Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses – Winner 2017

On Tuesday of this week I travelled to London for an event that celebrated the brilliant, innovative and vibrant literary fiction being published by the small presses in the UK and Ireland. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have been on the judging panel for this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. In reading each of the submissions I have had the opportunity to discover some of the best literary fiction published in 2017. Every book that made in onto the longlist deserves to be read. Please consider buying them – if possible direct from the publishers or from an independent bookshop, many of which will post books to readers.

Narrowing the longlist down to a shortlist was incredibly difficult – like having to choose a favourite child. However, the six books selected each deserved their place.

The event on Tuesday, held in the University of Westminster’s Fyvie Hall, brought together publishers, authors, translators, sponsors and an impressive array of interested parties from the book world to discover which title was to be declared the winner. Attendees were treated to wine and canapés as we mingled and chatted, with gentle jazz being played live in the background. The atmosphere was convivial and sparkling with anticipation.


(Photo credit: FMcM)

The first part of the evening saw the prize founder, Neil Griffiths, present ‘The William Gass award for metafiction and for being the best person in publishing, like ever’ to Charles Boyle of CBeditions. Charles later wrote this about his award.

The second part of the evening was the announcement of the winner. Michael Caines of The TLS took to the stage to present the award to Influx Press for Attrib. and Other Stories by Eley Williams.


Gary Budden, Sanya Semakula, Eley Williams and Kit Caless
(Photo credit: Chris Power)

It was pleasing to see my Twitter timeline come alive over the following twenty-four hours as discerning news outlets and other media spread the word. I link here to the press release as published by the contemporary small press who also reviewed each book on the shortlist – do check them out.

Not all of the judges could attend but those that did duly posed for a photo with the winning author.


Sally Shakti-Willow, James Tookey, Jackie Law, Paul Fulcher, Graham Fulcher, Eley Williams, Neil Griffiths, Alan Crilly, Gayle Lazda, Ann Kennedy-Smith
(Photo credit: Robyn Law)

As Little Island Press said, it is a miracle that this prize exists. The miracle happened because of the hard work and dedication of Neil Griffiths, this year ably assisted by James Tookey. From this grateful reader, thank you. Much gratitude also to the many supporters and sponsors who made the prize viable. And huge congratulations to Influx and Eley.


Neil Griffiths and Eley Williams
(Photo credit: ContempSmallPress)

You may follow The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses on Twitter: RofC Prize (@PrizeRofc)

Click on the photo above to buy the winning book.

 

(Gratuitous photo of my daughter and I enjoying the evening)


(Photo credit: ContempSmallPress)

 

 

 

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The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses Shortlist Announcement

Yesterday evening, at the Centre for New Writing at the University of Manchester, an event was held which culminated in the announcement of the shortlist for the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Prior to the announcement there were panel discussions and presentations from publishers and authors.

When I saw this lineup last week I knew that I wanted to attend and am grateful to my husband for making it possible. As this post goes out we are still in Manchester enjoying an impromptu City Break.

Having been on the judging panel I was aware of which presses would be on the shortlist – you may remember that I attended a dinner in London where the longlist was hotly debated. For four hours the judges argued and presented their cases for including each book. They all had their advocates and, when it became clear that certain titles were not to go forward, passions were in evidence. The chair did a fine job of keeping the discussion steady and moving things along. Votes were taken and taken again, often with only one or two dividing the books to be included and those to be set aside. We knew that we had an impressively strong longlist and the difficulty of whittling it down to five or six titles was evidence of its literary quality.

Our task though was to produce a shortlist. These are the books that were eventually chosen, as announced last night:

 

Attrib. by Eley Williams (Influx)

Blue Self-Portrait by Noemi Lefevbre (Les Fugitives)

Darker with the Lights On by David Haydn (Little Island Press)

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (Charco Press)

Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner (Dostoevsky Wannabe)

We That Are Young by Preti Taneja (Galley Beggar Press)

The winner has yet to be chosen. There will be a further event in London on 20th March when that announcement will be made. Whichever book is selected, this entire shortlist is well worth reading.

 

 

 

 

The Republic of Consciousness Prize 2017 Longlist

On Thursday of this week, The Times Literary Supplement announced the longlist for the 2017 Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. You may read the article, which includes Neil Griffiths’ thoughts on each book, by clicking here. This made public the results of a process I have been involved in since the summer. As a member of the prize’s reader bloc I have been privileged to be a part of the judging process, reading all the books submitted and providing my views. The reader bloc have been sharing their thoughts and opinions amongst themselves over the past few months which has highlighted differences in reading preferences. One thing we have all agreed on though is the high quality of the submissions. We have read some of the best literary fiction published this year.

