TagFiction Uncovered

Fiction Uncovered 2015

Last Thursday, the winners of this year’s Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize were announced:

  • The Incarnations by Susan Barker (Doubleday)
  • The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies (Salt)
  • Significance by Jo Mazelis (Seren)
  • The Offering by Grace McCleen (Sceptre)
  • Mother Island by Bethan Roberts (Chatto & Windus)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth (Canongate)
  • Mobile Library by David Whitehouse (Picador)

It’s an interesting selection: I’ve reviewed a couple (linked above) and will be checking out a few others.

In addition, the Fiction Uncovered website is again hosting a series of articles by guest editors (like the columns I wrote last year). Naomi from The Writes of  Woman was this year’s first guest editor; currently it’s Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words. Go and have a look.

 

New Fiction Uncovered column: The Language of Fiction

This is it: my fourth and final column as guest editor of Fiction Uncovered. For this article, I decided to write about how tone and style can shape the world of a piece of fiction. I think it’s all to easy to overlook language and prose when reading and thinking about fiction (certainly I’ve overlooked them in the past) – when, actually, they’re fundamental to what fiction is. So I’ve chosen four novels with a distinctive use of style, and looked at what they do and how.

The new column is here, and you can find all of my reviews and columns for Fiction Uncovered here. And, if you want to read more from me on the books mentioned in the column, step this way:

Finally, I’d like to thank Fiction Uncovered for inviting me to be guest editor, and for hosting me this last month. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I can only hope that others have found my columns interesting, and maybe even discovered a few new books that they’d like to read.

New Fiction Uncovered column: three Welsh novels in translation

For my third Fiction Uncovered guest column, I wanted to write about fiction in translation. I’ve reviewed three novels translated from Welsh, each of which won the Wales Book of the Year award:

  • Martha, Jack & Shanco by Caryl Lewis (translated by Gwen Davies)
  • The Life of Rebecca Jones by Angharad Price (translated by Lloyd Jones)
  • Faith, Hope & Love by Llwyd Owen (translated by the author)

I didn’t really have a greater rationale for choosing those specific books, but actually I think they fit together quite well as a set of novels that deal with the effect of place on character. And they’re all worth reading in their own right.

You can read my new column here, and find links to the previous ones here.

New Fiction Uncovered column: ten short story writers

My second guest column for Fiction Uncovered is now live. I want to cover my main reading interests in these columns, so this one is a celebration of short stories. It’s a list of ten recommended contemporary British short story writers. It’s not a ‘top ten’ as such, because of course there are more than ten authors whom I could have included – and I’d love to hear about your favourite short story writers in the comments.

Further reading

Here are links to my reviews of some of the stories and books mentioned in the column:

The Silver Wind by Nina Allan
Ten Stories About Smoking by Stuart Evers
‘Butcher’s Perfume’ by Sarah Hall
The Rental Heart and Other Fairytales by Kirsty Logan
The Stone Thrower by Adam Marek
This Isn’t the Sort of Thing that Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor
Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi
Leading the Dance by Sarah Salway
Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical and Everyone’s Just So So Special by Robert Shearman
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood

Keep up to date with my Fiction Uncovered columns here.

Open thread: the books that changed you

Following on from my Fiction Uncovered article about  how I’ve changed as a reader in recent years, I thought I would open the subject to you. Please leave a comment and tell me about a book that changed the way you read. Is there a book that put you on to a different kind of (non-)fiction? One that you returned to after abandoning and that suddenly ‘clicked’? Something else? Let me know!

Fiction Uncovered Guest Editor

This year, Fiction Uncovered have been inviting various people to act as Guest Editor of the site, each posting four opinion pieces over the course of a month. So far, the Guest Editors have been my fellow book blogger Simon Savidge; my fellow Desmond Elliott shadow juror Kaite Welsh; and the journalist Anita Sethi. I’m excited to announce that this month, it’s my turn.

My brief for the four columns was fairly open, apart from that they should have a British focus (which I’ve mostly stuck to, with a tiny bit of fudging). I won’t reveal exactly what my pieces are about just yet, but I will say that I’ve aimed to cover my main reading interests  in them. I’ve also created a page on the blog where I will linking to the columns as they appear.

