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2017 Young Writer Of The Year Award Blogger Event

A photograph of Sara Taylor, Julianne Pachino, Claire North, Minoo Dinshaw, and Robert Collins

“To be paid to write novels is the single greatest privilege of my life”. — Claire North

Last week I and others got to meet four of the five shortlisted authors for the Young Writer of the Year Award. The writers read from their work and spoke about the past and future.

From left to right of this unfortunately bad photo: Sara Taylor (The Lauras), Julianne Pachino (The Lucky Ones), Claire North (The End Of Days), and Minoo Dinshaw (Outlandish Knight). Chairing was Robert Collins, formally of The Sunday Times.

At the now-usual Groucho Club, we talked over wine and nibbles, various bloggers, including this year’s shadow judges, and publicists in attendance. The shadow judges are yet to meet up to decide on their winner but they’ve been in conversation about what they’re reading. I’m very much looking forward to hearing their decision, which will be announced next Wednesday.

For The Lauras, Sara Taylor wrote both Alex and Ma’s stories at the same time. Alex was a gender in themselves, they were just ‘Alex’ to her. She started writing the book in 2012, before gender was a topic of discussion in the US and was writing it at the time she realised she’d be remaining in the UK. She wanted her book to speak back to Maureen Duffy’s Love Child.

Julianne found having only one setting too hard. She wrote her short stories and then saw the connections between them. The US publishers market it as a novel.

Claire North (Kat)’s parents were concerned about her having a ‘real job’, writing wasn’t seen as a career but she said they are proud. The author was first published at 14 and, now at 30, has written over a dozen books under three different names.

Minoo Dinshaw said that writing is the only thing he’s good at. He would like to try his hand at fiction in the future. He said that writing is a way of doing everything and being anyone, a thought that was agreed with by all.

I brought back with me the books I’ve not yet read and will be reviewing them in due course, hopefully before the award ceremony date (7th December) – it should be do-able in every case except, perhaps, Dinshaw’s book which is over 600 pages. Having only read one of the shortlist I can’t say I’ve a favourite yet, and judging by what we heard that may be difficult!

The Absolute Right Mood And Time

A photograph of a copy of Helen Oyeyemi's What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours facing forwards against a shelf of books, and with a rose lying in front of it

Yesterday was a particularly strong example of a reading phenomenon that I don’t think has a name.

At some point in the last two years, I bought Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours and a little while later I attempted to read it. I want to say that these events happened in the last year – it feels like that’s the situation and it would make yesterday’s reading more interesting – but I have the hardback which was published in March 2016, so it can’t have been much longer than that date.

On trying to read the book I found I couldn’t get into it. I remember thinking the writing was lovely, but that it was too heavy a subject and needed a lot of attention. I considered what I’d surely considered before I’d bought it, that Boy, Snow, Bird had proved to be nice but a bit of a mess, and that buying the new book had been a bit of a silly idea.

I left it and left it and didn’t really have even a vague notion of returning it to for a very long time.

Well, in comes yesterday, I was wanting to read something on my shelves and as I was heading over to the books I received last Christmas that I still haven’t read, my eyes fell on the Oyeyemi and I thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t expect much.

It’s now Monday morning and it’s off the currently reading list already. I started it just before lunchtime and spent the rest of the day reading. I absolutely loved it; it was everything I look for in a book. Granted it was completely bizarre and didn’t always make complete sense, but those two things were more a positive feature than a drawback.

Being in the right mood to read a book is often discussed. So too is timing. And I think both of those ideas may have applied to me, but usually you get a sense that you’re reading the wrong book. That first time with the Oyeyemi felt, on the face of it, perfect, but, particularly in yesterday’s case, as I read the pages I’d read before it seemed to be a completely different book.

Perhaps it was because I was wary then, of reading another Oyeyemi, whereas since that time I’ve read interviews with her and have come to understand that the bizarre is a long-used feature. Maybe this time because I was resigned to the idea that I might end up shelving it again – I went in with the thought to take a quick peek and certainly didn’t envisage spending the rest of my day on it – it worked for me. I don’t know. But I think I should pay more attention than I do to that feeling of it being the wrong mood, wrong time, even when I’m otherwise raring to go.

Interestingly this doesn’t tend to happen with review copies. It does sometimes but generally not. Perhaps in those cases I’ve spent long enough beforehand contemplating them.

What books have you put aside with indifference only to return later and love them to pieces?

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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  • Minoo Dinshaw: Outlandish Knight
  • Claire North: The End Of Day
  • Julianne Pachico: The Lucky Ones
  • Sally Rooney: Conversations With Friends
  • Sara Taylor: The Lauras

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?

October 2017 Reading Round-Up

Well, I’m back with time to blog properly. I’ve not got any posts drafted besides this one but I do have one in the planning stage for Friday. The last 12 days have been absolutely packed – our festival was 10 days which meant a lot of time doing the usual work in the office, then out in the evenings, and at some other point – whenever I had time – I’ve been writing up my notes and editing photographs. I’m still working on the last bit as there is a lot to cover. This past Saturday was our finale day; we had a transport heritage group situate 4 vintage buses alongside the old town walls and each deck became a ‘stage’ for various local poetry groups. Half-way through the afternoon the Southampton Ukelele group gathered outside and played a set which drew a lot more people over (we were in the same area as a new shopping/restaurant complex) and the weather was perfect. It was 28th October and we were taking our jackets off and pulling up our sleeves.

My In Conversation with A J Waines went very well; I’ll post more about it later once we’ve edited the photos and video. As for my reading, it’s not gone badly. Lots of reading in the small moments. There are 4 books on the list but for my own peace of mind I’m saying to myself I read 5 books – I’ve 70 pages left of the Hanif Kureishi.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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A J Waines: Girl On A Train – When Anna sits down beside someone on the train she is frustrated by their constant fidgeting and confused by the look they give her as they go to leave at a small station; then, as the train begins to move again, it ploughs into something. A thriller that is nothing like the book of a similar name but just as good if not more so.

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A J Waines: Lost In The Lake – When psychotherapist Sam takes Rosie on as a client she reckons it’s just about helping Rosie recover her memories of a terrible accident, but it turns out there is more to the accident than thought and Rosie thinks there’s more to their relationship than there is. A fantastic, highly developed thriller that looks into the reasons behind decisions.

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Lindsey Hutchinson: The Workhouse Children – When Cara finds out she had siblings she goes looking for them in the workhouse; seeing the conditions she makes a pledge to get the residents out into good homes and paid work. Highly unrealistic and no real plot.

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Nicholas Royle: Ornithology – A short story collection on the theme of birds, this book includes stories about twitter and stalking, the similarities between birds and humans, a futuristic concepts. Very original and rather horrific but in a good way – it makes you think.

I very much enjoyed the Royle but my favourite this month was Lost In The Lake. As coincidental as it sounds, considering I interviewed the author, the structuring and overall planning of this book is exceptional. My least favourite is pretty clear.

Quotation Report

The line I highlighted in the Royle:

Out of context, it doesn’t make sense. Out of context, nothing makes sense.

This month there’s the promotion for the Young Writer Of The Year Award and April Munday’s latest to get to. And I’ve my next author event happening on 23rd November with Louise Douglas. I’m incredibly excited about it – I loved The Secrets Between Us and can’t wait to ask her about the Daphne Du Maurier influence. I’ll be reading her first and latest books in preparation.

What are you reading and are the shops where you are already stocked for Christmas?


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