you with a picture of myself and a rather thrilled Marlon, taken last week when I met him to film his winning speech and have a natter.

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You can find a proper, more serious, post on all things Green Carnation Prize here. Now what I want to know is who has read A Brief History of Seven Killings and what did you make of it? Which of the shortlisted titles have you read and loved?

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The Green Carnation Prize Shortlist 2016

When this news goes live I will be in a  meeting room or restaurant in Soho networking and schmoozing like a demon, ha. So I won’t be able to instantly shout with glee about the shortlist for this years Green Carnation Prize, even though I will be desperate to and have been since the list was decided a week and a bit ago. Anyway here is the official word on it (my unofficial word will follow)…

The six shortlisted titles celebrating LGBT writing have been announced after hours of debates between the judges over an exceptionally strong longlist. Once again with a list including fiction; from debut novelists to well established literary faces, non-fiction; from investigations into the modern drugs world to a memoir of a mother’s illness, from Victorian London to Jamaica, the Green Carnation proves itself as one of the most diverse prizes.

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  • Sophie and the Sibyl – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • Chasing the Scream – Johann Hari (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James (OneWorld)
  • Mrs Engels – Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)

Chair of the judges for 2015, author Niven Govinden said of the shortlist “After a lively and robust debate, we’re proud to unveil our shortlist, which we feel represents the best of the best: books that excel and incite passion in the reader.”

Simon Heafield, Marketing Manager for the prize’s partner Foyles said “We’re very proud to play a part in promoting a shortlist of such quality. Indeed, most are books we’ve been actively promoting instore this year so we’re delighted that readers will again be given good reason to investigate them further.”

The Green Carnation Prize is a prize awarded to LGBT writers for any form of the written word, in any genre, including novels in translation. This year sees the second year of the prize’s partnership with Foyles bookshops. The partnership will see Foyles offer event space in their flagship store to host the award ceremony on Tuesday December the 8th 2015, with public events celebrating the prize to follow around the UK in 2016.

For more information please visit: www.greencarnationprize.com or www.foyles.co.uk

Back to me and my unofficial thoughts… I really like the list. Yes, there is a lack of women on the shortlist but as someone who was sat in the meeting watching (with slight glee) the judges having the nightmare of shortlisting, from a cracking longlist, the discussions went past genre, gender, race and was just about which of the final six books resonated and were the best of the best. I have no idea how they are going to choose the winner in a couple of weeks, poor things.

I have read three of them in full (without being a judge, obviously) and half of two of them and can see why it was so tough as they were corkers. I will be sharing my thoughts after the winner is announced at the start of December. In the interim, have you read any of these books and what did you make of them?

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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2015

The twelve strong longlist of titles celebrating LGBT writing have been announced after hours of debates between the judges over an exceptional list of submissions, the most the prize has seen in its history to date. Once again with a list including fiction; from debut novelists to well established literary faces, non-fiction; from poetry to investigations into the drugs world, the Green Carnation proves itself as one of the most diverse prizes. I would say all this (and I did as I wrote the press release) because as regular readers of the blog will know, I am one of the founders and now Honorary Directors of the Prize. What some of you might not know is I find out the longlist very last minute and this year (what with never being anywhere long in the last few weeks) I found out a while after the meeting. The list is a very strong one I think…

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  • Blood Relatives – Stevan Alcock (4th Estate)
  • Deep Lane – Mark Doty (Jonathan Cape)
  • Sophie and the Sibyl – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • Artwash: Big Oil and the Arts – Mel Evans (Pluto Press)
  • A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale (Tinder Press)
  • Chasing the Scream – Johann Hari (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James (Oneworld)
  • The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan (Harvill Secker)
  • Mrs Engels – Gavin McCrea (Scribe)
  • Stammered Songbook – Erwin Mortier (Pushkin Press)
  • Don’t Let Him Know – Sandip Roy (Bloomsbury)
  • The Curator – Jacques Strauss (Jonathan Cape)

To prove how out of the loop I am with the books, apart from the fact that I chase the submissions, I have only read five of the books and so have rather a lot of wonderful reads in the next month before the shortlist is announced on Thursday the 5th of November. I have shockingly only reviewed two of the five I have read, which I need to sort out sharpish. Yet at the moment book reviews seem like some elusive thing that I dream of doing, or sometimes have nightmares of people screaming down the phone at me for not doing, as I don’t seem to be able to find the time at the moment. But I will, I really will. anyway, you can find out more about the Green Carnation Prize and the longlist on the website.

