So, this was a surprise – joint winners of The Booker Prizer 2019. The organisers might have been shocked, but I think a lot of people have welcomed the decision of the judges to flout the rules and award the prize jointly to Margaret Atwood for The Testaments and Bernadine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other. Seeing the way the two authors have responded to the decision is no less than inspiring: visibly supporting one another, plus Margaret Atwood is gifting her share of the prize money (£25,000) to the Canadian Indigenous charity, Indspire, which invests in the education of Indigenous people.
I’m rather shocked that the Booker organisers are apparently so angry about the judges’ decision that they are threatening to withhold their fees. That seems very small-minded.
Who could not be pleased to see the warmth between Atwood and Evaristo? I’m looking forward to reading both their books.
For the past two years I’ve taken a close interest in The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize. In 2018 I decided to read all six books on the shortlist and was invited to be a member of the judging panel. There are five votes that decide the winner: two go to the book which wins the public vote and the three members of the judging panel have one each. So if just one member of the judging panel goes with the public’s choice, that book is the winner. (You can read more about the longlisting and shortlisting processes and the full rules on the link.)
Both last year and again this year (with a different judging panel) the prize has gone to a book which was not only not the public’s favourite but actually received few votes in that process. Both times that has provoked some people to cry ‘Foul!’ and curses upon the heads of the judges, who have been called an elite (and worse things which get deleted from The Guardian’s website).
I know from my personal experience that last year the final voting process was fair. There was no discussion between the judges prior to the judging meeting. I have no reason to think things were different this year.
Whether or not there are lobbies for particular books that influence the public voting, one thing is for sure: no-one taking part in the public vote has to have read any book on the shortlist other than the one they are voting for, or give more than a few lines of review about their chosen book. To be on the panel you must have read at least three of the six and commented on them in some detail during the weeks leading up to the vote. In practice panel members will have read most if not all of the six.
The debate has little to do with the value of the prize (a Guardian mug – though of course it is something for the winning writer’s CV). It is more about how people see their opinions being regarded or disregarded, and about how some will hold to the belief so brilliantly delineated in Orwell’s Animal Farm that ‘all animals are equal but some are more equal than others’, whether or not it is really so.
The 2019 Not the Booker prize was won by Lara Williams for her debut novel Supper Club.
Coming soon: Thoughts about The Booker Prize – and the return of the Friday story…
As I said in my last post, I’ve been working on edits of my second novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, which will be published by Louise Walters Books in September 2020. You can read an extract of it here.
The editing process has been a very positive and fruitful one. It’s been great to work with an editor who is thoughtful and thorough, and Louise and I have sent edits back and forth several times to get to the point where we’re both happy to send the book off for copy editing. Louise has challenged me on sections where I’ve been a bit too much in love with my own writing and I’ve had to murder a few of my darlings. I’ve also had to work to make some parts clearer – a writer may see something in her/his own mind, but we have to make sure we’ve conveyed it to the reader. But on the other hand Louise has also been sympathetic to my wish to retain certain things, so long as I’ve been able to justify their inclusion. All in all, I’m sure the process has made the book a better one, and for that I’m very grateful.
And, excitingly, we’ve secured the rights to include the lyrics of a song which is very pertinent to the story.
There’s a way to go, but we’re well on the road to publication.
Here’s a selfie of me in my garden room, a haven for writing.
Coming soon: My thoughts about the shortlist for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.
May was mainly about Italy and flash fiction, retreating in the idyllic (but rather cold and wet!) setting of Casperia in the Sabine Hills north of Rome, in the company of ace tutors Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman and an inspiring group of fellow writers. Lots started there that will surely bear fruit in the future. And at the end of the week we got to read our work in a bookshop in Rome!Reading in the Otherwise Bookshop, photo courtesy of Jayne Martin
June went by in a flurry of visits to Hay to hear writers many and various speaking, London – where I met up with my publisher number 2 Louise Walters and her team at a book launch for Laura’s Laakso‘s Fallible Justice, and Bristol for more flash fiction and meet-ups with writing friends at the 2019 Flash Fiction Festival.
July has been about edits for novella number 2 and reading, lots of reading. As one of the team of judges for the Not the Booker prize last year, I get to help select one of the shortlist for this year’s prize. Our choice will be revealed very soon!
I love the spring, with its fresh greens, and bluebells and the may (hawthorn) trees coming into flower. I’m getting out into the hills as often as possible now, training for a sponsored trek on Hadrian’s Wall! And walking is always a great way to refresh the brain and inspire writing.
I’ve had lots of writerly good fortune these past few weeks, with both my second novella AND my collection of short stories signed. So, all being well, I will achieve my ambition to have three books published by the time I’m 70! And The Plankton Collector got a special mention in the Saboteur Awards Novella category this year.
I’m so delighted that Retreat West Books are going to be publishing The Garden of Earthly Delights, my short story collection inspired by the paintings and drawing of Hieronymus Bosch. They’re a publisher with a great environmental ethic. And on the shortlist for the Saboteur Awards in the Most Innovative Publisher category. Voting is open until 12th May.
I’m also very excited to be going to Italy next week, to write flash fiction in a group being led by Kathy Fish and Nancy Stohlman. Hoping for wine and sunshine too!! Report at the end of the month!