More thoughts about literary prizes: The Booker

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.

Booker prize winners 2019

 

 

 

Coming soon: The return of the Friday story

 

 

 

Some thoughts about literary prizes/ The Not the Booker Prize

Not the Booker shortlist 2019
The Not the Booker shortlist 2019

 

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…

Editing

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.

 

Selfie in the garden room

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.

Guest post: by author Nadya A.R.

In the first of a series of occasional guest posts, I welcome author Nadya A.R., to tell us about her novel Invisible Ties, and in particular why labels fail to do justice to the complex reality of women in the sub-continent.

WHY I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH LABELS!!!

Nadya A.R.

I am a writer, psychotherapist and motivational speaker. My latest novel, Invisible Ties, has been published by Rupa publications in August 2017. In Invisible Ties my protagonist, a well-educated woman in her early twenties, Noor Kamal, faces the overbearing pressure of marriage and succumbs to an arranged proposal, engineered by her shrewd, worldly wise Aunty Lily, who lives in Malaysia. An eligible, Pakistani banker, Meekaal Kalim, living in Singapore views her picture in her Aunt’s plush home in Kuala Lumpur and expresses his interest in marrying her. Noor’s intelligent father scoffs at this seemingly bizarre proposal, while her materialistic and socially competitive mother feels as if she has won a huge lottery.

Noor is definitely not the stereotypical, oppressed Eastern woman. Neither can she be described as a kickass nor as a badass heroine- terms which are now the flavour of today. Her reality is complex and evolving, very similar to what is happening in South Asia and to women in our modern world. Noor’s circumstances of agreeing to this marriage are unique and drastic, and though she perceives herself as ‘different’, she finds herself cast in the same mould as many women around her.

While grappling with the disturbing fact that her husband is a cold stranger in a foreign land, Noor is well-aware that she was given a one-way ticket by her parents. She is expected to make her marriage work regardless of the circumstances, which is the message that many parents give to their daughters, even in this day and age. However, there is that spark in Noor, regardless of the stifling pressures of an out-dated society, which lies dormant within her. Enjoying the new sights and ways of Singapore, and by opening herself to the narratives of others around her, Noor starts questioning and then challenging the norms which undermine her individuality and most important, her happiness.

Like many South Asian women living in the West, and those surviving and strong in their native, nurturing environment, Noor learns how to balance and juggle the traditions and values, which are perhaps more than a part of her and define her sense of self. Though she holds them and the wishes of her parents in high regard, her identity is no longer determined by the significant others and people around her.

The most important aspect of her journey is how she ventures out of her comfort zone, in her case the close and compact, South Asian community, and seeks out people who don’t identify with her philosophy on love and life. In the process, she is overwhelmed and utterly confused between the right and wrong, which again is dispersed in shades of grey around her. Until, she learns to live with the discomfort and those emotional ties, which now have a different meaning in her life. Her evolution reflects the change that we experience to become stronger, and as we stumble, fall and then rise as women to take charge of our lives.

UK readers can buy Nadya’s novel Invisible Ties here.

Nadya A R

Author Nadya A.R.

Reflections on writing (No 1 in an occasional series)

Like all writers, I read as much as I can. I do this primarily for enjoyment rather than as an academic exercise, but of course it informs my own writing.

As I embark on a year’s mentoring I’m learning more about so-called ‘rules’ of writing, or at least recommendations. One of these is that dialogue is good. It breaks up the text, makes it easier to read. I’m a (fairly) diligent student and I’m currently sowing dialogue through the short stories I’m writing.

Another recommendation is to use the active voice. Passivity distances the reader. Yes, I’ve bought into that one.

Don’t jump from one point of view to another. Very confusing for the reader. Okay, must bear that in mind.

I am greatly encouraged when I read other people’s work which breaks these ‘rules’. I’ve just devoured Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 (2017). I have followed Jon McGregor’s work since his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002). This book became a success by word of mouth. Since then McGregor has gone on to become ‘a prize-winning author’. I put that phrase in inverted commas because, affirming as that may be, it’s just one thing about him, not for me a defining characteristic.

After I’d finished the book I looked up some one-star reviews, curious to know why anyone would not love this book as much as I did. Criticisms include it being boring, that nothing happens, difficulty of keeping track of multiple characters and, interestingly, lack of dialogue and the use of the passive voice. I think the problem is that people have certain expectations of a book, instead of reading it on its own terms. A cursory glance at the blurb on the back will tell you that this is not a conventional murder mystery story.

The comment that ‘Anyone could write a book like this’ is, frankly, crass. If one day I can write something that is halfway as compelling as Reservoir 13 I will be a very happy person. I’ll never write in the same way as Jon McGregor and neither do I want to do so. I want to use my own voice, and while I will think about writing ‘rules’, I will also feel free to break them.