Do I have any favourites? Were there any I was sad not to see make the list? Well, that would be telling. What I would love to know are your thoughts on the list and which of the books you have read and what you thought of those?

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Ten LGBT Books That You Might Not Have Read But Should…

I don’t normally think about doing posts especially around Pride, not because I am not proud – I’m out and happy about it, I never know if proud is the right word – but because I always think that co-founding a prize like The Green Carnation Prize (which celebrates LGBT writing) means that I promote LGBT stories and LGBT authors. However with the reissue of three Vintage Classics, which you can win here, then the amazing news in America yesterday it felt the time was write for me to share my top LGBT novels, until I realised I had done it before. Oops. I then thought about doing a list of ten contemporary books you might not have read but should until I saw that Eric of Lonesome Reader had already done one this morning. Drats! However once he gave his blessing for me to do the same I popped a list together and neither of us have a book or author in common. Interesting. Here are mine, if I have reviewed them I have linked them in the title so you can find out more…

With A Zero At Its Heart – Charles Lambert

A collection of snippet like stories which create the whole of a human life. Experimentally it wonderfully evokes the story of a (rather bookish) young man as he grows up, discovers he is gay, finds himself, travels, becomes a writer and then deals with the death of his parents and the nostalgia and questions that brings about the meaning of life and how we live it. You can read a full review here.

Grasshopper Jungle – Andrew Smith

Now if I told you that a book about an impending apocolypse caused by giant horny mutant grasshoppers could be one of the most touching stories I have read this year about friendship and love and the blurred (and often confusing) lines between the two, you would probably think that I was mad. This is how I felt last year when everyone, and I mean everyone, who had read Grasshopper Jungle in America raved about it to me and said I simply had to read it. I did and they were right. It had also lead me into more YA fiction which by the looks of it is where some of the most exciting and intellegent LGBT themed writing is coming from. You have to read this book. I have to post my review sooner than soon.

He Wants – Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s writing is so deft in so many ways it is hard to try and do it justice, or without spoiling any of the many delights, twists/surprises and ‘did I just actually read that then?’ moments which the novel has in store as we discover the ins and outs of widowed Lewis’ life. It is a story of the everyman and a story that, if you are anything like me, will leave you feeling completely uplifted and utterly devastated, all at once. It is a perfect example of the sort of book I want to be reading. I loved it and you can see my full review of it here, was one of my books of 2014.

Physical – Andrew McMillan

Slight cheat here because this collection of poetry is not actually out for another two weeks (my blog, my rules) however you might want to order or put a copy on hold now. McMillan has the power to titillate and disturb in each of the poems that he writes whilst also, in particular the middle section, constructing poems the like of which I have never seen or read before. It is playful and also perturbing, saucy and sensual aswell as being masculine and moving. I haven’t read or experienced anything quite so like it, or so frank about all the forms of male love.

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

The Borrower is a road trip tale started when which ten year old Ian and his local librarian Lucy accidentally kidnap each other. This book is not only a love story to the powers of books and a good story, it looks at friendship and also the scary reality of some of the extremist views in certain parts of America (where I bet they are seething today) and the movement of ‘straightening therapy’. Bonkers and brilliant, it is one of those books that you hug to yourself afterwards and also cleverly packs one hell of a punch over a subject that is current and we need to talk about more – find out more here.

