Republic of Consciousness Prize 2019: from longlist to shortlist

The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses announced its shortlist on Saturday afternoon at an event held at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Sadly I couldn’t attend. As in previous years, I had followed the judges’ selections with interest.


The complete longlist – 13 books
Photo credit: Graham Fulcher on Twitter @GrahamFulcher1 

Thus far I have managed to read nine of the thirteen books longlisted and posted an interview with, or guest post from, eight of the publishers. If any longlisted publisher would still like to send me their book to review, or a guest post about their press and thoughts on literary prizes, I will happily continue with my RofC feature this month (my review of Sweet Home will be posted on Wednesday).


The nine books from the longlist that I have received

As a recap, click on the book title below to read my review or on the publisher name to read their interview or guest post. Some of these are older posts. Others were provided in response to a request I made in preparation for my 2019 coverage of the prize when the longlist was announced.

Having been a judge for the prize last year I am well aware of how hard it will have been to whittle down submitted books to create the longlist, and the near impossibility of then removing some of these from contention to create a shortlist. Much as I enjoyed my previous involvement, standing in a room full of hopeful authors and publishers at the shortlist announcement last year knowing that some of them would not be happy with the result proved excruciating.

This year I am looking on as a reader, not party to discussions. Bearing in mind that I have not read four of the thirteen books from the longlist (Kitch, Now Now Louison, Follow Me to Ground, The Cemetery in Barnes) I was disappointed not to see Resistance and Bottled Goods on the shortlist.

However, the five books on this list that I have read are all strong contenders. Well done to these six authors and publishers for making the cut.


The five books from the shortlist that I have received

On 20th March an evening of readings will be held at the London Review Bookshop (details here). I have no doubt that this will be a fascinating event for those who can attend.

The 2019 winner of the Republic of Consciousness Prize is due to be announced on March 28th. Good luck to all on the shortlist, and to the judges as they make their difficult choice.

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Gig Review: Novel Nights in Bristol, with guest speaker Jackie Law

Novel Nights is a monthly literary event showcasing and supporting writing and writers at all stages of their career. Held in Bristol and Bath, their events open with selected writers reading from their published work or work in progress. After a short break there will then be a talk from a guest speaker, typically a published author or publishing professional who will offer advice to attendees on the varying aspects and challenges of their writing journey. I have previously enjoyed evenings featuring Jon Woolcott (The Business of Books), Sanjida Kay (On How to Plot) and Nikesh Shukla (Writing and Persistence).

On Wednesday of this week I faced a new experience as I had been invited to attend Novel Nights in Bristol as the guest speaker. Putting myself in front of an audience was a daunting prospect but I felt honoured to have been asked and did not wish to pass up the opportunity to talk about my passion.

The event opened with an introduction by host, Charlotte Packer, who shared with us the good news that the founder and organiser of Novel Nights, Grace Palmer, has had her work longlisted for the Ellipsis Zine Flash Fiction Competition and also for the Bath Flash Fiction Novella in Flash Award. Authors remain anonymous at this stage in the judging process so little more can be revealed but it is always wonderful to hear of a writer’s successes, especially one as actively supportive of others as Grace.

Charlotte then introduced the first reader of the evening, Christine Purkis, who read an extract from her latest novel, Jane Evans, recently published by small Welsh press, Y Lolfa. Set in 19th century central Wales it tells the fictionalised story of a remarkable woman who was a pig farmer, the first female drover in the area, and who nursed alongside Florence Nightingale in the Crimea.

The second reader was Mina Bancheva who had invited her friend, Michael, to read from her work in progress. Family Life (working title) is the second book in a proposed trilogy. It is set in Bulgaria and the USA from the 1920s through to the present day. It is a family saga telling a tale of the lives and fates of three generations.

The third and final reader was Jess Farr-Cox who read from her work in progress, described as a gently experimental murder mystery. Jess explained that she had played around with form while writing. Sections are written as script, as diary entries, and in more straightforward prose. She told us this process had been a lot of fun.

