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Merry Christmas 2016

A photograph of a Christmas decoration - glittery flowers

I’ll be pausing posting for the next two weeks for Christmas, hopefully reading a number of books I haven’t yet got to, and sorting out year round-ups and those What’s In A Name posts. Posts will start up again 2nd January, and the What’s In A Name pages will be available the day before. I will be on Twitter throughout the holiday.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

The Young Writer Of The Year Award 2016 Shadow Judges’ Winner

Our judging panel logo for the winner

After a couple of hours discussing the four shortlisted books, Eric Karl Anderson, Kim Forrester, Naomi Frisby, Simon Savidge, and I arrived at a winner on Saturday, fuelled by Eric’s fab cake, celebrating Naomi’s birthday. Buzzfeed’s Dan Dalton joined us as chair and kept us on track. It was tough; each of the books is of a high standard, in a similar way. But we got there. Here is our winner:

A photograph of the shadow judges each holding a copy of Jessie Greengrass's book

Jessie Greengrass for her book An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It. There was a lot of talk about the form of the short story in the context of Jessie’s collection. Winter 2058, the title story, and On Time Travel are three of those we all highlighted. We discussed the theme of cold climates that Jessie favours and how well her thoughts corresponded to the backdrop and general situation. We spoke of the writing, how the telling in this book really works.

The official winner will be announced at the award ceremony next week, Thursday 8th December.

A banner with Jessie Greengrass's photograph and book on it

Rare Sunday Post: The Young Writer Of The Year 2016 Shortlist

The four shortlisted books for the Young Writer Of The Year Award 2016

I’ve been looking forward to today because it’s hard to not talk about what you’re reading, especially when you’re enjoying it. These four books together are a lot shorter in length than last year’s list but the potential to stun is just as high. In this context word count truly doesn’t matter. So far I’ve read two and will now start to review them. I think we five bloggers are in for a very interesting conversation and I’m looking forward to seeing what the main judges think, too. The descriptions below are a mix of the official award copy we’ve been given and my own thoughts.

A banner displaying a photograph of Andrew McMillan as well as a picture of his shortlisted title, Physical

Andrew McMillan: Physical

A stunning début of raw and intimate poems about masculinity and male desire. Raw and urgent, these poems are hymns to the male body – to male friendship and male love – muscular, sometimes shocking, but always deeply moving. We are witness here to an almost religious celebration of the flesh: a flesh vital with the vulnerability of love and loss, to desire and its departure. In an extraordinary blend of McMillan’s own colloquial Yorkshire rhythms with a sinewy, metaphysical music and Thom Gunn’s torque and speed – ‘your kiss was deep enough to stand in’ – the poems in this first collection confront what it is to be a man and interrogate the very idea of masculinity. This is poetry where every instance of human connection, from the casual encounter to the intimate relationship, becomes redeemable and revelatory.

Andrew McMillan was born in South Yorkshire in 1988. This, his début collection, was published in 2015 by Jonathan Cape and was the first poetry collection to win the Guardian First Book Award. It also won a Somerset Maugham Award, an Eric Gregory Award, the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection and a 2015 Northern Writers Award. It was shortlisted for numerous others including the International Dylan Thomas Prize and the Costa Poetry Award. He currently lectures at Liverpool John Moores University and lives in Manchester.

One of the two I’ve read already – poetry collection; short – and there are some mind-blowing lines in it. McMillan has a special style, double meanings split across lines, that have a big impact on the whole.

A banner displaying a photograph of Benjamin Wood as well as a picture of his shortlisted title, The Ecliptic

Benjamin Wood: The Ecliptic

A rich and immersive story of love, obsession, creativity and disintegration. On a forested island off the coast of Istanbul stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents. Elspeth ‘Knell’ Conroy is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London. On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, testing a strange new pigment for her elusive masterpiece. But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery. Where did the boy come from, what is ‘The Ecliptic’, and how does it relate to their abandoned lives in England?

Benjamin Wood was born in 1981 and grew up in North West England. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia, Canada, which he attended with the support of a Commonwealth Scholarship. In 2012, Benjamin’s first novel The Bellwether Revivals was published. It was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Book Prize and le Prix du Roman Fnac, and has gone on to become a bestseller.

A banner displaying a photograph of Jessie Greengrass as well as a picture of her shortlisted title, An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It

Jessie Greengrass: An Account Of The Decline Of The Great Auk, According To One Who Saw It

A highly original collection of stories from a startling new voice. The twelve stories range over centuries and across the world. There are stories about those who are lonely, or estranged, or out of time. There are hauntings, both literal and metaphorical; and acts of cruelty and neglect but also of penance. Some stories concern themselves with the present, and the mundane circumstances in which people find themselves, some stories concern themselves with the past.