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

In part the story of Ritwik a man who survives a horrendous childhood living on the breadline in Kalighat, India until his mother’s death when Ritwik moves to Oxford to find himself. Yet also a story of his elderly Oxford landlady Anne Cameron. As Ritwik experiments with his new found freedom and who he really is as a person he must also face is past and find a friend in Anne like he never expected, the story of their relationship is beautifully told. It is also a very vivid and, occasionally quite graphically, honest look at the life of some gay men in the early 1990’s – which as someone reminded me rudely today on the radio is over 20 years ago. I feel like I need to read this book again.

Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I could have chosen this or The Long Falling also by Ridgway as they are both exceptional. Is Hawthorn & Child a novel or is it a series of short stories, who cares when it is this good. One of the many stories that make up the book will stay with me forever, ‘How To Have Fun With A Fat Man’ manages to several clever things in just fewer than twenty pages. Firstly it’s three separate narratives; one is Hawthorn at a riot, the second Hawthorn cruising for sex in a gay sauna and the third a visit to Hawthorn’s father. The way Ridgway writes the riot and the sauna sequences in such a way that sometimes you can’t tell which is which and plays a very interesting game with so called acts of masculinity. Brilliance. A sexy, quirky, stunningly written book which should have won the Booker.

Mr Loverman – Bernadine Evaristo

Yes I too now have Shabba Ranks in my head. Back to the book though, the tale of Mr Barrington Jedediah Walker, Esq is one you are unlikely to forget, just like its protagonist. As his elderly years start to approach more and more Barrington decides it is time to leave his wife and follow his true heart which lies with his best friend Morris, much to the horror of his family and many people he knows. Evaristo writes a wonderful, funny and moving novel which gives a much missed voice in the literary scene and in the LGBT scene a change to be heard, understood and by the end celebrated. You have to read this book.

Sacred Country – Rose Tremain

Possibly the oldest out of this selection of books but one which I think addresses something that we need to be discussing more and seems to be missing in literature in general, unless it is just me… the transexual story. Tremain introduces us to Mary Ward, who has felt different from everyone all her childhood, as she realises that she should actually be a boy. We then follow her journey from the turbulence of her youth in Northern England to London where believes she will be able to live just as she was meant to, yet can she?

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

So with my last choice, I have slightly cheated again as this isn’t out in the UK for another month and a half (though if you’re in the US it has been out a while) yet this is probably a book I am going to urge everyone, no matter their sexuality/class/colour, that they have to read as not only is it one of the best books I have read on love and sexuality and friendship, but one of the best books I have ever read on what it means to be human. Seriously that good. I cannot praise it enough, it’s tough to read but so it should be. Will easily be one of my books of the year and very likely to be one of the best LGBT books I ever read. Yep, that good.

Now if you are wondering about my favourite LGBT books that I hinted at back at the start, well below is a video I made discussing them when I was flirting with the idea of being a booktuber. Have a gander as there are ten more tip top recommended books, even if I do say so myself.

If you need a list of the titles they were; 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 and Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin.

If that wasn’t enough, and as if there can ever be enough book recommendations, then do check out Eric’s blog post today (where I have gained ten new to me recommendations) and also the Green Carnation Prize website for all the previous long and shortlists. Oh and don’t forget you can win those Vintage Pride Classics here. Happy Pride and well done America! Love wins.

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

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

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

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

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

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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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The Year That Was & The Year That Will Be

I was asked just the other day, by Gavin as he returned for The Readers briefly, how my reading year had been in 2014? It was something I had been thinking about but had thought I might leave to one side, but then I thought sod it I will talk about it anyway as we d tend to have a bit of a think as one year ends and another year starts don’t we?

In no way was my reading year a bad one. I read some absolute corkers, as I shared with you the other day. I even read a book that will probably become one of my all time favourites. Yet I would say it was a year where I was slow cooked over a long period of time rather than completely set afire by in a great flambé. Do you know what I mean or have I been spending too much time with a chef?