The story is set in a small village, key characters being a vicar and his children. In the section read, a young boy had just caught a fish and was weaving a tall tale about it in an effort to impress his playmates.

The first half of the event was drawn to a close with a quick word from Robert Woodshaw from Foyles in Cabot Circus. He told us about an event coming up on 20th March – An Evening of Sex and PoliticsRobert will be discussing his debut novel, The Iron Bird, which takes the premise of Animal Farm and applies it to the life of Margaret Thatcher, a bird of prey. He will be joined by Lucy-Anne Holmes who will be talking about her memoir Don’t Hold My Head Down, the story of how she found feminism through sex and took on the The Sun over Page 3. Whilst the format of this event sounds innovative and lively we were assured that clothes would be kept on at all times.

There was then a break to enable audience members to chat and buy drinks from the bar before I was required to take my seat for the Q&A, hosted by Grace.

Sitting in front of an audience holding a mic and answering questions prevented me from scribbling notes about what was being discussed as I normally do at literary events. I have therefore decided on a different approach in this write-up.

When I was first contacted about speaking at Novel Nights I was told that the audience might like to know more about:

  • how I got into reviewing books;
  • how to set up a blog and build a following;
  • how I choose who to review and (possibly) how they can get their books reviewed;
  • how I deal with requests from individuals as there must be books I am not interested in reading.

Following further emails and a chat over the phone, the topics to be covered were expanded to include:

  • where book blogging sits within the publishing industry, its impact and influence;
  • reviewing self published authors;
  • why I devote so much time to doing something I am not paid for (ed. how many writers ask themselves this?).

Having requested that the structure be a Q&A rather than a talk, I was sent a list of potential questions. My preparation involved writing out my answers and trying to commit them to memory. I hoped that enough would remain in my head to be talked around as my mind has a bad habit of going blank when I try to think on my feet. I believe this approach was successful.

Rather than try to remember the detail of what was actually said live on Wednesday, and worry about the veracity of my recall, tomorrow I will post in full the notes I prepared and from which my answers to Grace’s and the audience’s questions were drawn. This will be a long read but may be of interest to some.

My husband, who came along as taxi driver and moral support, told me that I fluffed one question from an audience member. I believe a gentleman asked me about translated poetry (I had mentioned that I wanted to read more poetry) and I thought he had asked about translated fiction. My mention of Charco Press and Peirene Press was therefore not the answer he was probably looking for – my apologies.

It was an interesting evening and experience. I mentioned in my talk that being a part of the literary world, even if only from my small remote corner, is one of the benefits of book blogging. On Wednesday, within this company, I felt like a writer who had something to contribute. Despite my habit of over analysing every social interaction there remains within me today that warm fuzzy feeling of having been a part of a tribe I admire.

Spotlight on independent publisher, Charco Press

As part of my coverage of this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small presses I invited a number of the publishers whose books made it onto the longlist to contribute a guest post. I also offered to review the books should they wish to send me a copy. Throughout February I will be posting these reviews and the articles or Q&As received from the presses that responded. These offer a window into the variety of output and current state of play of the innovative publishers whose books I am always eager to read.

Charco Press contributed a fascinating guest post about the origins and aims of their publishing house last year after one of their inaugural titles, Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz, was longlisted for the RofC prize. This title went on to make the 2018 shortlist and was also longlisted for that year’s Man Booker International Prize.

You may read the guest post here.

I did not ask them to contribute again but was grateful to receive a copy of this year’s longlisted book, Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn), which I will review tomorrow.

In looking at what has been happening at the press in the past year there was a wealth of exciting news and achievements (summarised on their website). Charco are reaching impressive heights in the literary world and deserve further, wider attention.

A conversation between Ellen Jones and Charco’s Carolina Orloff and Samuel McDowell, published in Hotel magazine, was of particular interest – you may read it here. Amongst other topics they talk of: the exciting publishing scene in Scotland; their vision for the visual presentation of their beautiful books; the value of bringing established and respected authors who have won awards internationally to English speaking readers.

