On being a judge for Not The Booker Prize 2017

Not The Booker 2017.

I nominated, voted, tweeted regularly to encourage other readers to participate. When the shortlist was announced I read each book carefully, posted my reviews, commented BTL as Sam Jordison’s thoughts were published on the Guardian news site. And then, after all titles had been assessed, dissected without¬†anaesthetic, and one had even withdrawn, I received an email inviting me to be a judge. I agreed. How could I turn such an opportunity down? I was delighted, excited, and somewhat daunted that I was to appear live on national media.

The judges meeting was to take place via a Google Hangout – I had no idea what this involved. I do not use Skype, rarely even telephone, preferring written to spoken word. I live in a rural location as far from the box of tricks that supplies our village internet as it is possible to be. The chance of user error, or an unavoidable technical hitch, was high.

Unusually for me I didn’t think too much about any of this until the morning it was all to happen, 4am in the morning to be precise – ah the joys of an anxious mind.

Naturally I got my equipment and location set up hours in advance of need. I tried to keep busy until the appointed hour that I would not get in a tiz. It transpired that everyone else encountered last minute technical issues, everyone except me.

With laptop and mobile phone at the ready, crib notes prepared and taped at eye level, I donned my son’s gaming headset which he had kindly set up for my machine. And then I awaited my promised hangout invitation. With just a couple of clicks I was connected to London, live and available for public viewing.

This is how the judges meeting went.

Many congratulations to Winnie M. Li for winning the public vote and that of judge Hannah, thereby securing the prize for Dark Chapter. Both Yvain and I chose Man With A Seagull On His Head by Harriet Paige. I also commended Not Thomas by Sara Gethin, and Yvain talked highly of The Threat Level Remains Severe by Rowena MacDonald. All of us agreed it has been a strong year, better than the previous, and that reading the shortlist has been a pleasure.

Would I agree to judge a literary prize again? Despite my nervousness at appearing in public like this, yes please.

 

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On Judging Artistic Endeavours

A number of weeks ago I was invited to join a judging panel for a literary prize. This surprised and delighted me. It is not the Booker Prize (ha!), and it is not the Not The Booker Prize Рmore than that I cannot yet say. What a tease I am being. With lead times and read times the official announcements will not be made for some time, although my involvement starts immediately. I have already received the first books to be considered. All of this has got me thinking, once again, about how each reader judges a book.

When writing a review I consider the way a publication is being marketed. For example, I will compare crime thrillers alongside others in this genre – books should be of interest to their target audience. In all works the writing must be fluent and fluid. The reader needs to be engaged and in some way entertained. Genres may be crossed but there are certain expectations to be met. Romance readers are unlikely to welcome unremitting horror, literary fiction needs to challenge but not be impenetrable.

My husband often reads no more than one book a year, generally when travelling to and from a holiday destination. When he asks for my recommendations I therefore choose with special care. Sometimes I have gushed about a book but subsequently suggested it may not be for him. He has been known to mock such retraction in a manner similar to our appreciation of art, with accusations of pretention.

I know very little about art. I visited Tate Modern several months ago and pondered how people ascribe value to certain of the chosen exhibits. A pile of bricks that wouldn’t look out of place in a builders yard was on display. A urinal on its side in a glass case had an information card explaining this was not even an original installation but rather a replica, the original being elsewhere. My first thought was if either had ever been used for their intended purpose.

Even in more traditional galleries I quickly grow bored of the many portraits of rich, dead people, or the endless depictions of religious scenes. I understand that those who know more about the subject may relish texture, style and perspective. I want an artwork to be pleasing to look at, not merely an investment. Pleasing is, of course, a matter of individual taste.

Music is another art form that generates strong opinions. I have a friend who adores opera, another who raves about the minutiae of David Bowie. My husband’s musical tastes have at times made me long for silence. I once sat up late with an acquaintance while he played me examples of innovative offerings that he became quite animated educating me on. It sounded to me like hitting metal bins together. When we watched a video of the musicians this was exactly what they were doing.

My musical choices tend to be influenced by memory: Chopin’s piano concertos which my father played; rock music from the seventies and eighties, my formative years; the stadium bands popular a decade or so ago when my children were developing their musical tastes. In my view music should provide the listener with pleasure. If catchy pop songs do this they have served their purpose however shallow the purists deride them for being.

My views on books are much the same. I read The Da Vinci Code and now understand why Dan Brown’s writing style is often mocked. The samplers from the Fifty Shades of Grey series were enough to convince me to avoid. Yet so many have read these books and this has encouraged them to read more. I consider this a good thing even if not to my taste.

Literary prizes reward particular attributes so it will be on these that I will judge the books I am being sent. My reviews are a reflection of writing I am impressed by and these titles look to be a good fit. I would not, after all, have agreed to take part had I not expected to enjoy the reading. This is an adventure in which I am thrilled to participate.