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The Rathbones Folio Prize 2018

A photograph of the book spines of the Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist with the prize logo added to the top of the image

The Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist has been announced (27th March) and the winner will awarded on 8th May. Here you’ll find the relevant information followed by my thoughts.

Now in its fourth year, the Prize was sponsored by The Folio Society for its first two years in 2014 and 2015, then Rathbone Investment Management Ltd took over at the tail end of 2016 for a May 2017 beginning. It was when Rathbone came on board that the prize expanded to include all types of literature – poetry, and non-fiction, among others. The prize was founded to praise literary fiction, which the founders saw being pushed aside by the Man Booker. Margaret Atwood is recorded as saying the prize is, “much needed in a world in which money is increasingly becoming the measure of all things”.

This year’s judges are Jim Crace, Nikesh Shukla and Kate Summerscale. There is a jury consisting of 250 writers and critics, that take part; the judges are selected from this. Books are nominated by the jury. Last year’s winner was Hisham Matar’s The Return.

This year the eight books shortlisted are, with blurbs:

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Elizabeth Strout: Anything Is Possible (Penguin) – This book explores the whole range of human emotion through the intimate dramas of people struggling to understand themselves and others. It tells the story of the inhabitants of rural, dusty Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, a successful New York writer who finally returns, after seventeen years of absence, to visit the siblings she left behind.

Sally Rooney: Conversations With Friends (Faber & Faber) – Frances, Bobbi, Nick and Melissa ask each other endless questions. In person and online, they discuss sex and friendship, art and literature, politics and gender, and, of course, one another. At the heart of it all is twenty-one year-old Frances, bringing us this tale of a complex ménage-à-quatre and her affair with Nick, an older married man.

Mohsin Hamid: Exit West (Hamish Hamilton) – In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace – or at least not yet openly at war – two young people notice one another. They share a cup of coffee, a smile, an evening meal. They try not to hear the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the public executions.

Richard Lloyd Parry: Ghosts Of The Tsunami (Jonathan Cape) – On 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake sent a 120-foot-high tsunami smashing into the coast of north-east Japan, causing the deaths of over 18,500 people. Even after the immediate emergency had abated, the trauma of the disaster continued to express itself in bizarre and mysterious ways. Parry, an award-winning foreign correspondent, lived through the earthquake in Tokyo, and spent six years reporting from the disaster zone.

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Xiaolu Guo: Once Upon A Time In The East (Chatto & Windus) – When Xiaolu Guo was born in 1973, her parents handed her over to a childless, peasant couple, in the mountains. Aged two, and suffering from malnutrition, they left her with her illiterate grandparents in a fishing village on the East China Sea. The book takes Xiaolu from a run-down shack, to film school in a rapidly changing Beijing, to a scholarship in Britain.

Jon McGregor: Reservoir 13 (Fourth Estate) – In the hills at the heart of England a teenage girl has gone missing. The villagers join the search, police set up roadblocks, and a crowd of news reporters descends. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.

Richard Beard: The Day That Went Missing (Vintage) – On a family summer holiday in Cornwall in 1978, Nicholas and his brother Richard are jumping in the waves. Suddenly, Nicky is out of his depth. He isn’t, and then he is. He drowns. Incredibly, the family soon stop speaking of the catastrophe, an epic act of collective denial which writes Nicky out of the family memory. Nearly forty years later, Richard Beard is haunted by the missing grief of his childhood.

Hari Kunzru: White Tears (Penguin) – New Yorkers Carter and Seth chop up old music to make it new again, ripping off black culture to line white pockets. But one day they stumble on an old blues song – an undiscovered gem – and land themselves in a heap of trouble.

I have been considering Guo’s memoir for a while, and have Rooney’s book on my shelves. When I went to look in Southampton’s library system to see about creating a library display for the one I go to, few of the books were available – this fact, whether intentionally coinciding with the award of not, highlighted how popular the books are. I keep finding my way back to the collection of Strout’s books; it’s one of those situations where it feels like everyone but you has read the author, and so many have recommended her. Having not read any of them yet I’ve no predictions but you can bet I’ll be reading at least some of them soon.

Have you read any of the shortlisted books, or other books by the authors? Do you have any predictions as to who will win?

July’s Curious Arts Festival

A photograph of Pylewell Park

Photography: images one and three copyright © James Gillam; second photograph copyright © Richard Hanson/

Summer 2016 – the heat was sweltering for a couple of days until the wind started. It was a very strange weekend in terms of weather, two days of basking in the sun and the next you were looking for a puffy jacket, but it was a fantastic few days that made for some great memories, and lead to the discovery of a few now favourite books.

The festival takes place in the grounds of Pylewell Park in the New Forest. Now in its fifth year, 2018’s dates are Friday 20th – Sunday 22nd July. The line-up is better than ever.

On the music side a big announcement recently made – John Newman will be playing a concert on the Saturday evening. And TV choir master Gareth Malone will be hosting a stunning Sunday evening featuring various pieces from his time as a choirmaster in The Choir and Military Wives.