Resistance has already won the Jabuti Award for Book of the Year (2016), the Oceanos Prize (2016), the José Saramago Literary Prize (2017) and the Anna Seghers Prize (2018). Julián Fuks has gained recognition as one of Brazil’s most outstanding young writers.

Charco’s aims are best summarised in their own words from their website.

“Charco Press was born from a desire to do something a little out of the ordinary. To bring you, the reader, books from a different part of the world. Outstanding books. Books you want to read. Maybe even books you need to read.

Charco Press is ambitious. We aim to change the current literary scene and make room for a kind of literature that has been overlooked. We want to be that bridge between a world of talented contemporary writers and yourself.

We select authors whose work feeds the imagination, challenges perspective and sparks debate. Authors that are shining lights in the world of contemporary literature. Authors that have won awards and received critical acclaim. Bestselling authors. Yet authors you perhaps have never heard of. Because none of them have been published in English.

Until now.”

Personally I would like to read every book put out by this fabulous publisher. I am grateful that the Republic of Consciousness Prize brought them to my attention.

 

You may follow Charco Press on Twitter: @CharcoPress

Random Musings: Literary Podcasts

I am old school when it comes to book reviews, author interviews and literary discussions. I prefer reading to watching or listening. Mainly this is due to time constraints. I can read most articles in just a few minutes whereas audio and visual content demands a much longer time commitment. I prefer to devote that extended time to reading books.

Last year my favourite book prize, the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, announced that it was starting a podcast. I was dismayed. Then, when I read of the books, participants and discussions being featured I grew curious.

The episodes released varied in length but required that a significant block of time be made available. To listen I had to find a space within my day. The obvious place, where I would benefit from a distraction, was the gym. After presenting my cost-benefit analysis my husband kindly gifted me a set of headphones. Many fruitless attempts to download episodes to my phone for offline listening later (I don’t use Apple products or have internet access at the gym) I found a means of carrying audio content with me (I use Castbox, available for android).

Listening to podcasts while cycling nowhere or working out on a cross trainer has proved effective at taking my mind off how tiring and tiresome these activities can be. I quickly worked my way through each of the Republic of Consciousness podcasts and sought out alternatives to supplement the time I have available each week. I now have a backlog of interesting book discussions to listen to, thereby working both my heart and mind.

The Republic of Consciousness Podcast for Small Presses

Click on image for link

“The Republic of Consciousness Podcast comes out about 3 times a month. It’ll be a bit different each time, but expect interviews, readings, and some regular features, such as our Book of the Month.”

Bookmunch Podcast

No dedicated page as yet but first two episodes may be found here:
Episode 1 – Emma Glass (Peach)
Episode 2 – Adam Foulds (Dream Sequence)

Why Why Why: The Books Podcast

Click on image for link

“We ask writers why they wrote the book they wrote, editors why they published the book, and readers why they picked up the book and read it.”

 

I realise that I am probably late to the party but I am enjoying these audio broadcasts given that they fill a time slot when reading would be difficult. It goes to show that trying new things can sometimes be worthwhile.

Gig Review: New Voices of 2019 from Headline

On Thursday of last week I travelled to Bath for my first literary event of 2019 – the Headline New Voices Roadshow. Bath was the third stop on what appears to have been a raucous and much enjoyed publicity tour. Check the Twitter hashtag #NewVoices2019 to get a flavour of what went down. It used to be that what happened on tour, stayed on tour; in this case the pictures appeared on social media and provided much entertainment.

Held in the downstairs snug at Walcot House, six friendly authors were in Bath to talk about their new books. They were accompanied by a fabulous publicity team from Headline: Georgina Moore, Becky Hunter, Jenny Harlow, Jennifer Leech, Phoebe Swinburn and Caitlin Raynor. Invited guests included booksellers, PR professionals and bloggers. Given the presence of the latter much has already been written about the three evenings – check the Twitter hashtag to catch other write-ups.