You see in terms of reading, not to say anything against all the books that I read last year, I felt it was slightly mono and that maybe it all got a bit too obvious or something. Planned reading might have been part of the problem; with Hear Read This and You Wrote The Book plus two book clubs in the flesh I have been planning what I read rather than just by whim. I am working on this. That said, You Wrote The Book is one of the many things that shows where the highlights in my year and books were and that was going out and meeting lots of lovely booky people. I was thrilled to chat with so many authors over Skype, yet to sit in a room with Rose Tremain and interview her for 30 minutes and then sit and gossip for another 30 mins was AMAZING. Yet the three complete highlight moments (Rose was a firm number 4) of my booky year for me were these, which all focus around the relationships/friendships I have made through books…

  1. Getting to Meet Ann & Michael from Books on the Nightstand/Booktopia Asheville

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The day before I flew off to have my American Adventure (which consisted of Booktopia, a trip to Washington for a mini break and NYC for all sorts of stuff) one of my friends asked ‘Do you not think it’s weird that you are flying thousands of miles away to share a room with someone you know through their podcasts and some emails?’ My answer was instantly ‘No.’ And I was right, spending so much time with Ann and Michael (who was the best roomie you could ask for), whose podcast, Books on the Nightstand, I have listened to for years was an utter joy, the bonus on the fantastical booky baked cake was I also got to meet lots of other amazing readers who attended Booktopia too. I had always dreamed of going to Booktopia but hadn’t thought it would be possible, then it was! Surreal and brilliant. Oh and then there was hosting an event with Anthony Marra whose book I was obsessed with last year.

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Imagine a whole weekend of readers, podcasts hosts and authors all meeting together and spending the weekend discussing books and reading and just having a lovely laugh filled time… that is Booktopia. If only there were four podcasts hosts in the UK who did something like that here…

  1. Recording The Readers In Reality aka Spending Time with Thomas of My Porch

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Thomas and I have been commenting, well we used to, on each others blogs for years. Weirdly every time he came over to the UK I wasn’t in London, it wasn’t intentional I promise. Then we became podcast cohosts. So when I decided to go to the USA a stay at his (with the lovely John and Lucy) was a no brainer. We had the most wonderful few days ever. We went round all the Washington sites, we wanted round book shops buying lots of books, we laughed as we went and when we lounged by the pool. Recording the podcast live sort of became an afterthought. Thomas is like my big booky brother, and I mean that in THE nicest of ways.

  1. The Green Carnation Prize Announcement Party at Foyles

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This is probably the proudest booky moment I have had in quite some time. After managing to get the lovely folks at Foyles to partner in association with The Green Carnation Prize, which I cofounded a few years ago, we decided we would have a party when the winner announced. Initially this seemed light years away, initially I didn’t think I would have to give a speech in front of lots of publishers, authors, journalists and literary folk. Then suddenly I did and without sounding up my own bottom I was chuffed with myself, I couldn’t believe what I had quite accomplished for the love of books and for getting good books into peoples hands.

It is that point, the love of books and getting good books into peoples hands, which leads me onto this year but first I should discuss some of the highlights of my reading year before you think I didn’t love it. I liked it very much. 2014 might have been the year I blogged the least and read the least in quite some years but it was the year I rediscovered the short story and have had rather a love affair with it and also discovered Rose Tremain and of course these books and THAT book in particular. So for me that is a good reading year by any stretch of the imagination.

This year I have no blog or reading resolution or goal. Not a single one. My motto for the year is an anagram the Savidge family used a fair few moons ago when we made a cake for my great grandparents Doris and Arthur on one of their BIG wedding anniversaries with their names. It is ‘Sod it and Hurrar’. Excuse the spelling, there weren’t enough h’s, yet I think it captures the gist of what 2015 will be in all aspects of my life, including blogging and most importantly reading. I have set myself the lowest GoodReads challenge number ever, I have sworn off ‘official’ challenges and have said goodbye to freelance work (note – unless anyone wants me to judge a big book prize, ha or go on Radio 4 as thats a dream) in the book field for 12 months.

This year I just want to see where the books take me, be they new or old, fiction or not. Let’s see what happens.