The first column is up now. It’s called ‘Uncovering the Reader‘, and is about how we change as readers – how, sometimes, you don’t appreciate a book unless you read it at the right time. I use my own experience as an example, talking about some of the ‘milestone’ books where I think I changed as a reader.

Further reading

If you’re interested, here are some links to where I’ve written more about the books mentioned in the column:

 

 

Fiction Uncovered 2014

This year’s list for Fiction Uncovered (now the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize has been announced. The judges – writer Matt Haig; journalist Arifa Akbar; Greg Eden of Waterstones; Sam Jordison of Galley Beggar Press; and Julia Wharton of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation – selected eight novels by established British writers. I had a preview of the winning titles, and have read most of them; so let me give you a run-down…

Ben Brooks, Lolito (Canongate)

Lolito

We start with one of the two books I haven’t read. Ben Brooks is the youngest author on the list, at age 22. Lolito is the story of a teenage boy who goes to meet in reali life an older woman whom he first encountered online.

Bernardine Evaristo, Mr Loverman (Penguin)

Mr Loverman

The tale of septuagenarian Barrington Walker, who’s in a secret relationship with his old friend Maurice. I reviewed Mr Loverman on the blog last year.

Lesley Glaister, Little Egypt (Salt)

Little Egypt

I reviewed an earlier book of Lesley Glaister‘s, Nina Todd Has Gone, for Laura Hird’s website back in 2009 (you can read the review here via the Wayback Machine). Little Egypt concerns the secrets of two Egyptologists and their children; I’ve reviewed it for the Fiction Uncovered website.

Cynan Jones, The Dig (Granta)

The Dig

I’ve previously reviewed Cynan Jones’s novel Everything I Found on the Beach; like that book, The Dig is a short, stark character study. It focuses principally on two characters: Daniel, a sheep farmer somewhere in Wales, who’s trying to cope with the loss of his partner; and “the big man”, who clears farms of rats and tops up his income with badger-baiting.

The Dig is an intensely physical and visceral book. Daniel is preoccupied with the processes of his farm; there’s a sense throughout that this is a kind of ritualistic displacement activity. The big man carries on his badger digging in the knowledge that he’s only a step or two ahead of the police. Jones describes the activities of both men in vivid detail, because that is what’s important to his characters. The resulting novel is unflinching and powerful.

Gareth R. Roberts, Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? (The Friday Project)

Billy Parks

Appropriately enough for the season, Gareth Roberts’s second novel is about football. Billy Parks was a star player left on the bench when England failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1973. Forty years on, he’s an alcoholic (though he won’t admit that to himself), estranged from his daughter, and getting by on tales of his glory days. But now Billy finds out that “the Service” has given Alf Ramsey and his colleagues on the Council of Football Immortals the chance to relive ten minutes of that fateful match. Sir Alf will be able to choose someone else to go on the pitch; that could be Billy, if he can pull himself together long enough to prove his worth.

I have to say: I’m not a great fan of football, but I really enjoyed this book all the same. I don’t need to like football to engage with a novel about it; I just need the novel to make me understand what it means to the characters, and Roberts absolutely does that. For the young Billy Parks, playing football is the thing that comes naturally to him, the thing that can help him transcend his circumstances; time and again in the novel, we feel how vital this is.

I was expecting Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? to be mostly a romp, and it does have its fair share of amusing moments. But it’s also bittersweet, with a real gravitas: Billy never really appreciates how deeply his father was scarred by his experiences building railways in Burma, nor how much his mother depended on him. It’s the cutting reality of Billy’s personal life, set against the headiness of his success on the pitch, that gives Roberts’s novel its power.

Naomi Wood, Mrs. Hemingway (Picador)

Mrs Hemingway

I’ve already reviewed Naomi Wood‘s novel about Hemingway’s wives, here. It’s still one of the highlights of my reading year so far.

Gerard Woodward, Vanishing (Picador)

Vanishing

This is another one I haven’t read, but I gather that its protagonist is an artist and camouflage officer in World War Two – and an unreliable narrator.

Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing (Jonathan Cape)

Finally, one of my favourite books from last year, the tale of a woman who;s run away from the past only to find that the present may be under threat.

Shiny New Books and Jam

First of all, I need to tell you about a new book recommendation site: Shiny New Books. It’s the brainchild of four UK book bloggers (Annabel, Victoria, Simon, and Harriet), and features original and reprint reviews by contributors from all corners of the blogosphere. I’m in the first issue, with a revised version of my piece on Ray Robinson’s Jawbone Lake (think of this as the Director’s Cut of the original review). Have a look around the rest of SNB; there’s some great stuff on there, and I hope the site will go from strength to strength.