In the time I had available I wasn’t able to talk to everyone but I hope I got a flavour of each of the books before I left, tote bag well stuffed with proofs. I ensured I spoke to Sarah Davis-Goff as her book was the only one I had already read and I wanted to let her know how much I enjoyed this chilling dystopia (click on cover below for my review). I was pleased when she told me that it is the first in a proposed series.

My chats with Richard Lumsden and Rhik Samadder made me curious to read their books so that was a successful outcome. Rhik’s book is not yet finished so I will be asking Georgina if she will kindly send me a proof when available.

I will be checking out the other books at my leisure.

Given the number of people in attendance it was not possible to chat to even all those I recognised from previous events. From the pictures posted the next day I was happy to see that Sharon (Shaz’s Book Blog) partied with the author’s and publicists into the wee small hours. I managed to briefly catch up with Suzan (Novel Heights) who hadn’t expected to be able to stay long but outlasted me (what a lightweight I am).

The night, however, was all about the books. If you would like to know more about them and their trajectory through publication, you may find each of the authors on Twitter. From the fun response to the tour I expect their accounts will be worth following.


I Never Said I loved You by Rhik Samadder  @whatsamadder
The Girl in the Letter by Emily Gunnis  @EmilyGunnis
Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis – Goff  @SarahDavisGoff
Past Life by Dominic Nolan  @Nolandom
The Six Loves of Billy Binns by Richard Lumsden  @lumsdenrich
Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce  @Harriet_tyce

I am always grateful when publishers are willing to travel to their readers rather than expecting everyone to attend events in London. Thank you to the team at Headline for my invitation to what was an enjoyable party.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses – Longlist Announcement 2019


Photo credit – TLS

On Monday of this week the Times Literary Supplement announced this year’s longlist for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Thirteen titles made the cut, chosen by judges David Collard, Niven Govinden and Catherine Taylor, along with a student panel (Ayanna Lloyd, Vijay Khurana and Maya Lubinsky) from the prize’s current academic partner, the University of East Anglia.

Having been involved as a judge on the reader panel last year I both envied them their task – they got to read the best literary fiction recently published – and appreciated the difficulty they faced choosing from such high quality submissions. As to their choices, having read only three of the books on the longlist I can merely attest to these being deserving of their place. Certain books I expected to be included were missing but, as I was not party to the titles submitted, I do not know if these were even put forward. What I unequivocally get behind is the ethos of the prize which Charles Boyle of CB Editions so succinctly put in a guest post he kindly, if somewhat reluctantly, wrote for me last year.

“Does there have to be a winner? Boringly, yes. It’s how the world tick-tocks. But that doesn’t matter, because the real point of the Republic of Consciousness Prize is to celebrate a movement and a community”

 

The thirteen titles on the longlist are as follows:

The Cemetery in Barnes by Gabriel Josipovici, published by Carcanet

Murmur by Will Eaves, published by CB Editions

Resistance by Julián Fuks (translated by Daniel Hahn), published by Charco Press

Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn, published by Fairlight Books

Lucia by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar Press

Dedalus by Chris McCabe, published by Henningham Family Press

Doppelgänger by Daša Drndić (translated by Celia Hawkesworth and S. D. Curtis), published by Istros

Now, Now, Louison by Jean Frémon (translated by Cole Swensen), published by Les Fugitives

Follow Me to Ground by Sue Rainsford, published by New Island Books

Kitch by Anthony Joseph, published by Peepal Tree Press

Soviet Milk by Nora Ikstena (translated by Margita Gailitis), published by Peirene Press

Hang Him When He Is Not There by Nicholas John Turner, published by Splice

Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine, published by The Stinging Fly Press

 

In the coming weeks I hope to be reading further from this list. If you are interested in purchasing any of the books please consider doing so directly from the publishers. This can make a huge difference to their financial viability and therefore their continuing valuable work.