A photograph of an audience clapping

In books and poetry, Lemn Sissay heads the line up, and Matt Haig, Kate Mosse, and Rupert Thomson will be in attendance; the latter was in conversion at Curious in 2016.

The comedy line-up is yet to be announced. (Last year saw Ed Byrne and Paul Tomkinson, and Zoe Lyons attended in 2016.) There is also always a lot of events for children.

Two whole days of events in one area where you can come and go as you please, and a well designed Friday late afternoon and evening that seems all day in itself. For what is available the price is very good. Early Bird Tickets Weekend Tickets are £103, with the full price Weekend Tickets set at £128. Family tickets can be purchased for between £191-279, depending on when you book them. Tickets for children are £23 for the whole weekend and under 5s are free.

The ticket prices include camping costs – you can park your camper van or pitch your tent at the campsite which reaches from just beyond the estate’s garden wall to the river’s edge. Your trip from bed to breakfast in the morning is between 30 seconds and a few minutes. If you’d rather your accommodation is set up for you you can glamp in a luxury bell tent or hire a VW camper.

A photograph of people eating at a dining table on the lawn

Food on site provides all three meals of the day. Companies currently confirmed include Cheeky Burger, The Green Grill (vegan options), Pad + Sen for your noodle fix, Juma for Iraqi street food, Savage – sea food, and Purbeck Ice Cream. There will be a couple of coffee companies in tow.

And the cherry on top? You can bring the dog.

For full details, tickets, and T&Cs please see the Curious Arts website.

Do you have plans for the summer?

Christmas 2017

A photograph of flowers from a Christmas wreath

I’m struggling with a lot of busy-ness at the moment, which I know has been evident here (it’s just taken a while for me to accept – I’ve missed posting). In that context, Christmas has come at the right time and I’m going to use it to read and get back to writing.

I’ll be back on Monday 8th January with my round ups. The pages for What’s In A Name will be posted on 1st January as per their set schedule – if you’ve signed up/will be signing up, you’ll find the link to them on the sidebar. (They won’t be on the blog home page – I don’t want them filling up everyone’s inboxes.)

I’m aware I have a few reviews left to write – they will be my first priority upon returning. A couple of Young Writer of the Year books and review copies.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and see you in January.

Up Farley Mount

A photograph of Farley Mount folly

On a not too cold day recently, I took a trip to Farley Mount, the highest point in Hampshire.

The highest point in Hampshire it may be but thankfully it’s not too high. The path leading to is very rutted in a way that suggests the heavy use of wheels at some point – it’s too narrow for cars – but compared to many paths to viewpoints it’s incredibly short and a lot easier, particularly when the ground is dry. This is your reward for 15 minutes walk:

A photograph of the view from Farley Mount

The views are 360 degrees or thereabouts – there are some trees – and stretch from Romsey to Winchester and beyond in both directions. I took quite a few photographs of the folly, the sun in the right place for my camera’s small sensor to produce good colours.

Inside, a plaque gives an idea as to the history of the place:

Underneath lies buried a horse. The property of Paulet St John Esq. that in the month of September 1733 leaped into a chalk pit twentyfive feet deep a foxhunting with his master on his back. And in October 1734 he won the hunters plate on worthy downs and was rode by his owner and entered in the name of “Beware Chalk Pit”.

The above being the words of the original inscription were restored by the Rt Hon. Sir William Heathcote Baronet Sep. AD 1870.

Outside the wind was biting, and a black cloud loomed overhead; with leaves coating the way back I didn’t want to spend too much time gazing out over the fields but it’s a place that visiting for a handful of minutes doesn’t feel a waste. Next time, though, I’ll remember to take a hat.

The 2017 Young Writer Of The Year Award

It’s become one of the highlights of the year: earlier this week, the shortlist for the Young Writer of the Year Award (The Sunday Times/Peters Dunlop Fraser) was announced. This time they’ve chosen 5 titles rather than 4:

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I read The Lauras last year and am very happy to see it on the list. Taylor was previously in the running for 2015’s award for The Shore and whilst it would be impossible to argue about the winner that year (Sarah Howe for Loop Of Jade) Taylor’s book was of a very high standard. Her latest is even better, a phenomenal book, and I hope it does well.

This year’s judges are Sunday Times Literary Editor Andrew Holgate, and writers Elif Shafak and Lucy Hughes-Hallett. Shafak said:

“Our wonderful shortlist celebrates the depth and breadth of literature today, reflecting a striking diversity of styles, interests, genres and backgrounds. True, only one of these authors will win the prize in the end, but each of the five shortlisted books has already won our hearts, and we are confident that they will similarly win the hearts of readers worldwide.”

And this year’s shadow panel? Annabel Gaskell (Annabookbel), Dane Cobain (Social Bookshelves), Eleanor Franzen (Elle Thinks), Rebecca Foster (Bookish Beck), and Clare Rowland (A Little Blog Of Books). Congratulations to them all; it is an awesome job to have.

There can only be one question: have you read any of the shortlisted books?


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