Jessie Greengrass was born in 1982. She studied philosophy in Cambridge and London, where she now lives with her partner and child. Her shortlisted title won the Edge Hill Short Story Prize 2016.

A banner displaying a photograph of Max Porter as well as a picture of his shortlisted title, Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Max Porter: Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

About the book: Once upon a time there was a crow, a fairly famous Crow, who wanted nothing more than to care for a pair of motherless children. In a London flat, two young boys face the unbearable sadness of their mother’s sudden death. Their father, a Ted Hughes scholar and scruffy romantic, imagines a future of well-meaning visitors and emptiness. In this moment of despair they are visited by Crow – antagonist, trickster, healer, babysitter. This sentimental bird is drawn to the grieving family and threatens to stay until they no longer need him. This extraordinary début, full of unexpected humour and emotional truth, marks the arrival of a thrilling and significant new talent.

Max Porter was born in 1981 and works in publishing. He lives in South London with his wife and children. This is his first book.

The second book I read; it’s incredibly experimental and there’s a fair amount going on but it all links up. Some knowledge of Ted Hughes’ work and the various debates regarding his relationship with Sylvia Plath is good to have prior to starting – a brief bit of Wikipedia reading should suffice. I’d heard a lot about Porter previously – he was at the Curious Arts Festival in July (I didn’t get to listen to him but there’s a photograph somewhere) and many have spoken of him since.

With two more books to read I can’t yet make a prediction – neither personal nor overall vote can be estimated – but if Greengrass’s and Wood’s books are anywhere near the same literary quality as McMillan and Porter, which is very likely, it’s going to be close.

Have you read any of the shortlisted books and what do you think of the selection?

A Leading African Publisher Is Coming To The UK

The logo of Cassava Republic Press

I feel I should note here that this isn’t a sponsored post.

A couple of weeks ago I received a request to review books for a publisher I hadn’t heard of before. (This sentence has confirmed for me that the American way of dropping the ‘of’ between ‘couple’ and ‘weeks’ is something I can get behind.) I read the press release, found myself interested and, as is usual in these situations, went looking for more information. I have always been the person who takes hours to finish a computer game due to the need to explore the city in its entirety first.

I liked what I saw of the publisher and thought you might be interested yourselves. Around since 2006, the reason I and whoever else in Britain got a review request is that they’re about to launch in the UK.

Cassava Republic’s mission is to change the way the world thinks about African writing; they deem it time. The founder, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, has said, “[We’re] establishing a base in the UK after nearly ten years in Africa rather than the reverse. This is the birthing of African publishing onto the world stage”.

Easy Motion Tourist

The hope that the Press will showcase the diversity of work by African writers – in this case mainly Nigerians – is bolstered by the variety of genres they publish: literary fiction, YA, and romance all feature in their catalogue.

As for the authors themselves, whilst all share Nigerian heritage by birth or law, not all live in Africa. Some, like Sarah Ladipo Manyika, whose book I’ll be reviewing, live elsewhere. Regardless of nationality, all the authors are celebrated writers, and that’s surely one of the most exciting aspects of this expansion.

Born On A Tuesday

One of them, Leye Adenle, has an extra claim to fame – his grandfather was a king. Adenle’s book, Easy Motion Tourist is a thriller, a story in which a British tourist comes across a body outside a club and is noted as a potential suspect. The story studies his time in custody and his subsequent release, looking at the darker aspects of the city of Lagos. Released the same day, Elnathan’s John’s Born On A Tuesday is about love, friendship, and politics in the midst of the most unstable period in recent Northern Nigerian history.

Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun

I chose the Manyika because I liked the sound of the main character – Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun is set in San Francisco, where the author teaches literature, and is about a 70-something Nigerian woman who, finding her independence dwindling, has to rely on the help of friends and strangers. Part of the story studies her sexuality, the feelings of an older woman. My thought when I read the description was that it sounded like Elizabeth Is Missing, just perhaps without the memory loss. I loved that book and it’s helped me to know how to proceed with family members and friends in a similar position. The thought of reading another book that tackles age-related issues is compelling. Fortunately there are many books on the later years at the moment, it’s a much needed trend, and I look forward to reading Manyika’s spin on it, the difference in culture compared to most others making it stand out in the pool of possibilities.

If you’re wondering, Cassava Republic is indeed one of houses to have published Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen, so whilst the UK launch is yet to commence, they’ve multi-award-nominated writing behind them already.

What are you favourite books set in Africa, Nigeria if you have one?

Back On Monday

Ahh, bots. They steal your bandwidth and cause no end of problems. Things should be back to normal on Monday and I will be posting my January round-up then. Have a good weekend.


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