The shortlist will be announced on 2nd March following a symposium to be held at UEA, Norwich – Love Takes Risks: The Poetics of Contemporary Small Fiction. Sign up to attend here before 18 February.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize organisers have a Patreon, with many fine small press books available for supporters, which you may check out here.

The winner of the prize will be announced on 28th March at Foyles, Charing Cross Road.


Photo credit – Graham Fulcher

Gig Review: Joanne Harris and Bonnie Hawkins in Bath

On Friday of last week I travelled to Bath for what I expect to be my final book event of the year (I avoid festive season crowds). It proved to be well worth attending. Held in the Maven Gallerywhere the original artwork for The Blue Salt Road is currently on display, Joanne Harris and Bonnie Hawkins gave a fascinating talk on their collaboration for both this latest work and its predecessor in the series, A Pocketful of Crows. The setting added to the pleasure and interest. Bonnie’s art is exquisite.

  

The two books were inspired by Child Ballads – indigenous stories of the British Isles. These dark and challenging folk tales, mostly from the 17th and 18th centuries, exist in different versions and have been sung by musicians such as Joan Baez, Fairport Convention, Pentangle and Steeleye Span. As a folk musician Joanne knew the stories – she believes they ought to be our Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

The draft version of A Pocketful of Crows was written in two weeks – much faster than Joanne normally writes. She was on a deadline to finish The Testament of Loki and attending a book festival on the Isle of Skye. The journey to and from the festival, the landscape, inspired her to start writing something different. She gave herself a day, then two, then a week, and realised that the story was almost complete. She then had to persuade her publisher that the idea was worth pursuing. She envisaged a beautifully bound hardback – illustrated fairy tales for adults – with illustrations by an artist who would produce detailed work such as would have been common in books published in Victorian times – vignettes, an almanac feel. When it was agreed that three stories should be written she needed to find an illustrator.

Joanne’s publisher provided a huge dossier of potential artists but none seemed quite right. Then, unexpectedly, Joanne received a drawing through the post from Bonnie.

Bonnie told us that, at the time, her daughter had recently been introduced to Ted Talks at school. Bonnie listens to the radio while she works so started listening to some of these talks. Most were from people explaining how wonderful they were and how much money they had made. In her Ted talk Joanne focused on her family and the power of stories, how important it is that we share things together, that we value people more than money (you may listen to the talk here). Bonnie hadn’t read any of Joanne’s books but was inspired to get in touch with this speaker.

Joanne added that narratives are about making connections. This was a perfectly timed connection – like magic.

Bonnie told us that it almost didn’t happen. The letter from the publisher asking her to create the drawings was binned as she thought it was junk mail – Look! We can put your drawings in a book! Luckily the publisher sent a follow up which she read.

By this time all the words had been written and the art was needed quickly. Bonnie had 8 weeks to produce 24 illustrations. Nevertheless she loved working with Joanne as she was given free rein. She knew that the publisher wanted the illustrations spaced. The prose was so poetic she could have illustrated everything.

Joanne introduced us to The Blue Salt Road by talking about the Child Ballads. They reflect real events such as rape, abuse and other forms of domestic violence. The selkie story is a Scottish legend, often of a young girl bound into slavery by a man. She wished to subvert this and consider: in a patriarchal society how can women gain empowerment? In her story a young woman, Flora, is living on an island with a limited gene pool. She has an agenda.

Joanne gave a reading from where Flora first meets her selkie.

The Blue Salt Road is a love story but one of entrapment. The selkie is tamed and must find work. The limitations of island living mean he ends up a whaler, killing sea life. Unlike the other men, it feels wrong to him and he doesn’t understand why.

Flora also has limited options and convinces herself she has done the selkie a favour. Their environment is harsh. Life is about survival. Joanne wished this to be reflected in the illustrations but also to show the beauty of the sea. In its rawest sense, this is a story about where we have all come from.

Bonnie talked about stories being a way of understanding ourselves long before psychologists offered their services. They provide a means of talking about dark and difficult subjects.