***

In another corner of the web, Fiction Uncovered (now the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize) is gearing up for another year, and I’ve reviewed for them the new novel by a Fiction Uncovered alumnus. Here are my thoughts on Jam by Jake Wallis Simons…

JamJake Wallis Simons appeared on the first Fiction Uncovered list in 2011 for The English German Girl, his novel about a girl sent to England on the Kindertransport in the 1930s. Following a thriller (2012’s The Pure, written as Jake Simons), the author returns with Jam, a novel which follows a varied cast as they experience one of modern life’s nuisances: being stuck in traffic.

Structurally, Jam resembles a disaster novel, insofar as it moves between the perspectives of multiple characters all affected by the same event – though here the event is not the end of the world, but a traffic jam on the M25; and Wallis Simons is less interested in the jam itself than in how his characters are changed by encountering each other. We begin with Ursula and Max, a couple not quite as firmly in love as they once were, and particularly concerned right now with letting their friends (whose daughter they’re bringing home) know about the delay. With no phone signal, Max heads out to find someone who will let him make a call; he gets talking to Jim, a supermarket delivery driver who makes clear that he can’t give away the stock in his van – though he does have some crisps in the front, if Max wants some. Other characters see what’s going on, and Jim’s van becomes the locus of attention, not all of it welcome.

To an extent, the traffic jam works as a metaphor for the characters’ life situations. Many of them feel stuck in some way – like Shauna, who’s looking for her dream man; or young Shahid, who rues his messed-up trial for Chelsea – and the night’s events enable at least some of them to move on. The way Wallis Simons orchestrates this is perhaps his novel’s key strength: some characters make a central contribution to events, others are peripheral; but all take their place as significant parts of the whole. By the end of Jam, we’ve seen a slice of life: some people win, some lose; one individual may be changed forever, while another just carries on as before. The vehicles start to move again, and those circumstances that brought everyone together become lost in the flow; but Wallis Simons has shown how extraordinary a mundane situation can be to those caught up in it.

(Original review.)

Awards news

Here’s a round-up of some literary award winners, shortlists and other bits and pieces…

Costa Book Awards

The category winners were announced this week:

  • Novel: Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
  • First Novel: The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer (HarperCollins)
  • Biography: The Pike by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (Fourth Estate)
  • Poetry: Drysalter by Michael Symmons Roberts (Jonathan Cape)
  • Children’s Book: Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse by Chris Riddell (Macmillan)

The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday 28 January. There’s also a Short Story Award, which is voted for by the public. You can read (or listen) to the shortlisted stories and vote here.

Transmission Prize

A prize for the communication of ideas, organised by Salon London. (The descriptions of the nominees here are taken from the prize’s website.)

  • Olivia Laing for her exploration of what drives writers to drink, in her psycho-geographic journey across the USA.
  • Professor David Nutt for giving us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the absolute truth about drugs.
  • John McHugo who, based on decades of experience, has created an understandable, and concise history of the Arab world.
  • Biologist Aarathi Prasad showed us how biology is redefining the rules of sex, and predicted the end of men.
  • Lloyd Bradley for piecing together 100 years of black music in the capital and giving us his sounds of London.
  • Perfumer and writer Sarah McCartney showed us how we can move both in time and our own experience through smell.
  • Barbara Sahakian who explored the ethical and moral questions surrounding neuro-cognitive enhancers, aka smart drugs.
  • Epigeneticist Tim Spector who showed us how we can change our genes, both those we inherit and those we pass on.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 6 February.

BSFA Awards

BSFA members can nominate works for this years awards until next Tuesday, 14 January.

Fiction Uncovered

Not strictly an award, but does a valuable job all the same of recognising writers who may otherwise be overlooked. It was announced today that Fiction Uncovered has received funding for another two years, with 2014’s list of titles to be announced in June. I look forward to seeing what’s on there!

Fiction Uncovered 2013

Now in its third year, Fiction Uncovered is an initiative aimed at bringing the work of established (but not necessarily widely-known) British writers to the attention of a wider audience. A changing panel of judges curates a list of eight books published in the previous twelve months: this year’s panel  comprised the writer Louise Doughty (chair of judges); dovegreyreader herself, Lynne Hatwell; Sandy Mahal of the Reading Agency charity; and the writer Courttia Newland.

