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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?

I Am Writing

The lack of posts on this blog recently may suggest otherwise, but I am in fact writing every day.

The festival I’m working for started on Thursday so my role has expanded – to the original public relations and marketing I am doing, I’ve now added event reporter and photographer. It’s often early mornings and late nights.

As for this blog, I’m going to aim to post again (properly) on Friday, but it may end up being Monday. The festival finishes on Saturday and I’ll be back to my normal schedule.

How is October treating you? We’ve had some t-shirt weather but the season is definitely changing.

Where Or When Does A Book Begin

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“Where – or when – does a literary text begin?”

The above quotation from the first chapter of An Introduction To Literature, Criticism and Theory by Nicholas Royle and Andrew Bennett, is something that’s often mused upon in articles but not always so… bluntly. Certainly it’s a question that’s asked in so many words, but more often it’s an idea in itself, a thought that gets banded around when people talk of authors and readers seeing things differently and believing that particular aspects of books should be shown or written in particular ways.

I think there’s at least three stages of the book process – rather than the writing process to consider: the forming of the idea, writing the text, and the reader’s reading of it (which in this case is largely focused on the experience rather than the exercise).

The forming of the idea is perhaps the most exclusive part of the process. Until or unless the writer decides to share their thoughts at this stage, it belongs solely to them with no outsider influence. (I say ‘belongs’ in the context of the experience of a text, where each reading of a book and the resulting thoughts or imaginings and so forth belong to that reader.) A text does in effect begin here, with the thought, but there’s obviously no physical evidence of it and everything about it can be shared or withheld as the writer sees fit, so few would know the entirety of it. At most, in terms of a concrete beginning, we’re dealing with content akin to quotations, extracts. But for the author it is the beginning. Perhaps it’s also the beginning for fans, when news of a work in progress is shared.

However once the book has been out a few years focus largely remains on it rather than its development, meaning that it could be said that there’s a time when the idea is the beginning and then a longer time when it is not.

With the writing, it depends on your view. From the author’s point and likely their editor or friends and family, the text has begun. It’s always in mind, it’s discussed, likely a lot. There’s that interesting division of beginning and ending, where the author celebrates the launch of a book and the ending of all the hard work, and the readers celebrate the launch and the beginning of their journey into the pages. If the author has chronicled the writing process on a blog or in newspaper/magazine articles, the book may begin for readers there; some fans may view the very first mention of the book as the beginning of it.

In terms, of course, of generality, it could be said a text begins when readers start reading it. This is when the discussion between author and reader starts happening, when an unlimited number of interpretations and imaginations occur, creating new thoughts and visual imagery than the one that up to now has most if not solely been just the author’s own. If we view a book’s success by how many sales it makes, how much discussion there is about it, then there is surely a strong case to be made that the book’s release date is the date the book begins.

It’s a sliding scale of access, if you will, ever more branches of a tree that starts with the author, extends to their publishers and friends, and becomes impossible to quantity after publication.

Perhaps it’s simply individual – where does a text begin for you, whether you’re the author or reader (more likely in this case, the reader, because I think it’s fair to say an author will consider planning and the moment of the idea as the beginning)? So many different opinions… it would be impossible to state a definite time because all three periods of time are valid. For me it has a lot to do with the discussion around the book – whether the book is part of a series and therefore discussion happens long before the release date (or in the case of Philip Pullman’s The Book Of Dust, the book’s been alive for 20 years…). If there’s hype, then actually holding the book in your hands can feel like the middle of the overall story, where the hype is the beginning and the final page the end. Books I haven’t heard about or for which there’s been less discussion, that first page is it. If there’s not much information about the author’s writing progress with the book, the idea of its existence is very much that, an idea rather than any true beginning.

What do you think – when does a book begin for you?

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep: Who Started The Fire?

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This is a question I had right up until the end of the book, in fact in a way I was still asking it after the closing pages. Cannon is both cunningly opaque – if you’ll forgive my 7am workday phrasing – and obvious, a not unclever mix that manages to be both literarily inspiring and literally frustrating.

Firstly, it’s best to put the fire in context: why was it started? The inevitable answer is that it was to cause damage to Walter. How much damage can’t be guessed, exactly, but we can assume that whilst some people wanted harm to befall him, whether it be verbal harm enough to cause him to leave of some sort of physical injury, the person who actually caused the fire was wanting devastation.

Why Walter? Because he was different. The residents didn’t understand him – nowadays we might say he is a bit odd, and the description ‘autistic’ would probably get throw around somewhere. Due to their lack of understanding, the neighbours thought he was nefarious and a threat to their children.

Who, then started the fire? It isn’t until the very end that Cannon relents and gives you a bit to go on – Mrs Forbes tells Sheila Dakin that she knew someone was in Walter’s house when everyone thought it empty, and then comes the blackmail: the photographs might be gone, but she’ll remember what was there. Mrs Forbes has something on Sheila and if Sheila doesn’t want it widely known she’d better stay mum about Mrs Forbes’ lighting the fire. Page 450 of the paperback version; the first line refers to Mrs Forbes’ cat being scared by Walter’s taxi:

‘Nasty taxi, scaring you off like that.’
Mrs Forbes kneaded Whiskey back again.
Sheila Dakin was frowning at her. ‘What taxi was that, Dot?’
‘The one that brought Walter and his mother home.’ Mrs Forbes carried on kneading, and gave more kisses to the top of Whiskey’s head. ‘I said to Margaret, it’s no wonder he ran off. Big, scary car like that, pulling up in the avenue in the middle of the night.’
‘You knew she was in the house?’ said Mrs Dakin.
Mrs Forbes smiled, ‘I thought they both were,’ she said.

…And then Mrs Forbes talks about photographs being gone but memories staying.

We know it was Mrs Forbes, beyond the above, because of the way Walter’s tea towels are found folded up on the range – Cannon talks about tea towels a couple of times in the book, providing a hint, but at those points it’s difficult to see any relevance, particularly as everyone in the book is… particular. Walter tells Grace and Tilly about the way he keeps his tea towels, and that doesn’t involve folding them. Later on we see Mrs Forbes’ tea towels in her home, folded neatly.

Mrs Forbes knew both Walter and his mother – not all that much older, it seems, than Mrs Forbes herself, and most certainly innocent – were in the house, and was angry enough about the situation the residents had constructed to kill.

The one saving grace is that it turns out the other residents weren’t thinking that far – well, if it can be called a saving grace.


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