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Green Carnations & Feeling A Little Proud…

On Friday night I was a bundle of nerves. I had been in London since Wednesday and had been seeing lots of friends and doing loads quite a bit of shopping and just having a break, yet the reason I was down in London was for the Green Carnation Prize Winning Announcement and Party. The bit I was feeling about was giving a speech all about the prize; especially in front of lots of authors, publicists, industry bods and some of my friends. Eek. But I did it…

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And as I did it started to hit me how much the prize had achieved in its five years, especially after the announcement that Anneliese Mackintosh had won. Huge congratulations to her. I had the pleasure of speaking to Anneliese afterwards, who was shaking from genuine shock that she had won (and possibly overdosing on Night Nurse, the poor love) and who said a big thank you. Initially I said ‘ooh don’t thank me, it’s the judges who chose it’ (who did an amazing job) and Anneliese replied ‘but thank you for setting it up’. I have to admit I felt a bit emotional, and I hadn’t even won.

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I then got very quite drunk and as I was talking to people it seemed to finally click how far it had all come. I was in a room with all these people who were saying what a great long and shortlist it has had over the past few years, how pleased they were about the partnership with Foyles and that it was becoming a prize that they could trust would throw them great reads. By the end of the night I was a beaming mess of happiness, which is a nice feeling to have.

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So now Any Other Mouth and Anneliese Mackintosh join the Green Carnation Prize winning family along with Andrew Solomon, Patrick Gale, Andre Carl Van Der Merwe, Catherine Hall and Chrisopher Fowler! So that is all your Christmas stocking lists sorted for this year – oh along with this years corking shortlist. Have you read any of the Green Carnation Prize winners, short listers or long listers and if so what did you think?

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Foyles & The Green Carnation Partner Up… Hoorah!

I have been sat on this news ever since January, so it might be a bit squished, and been bursting to tell anyone and everyone… The Green Carnation Prize has now partnered up with Foyles bookshops, for the next two years! I am honestly so thrilled that anytime someone has asked me what the latest is with the Green Carnation, or indeed if it is happening this year, I have had to just demurely (a hard look for me to carry off) say that it will be coming back the final details just being decided. Well the cat is out the bag now and I am so excited about what Foyles and I have planned for the prize it makes me go dizzy! Anyway in case I haven’t said it I am thrilled that Foyles are on board and believe in the prize and LGBT writing as much as I do! Hoorah all round! Here is all the news in full…

Foyles, National Bookseller of the Year 2013 and 2012, has today, Thursday 5th June, announced its two year partnership with the Green Carnation Prize for writing…

The Green Carnation Prize is a prize awarded to LGBT writers for any form of the written word, and has a reputation of championing LGBT writers from the UK. This year will see the growth of the prize, to encompass works of translation, which only can be encouraged by a partnership with Foyles. The partnership will see Foyles offer event space in their new flagship shop to host the award ceremony and public events celebrating the prize, with Simon Heafield Communications Manager at Foyles on the judging panel, the full line up of judges will be announced next week. On joining the panel and the prize Simon Heafield said:

“As a bookshop Foyles is very committed to showcasing the wonderfully diverse world of literature, we’re proud to be supporting the Green Carnation Prize. In its short history, the Prize has already established itself as a dependable marque of quality, bringing new readers to books that really deserve to be more widely known. Among the many literary prizes that have done little to move with the times, the Green Carnation stands out as one destined to become one of the highlights of the literary calendar.”

Simon Savidge, Honorary Director and co-founder of the Green Carnation said: “I am beyond delighted that the Green Carnation Prize is to be in association with Foyles in 2014 and 2015 bringing you the best LGBT writing published in the UK. Both parties have a clear vision to bring readers the best published LGBT writing available in the UK both in print and in person, with some great events celebrating long listed authors and winners past and future plus LGBT’s literary history which is sometimes forgotten, it is a very exciting time for the prize.”

For more information please visit: www.foyles.co.uk or www.greencarnationprize.com

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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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