I have written for Fiction Uncovered occasionally, and this year was lucky enough to have a preview of the list (which is announced today), so I’ve been catching up on the titles I’d not previously read. Here are the judges’ selections for Fiction Uncovered 2013:

Lucy Caldwell, All the Beggars Riding (Faber & Faber)

Lara Moorhouse looks back on her childhood; how her parents met; and the legacy of her father, a plastic surgeon who had another life and family in Belfast and died during the Troubles. Caldwell’s novel strikes me very much as a book about memory, writing, and the difficulties of capturing the past. Just as her father would rebuild faces, so Lara tries to reconstruct a version of the past that rings true for her – and it’s not until the final pages that we discover just how much work Lara has had to undertake.

Anthony Cartwright, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher (Tindal Street Press)

This is the story of Sean Bull, who grows up in a staunch Labour family in Dudley, and is nine years old in 1979 when he sees his grandfather thump Uncle Eric for voting Tory. We then follow Sean as he grows up through the ‘80s, witnessing the decline of the manufacturing community around him, and the effects on his family. He knows that Margaret Thatcher is involved in all this somehow, but as a child he can’t really comprehend what is happening. Cartwright paints an effective portrait of a time and place, and of a character trying to deal with circumstances far beyond his control.

Niven Govinden, Black Bread White Beer (The Friday Project)

Amal and Claud are a thirtysomething couple on their way to her parents’ house in Sussex; what nobody down there knows yet is that Claud has suffered a miscarriage. Black Bread White Beer stands out for me because of the precision with which Govinden depicts the couple’s relationship. It seems that Amal has never quite felt comfortable in the role of Claud’s husband – they come from dissimilar backgrounds (not just that his family is Indian and hers from rural England; the two families also have rather different outlooks and values), and Amal feels in some ways that Claud is simply better than him. There’s a sense that the baby was going to be what would finally cement the pair’s relationship, and now they need to rediscover what brought them together. By novel’s end, they may just be on the way to doing that.

Nikita Lalwani, The Village (Viking)

An Anglo-Indian documentary maker goes to film at an open prison in India, and finds her sense of ethics tested. Previously reviewed by me here.

Nell Leyshon, The Colour of Milk (Fig Tree)

In 1830, a farm girl is sent to work at the local vicarage… and you’ll have to read the rest of this short, intense novel to discover what happens. Previously reviewed by me here.

James Meek, The Heart Broke In (Canongate)

A big, sprawling novel which revolves around three characters: Ritchie Shepherd, a television presenter who’s been sleeping around; his sister Bec, a successful scientist who’s just broken up with a newspaper editor; and Alex Comrie, the drummer in Ritchie’s old band, now a cancer specialist, who embarks on a relationship with Bec. Meek traces the moral issues of these characters’ personal and professional lives, as that spurned newsman threatens to reveal their secrets.

Amy Sackville, Orkney (Granta)

Sackville’s debut, The Still Point, was one of my favourite reads of 2010; this follow-up shares its sharp focus on relationships and nature. Richard, a sixty-year-old literature professor, is on honeymoon in Orkney; his (unnamed) new bride was one of his students, mysterious and beautiful, drawn to the sea even though she can’t swim. Our thoughts may lead naturally to a particular interpretation of who (or what) Richard’s wife is; but Sackville does not permit such a straightforward reading. There’s a tension over how far Richard’s descriptions of his partner are her true nature, and how far they are his projections from within his literary frame of reference; the dynamic of the couple’s relationship then shifts over the course of the novel. Add to this a fine sense of place, and you have a highly intriguing read.

Rupert Thomson, Secrecy (Granta)

In 1691, the artist Gaetano  Zummo (a genuine historical figure, notable for his realistic wax figures) arrives in Florence to undertake a commission for the Grand Duke of Tuscany – to create a life-size statue of Venus. Zummo hears whispers of what may be a plot against him; falls in love with a young woman named Faustina who is not all she seems; and uses as his model for the statue the body of another young woman found in the river, apparently murdered. Thomson presents Florence as a maze of secrets and stories, as it seems almost everyone has a tale to tell and something to hide.

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