She based several of her drawings on people she knows. In A Pocketful of Crows she drew a 14 year old whose personality seemed to fit. Flora is also based on a real person – a girl who has wild hair and a dissatisfaction with life. When asked, the teenager was blasé about her likeness appearing in a book. Bonnie did change certain features as she wished Flora to look a little sly.

Bonnie had longer to produce the drawings for the second book than the first. She wanted to include rock pools, crabs, to show the folds of the walrus’s skin. Drawing waves was a challenge so she made them stylised. Each seal that is a selkie has a little spiral tattoo. Bonnie would have liked to draw the scene on the beach where Flora and her selkie are nude but the publishers weren’t keen.

  

Joanne told us that often author and illustrator don’t work so closely together. She talked of the view that illustrated books are only for children. One hundred years ago many adult works were lavishly illustrated. The drawings enhance the story providing a visual mood board.

There is to be a third book and Bonnie has seen the initial words even before the editor. Bonnie is working on another project and sent Joanne one of her works in progress. Joanne was so impressed that she decided to adapt her story that this wonderful, evocative picture may be incorporated.

Questions were opened up to the audience.

Q: Will there be more books after the third is published? These beautiful books look so good on a bookshelf.

It depends on how the first three sell. Joanne would like to write more. She is fond of the novella with its linear format. Time constrained people appreciate books that are quick to read and offer even more when reread.

Bonnie added that reading a book in one go is like eating a big slice of delicious cake. She reads the manuscript from start to finish to get a feel for the story and then rereads particular chapters to think of possible illustrations. Each chapter is a little story in itself.

Q: How do you tease a story out of a ballad?

The ballad is a starting point. It introduces themes, such as entrapment (man), agency (women). These are perennial concerns. Ideas are then built on, such as how would the selkie feel and react when offered seal stew which the folk often eat. The ballads are springboards.

Q: Why did you include your initial in your author name?

Joanne writes mainstream novels as well as fantasy. Some readers who enjoy psychological thrillers may not wish to read magical realism. It allows them to better understand what to expect.

Q: When you write how do you keep control of your imagination to get things down on paper quickly enough?

Joanne doesn’t wish to keep her imagination under control. She writes each day, even if only 300 words. She will start by revisiting the previous day’s efforts, reading it aloud to judge if it works. As a musician and linguist as well as a writer vocal patterns matter to her. Reading aloud also makes obvious what is superfluous.

Q: Do you have a structure to your working day?

Not so much as many other things are going on. When at home Joanne will start at 8.30am and work to lunchtime by which time a break is needed. When on tour she keeps working, writing in hotels or on trains. If she goes for more than three days without writing, the book goes feral. Even 20 minutes a day maintains the headspace of the narrative. As a full time writer there are many non writing tasks that fill the time she used to filled with her job as a teacher.

Bonnie has no particular structure to her day. She often works early in the morning and late into the evening with her day consumed by other demands. When she has deadlines the work just has to get done. She knows what she wants to draw but each piece takes a long time to complete.

Joanne talked of her dislike of deadlines. She is always aware that others are waiting on her work – editors and so on – but finds deadlines cause panic which isn’t conducive to the creation of art.

  

Q: What does a publisher’s art department do to the work – does Bonnie retain any control?

Bonnie scans her drawings at an ultra high resolution and submits this. Afterwards she has no further say over what will happen to the work.

There was some discussion about illustrated books and how children also appreciate more complex drawings – there is no need to simplify.

The jacket design was done by someone else as this is a different skill, requiring consideration of the placement of words and sales stickers. Bonnie would not wish to have to think of this when drawing.

As the evening drew to a close many books were purchased from the hosts, Toppings Bookshop. Joanne and Bonnie signed copies on request. The opportunity to have my book signed by both author and illustrator was too tempting to resist so I waited in line before heading home.

Joanne was kind enough to chat to me before the event. Both author and illustrator made this event even more special by being so open and friendly throughout.

The Blue Salt Road and A Pocketful of Crows are published by Gollancz (Orion Books).