Excuse the poorly-taken photo… Saturday afternoon saw me in the same room at the Groucho Club occupied for the Georges Simenon event. Hosted by the Peters Fraser Dunlop literary agency and The Sunday Times, it was a time to meet the nominees and hear from them about their books.
It was a pleasure to see Elizabeth Baines whose book, Used To Be, I reviewed earlier this month, and I met Dan Holloway who I believe many of you know and booktuber Pippa of PippityBop. We were a relatively small group of people and it worked very well, a time for chatting and a time for reading and questions. And of course there was wine (though admittedly I had water).
The Young Writer Of The Year award has returned after several years absence – the last winner was Ross Raisin in 2009. Andrew Holgate, literary editor of The Sunday Times, joined agent Caroline Michel to restart the award and they opened the submissions to Irish as well as British writers. (This includes writers born in other countries who have lived in Britain for a period of time.) There is diversity in the eligibility – whilst the books should be literary they don’t have to be novels. Poetry and non-fiction is welcome (though as Holgate said, literary non-fiction is a more difficult category to nominate; there’s not as much of it). This year there are three novels – Ben Fergusson’s The Spring Of Kasper Meier, Sara Taylor’s The Shore, and Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year Of The Runaways – and one collection of poetry – Loop Of Jade by Sarah Howe. Holgate believes this is the strongest short-list they’ve had for the award, and I have to say hearing about the concepts, writing, and backgrounds of each has left me anxious to finish up my current reads so that I can get to them.
Ben Fergusson was born in England but now lives in Berlin where he is an editor and translator. He’s already won 2 awards and, as a 35 year old, is on the cusp of being ineligible for this one. Sarah Howe is English but now lives in Boston. Her poetry was nominated for 2 awards including the T S Elliot prize. Sunjeev Sahota has written one book already, Ours Are The Streets, and read his first novel aged 18 – Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. You wouldn’t think it to read Sahota’s book. Sara Taylor’s The Shore was short-listed for the Guardian First Book award and long-listed for the Bailey’s prize.
Fergusson had the idea for his book, and for the character especially, years before but only made it to chapter three before throwing in the towel. He didn’t know enough about Los Angeles to keep going. Of his main character he said that there are lots of books about young gay people but not many about those in their 50s who have had a different experience and he wanted to explore that.
Howe took 8 years to write her collection of poetry. The poems are based on her mother’s life, as an unwanted girl in China and later adopted daughter. In the title poem, she said, she tries to given the barest testimony of what happened. She wanted to collect the different worlds, to ‘square’ them; the beauty and the horror. She wanted to trust the reader to do the same as she was doing, detective work, finding out what she herself doesn’t know about her mother. The poem she read to us was full of detail, a mix of poem and prose and was rather breath-taking. The title of the collection refers to the circle of jade that a toddler wears; the hope of the parents is that is the toddler falls the bracelet will break instead of any bones. She showed us her own; a circlet an inch or so in diameter on a chain.
Sahota said he would’ve written the entirety of his book in Punjabi if he could have. He spoke of the need to explain Indian things – culture, language – when English things wouldn’t be explained to Indians (that is to say books in English about other countries are piled with details and translations for words, but English language books about English-speaking countries do not have those details). As someone who speaks some Hindi and recently had to put down a book that was almost obsessive in its need to explain words, I have to say I understood where he was coming from, as I’ve no doubt bilingual and multilingual people would, too.
Taylor wrote her book at the end of her university years. She wanted to see what she could do if she just had fun and didn’t adhere to the rules of writing she’d learned. She couldn’t not take her risks. She didn’t have a plan, just wanted to explore the people in the place she was writing about, then, once she’d finished one person’s story she wanted to explore their relatives and then those relatives’ relatives and so on. Speaking to her later she told us that her story has much to do with her upbringing in Virginia and the conservative lifestyle she experienced. The book is considered a fractured narrative – the way it straddles both the concept of a novel and the concept of a short story. She has gone through 60 potential titles for her next book and is still searching for the right one.
The afternoon ended with more chatter and book signings; this is where I got the tote I spoke of on Twitter. It was a wonderful couple of hours that ended in what we thought might be a light malfunction but was the staff preparing for our leave, and introduced to us four of the next generation of successful writers – and I say that with confidence because from what we heard of the books and the writers themselves they are going to do very well.
The winner will be announced on 10th December. I have a hunch; it’s going to be interesting.
Have you read any of the four books? What did you think of it/them?
November 22, 2015, 10:01 pm
This sounds great! (I’m very curious to know what the Groucho club looks like.) Sounds like you had an interesting and fun time.
I’ve not read any of these books, none have really called out to me.