The longlist is an outstanding selection representing the wide variety of titles we were asked to consider. When Neil Griffiths created the prize he wrote the following Mission Statement which I kept in mind as the judging process progressed.

The Republic of Consciousness is an expression of the affect of a particular kind of writing. Whilst I’m sure there are examples before Shakespeare, for our purposes the Shakespearean soliloquy might be regarded as the first explicit attempt to deliver us into the consciousness of another person, to take us from being mere witnesses to a character’s behaviour to participating in their lived experience. It is an act of phenomenological conjuring, which in slightly less technical parlance means the re-creation of a perceived world without any mediating voice. Of course there is a contradiction in this definition: the novel or play is an artefact, a work of fiction, and a long way from direct prehension of phenomena. And yet. There are writers whose work suggests that human consciousness beyond their own can be accessed, and through that the categorical unknowableness of others’ lived experience might be revealed. It is writing as a moral act. The Republic of Consciousness is here to support and celebrate this.

The prize is intended to reward small presses willing to take a risk on books that offer readers ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose’. The longlisted titles meet these criteria and more. As well as literary merit the judges were asked to consider how much we enjoyed each reading experience.

I have already reviewed these works – you may check out my thoughts by clicking on the titles below. Should you choose to read these books do please consider borrowing from a library, buying from an independent bookshop, or ordering direct from the publisher where this is possible. These small presses can only survive if they are able to cover their costs and Amazon does not always support this endeavour. If you click on the publisher listed below you will be taken to their page for the book.

Blue Self-Portrait by Noémi Lefebvre (translated by Sophie Lewis) – published by Les Fugitives

An Overcoat by Jack Robinson – published by CB Editions

Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell – published by And Other Stories

Compass by Mathias Enard (translated by Charlotte Mandell) – published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

Attrib. (and other stories) by Eley Williams – published by Influx Press

We that are young by Preti Taneja – published by Galley Beggar Press

In the Absence of Absalon by Simon Okotie – published by Salt

Playing Possum by Kevin Davey – published by Aaaargh! Press

The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers – published by Bluemoose Books

Die, My Love by Ariana Harwicz (translated by Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff) – published by Charco Press

Gaudy Bauble by Isabel Waidner – published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe

The Iron Age by Arja Kajermo (illustrated by Susanna Kajermo Törner) – published by Tramp Press

Darker With The Lights On by David Hayden – published by Little Island Press

The shortlist will be announced at Waterstones Manchester on February 15, 2018. To keep up with news on the prize you may follow on twitter at @prizerofc. It will be a challenge to whittle this list down to the five from which the winner will be selected later in the spring.

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 – more 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.

Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize Winner(s) Event

Yesterday evening I enjoyed my first literary prize presentation event when I attended the announcement of the winner(s) of the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Held in the impressive Fyvie Hall at the University of Westminster this turned out to be a fun and friendly evening. I managed to talk to some lovely people from Cassava and Peirene as well as Becky and Sally, who have also been reviewing the books that were under consideration for the Contemporary Small Presses website.

After drinks, canapes and mingling with the attendees, Neil Griffiths, who instigated and organised the prize, opened proceedings. He told the rapt audience that he has been accused of trying to overthrow the literary establishment. He acknowledged that there is plenty of fine fiction coming from the bigger houses. He was not the only one in the room who believed that the best innovative fiction is being published in the UK and Ireland by the small presses, that they enabled stories, characters and experimentation not found anywhere else in British publishing.

   

This wasn’t an evening for long speeches so Neil moved swiftly on to the first award – for a Surfeit of Multitudinous Energy. He explained that he had decided on the name and criteria for this and was keeping his reasoning to himself. The award went to Galley Beggar Press for publishing Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge. Both the author and publisher, Sam Jordison, accepted the award. It was good to see that under his shirt Sam was rocking his now signature EU t-shirt.

After a short break during which I was able to chat about the books with fellow attendees and more drinks could be consumed, Neil introduced Guardian newspaper reviewer, Nicholas Lazard, who presented the remaining awards.

There were two runners up.

The first went to Anakana Schofield for Martin John, published by And Other Stories. As the author could not join her publisher, Nicky, to collect the award she was represented by Joanna Walsh.

The second runner up prize went to Solar Bones by Mike McCormack published by Tramp Press. The publisher had travelled from Ireland to be there.

   

Moving swiftly on to the winner. The inaugural Republic of Conciousness Prize for Small Presses was won by Counternarratives by John Keene, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions. The publishers accepted the award, expressed their gratitude and commented that it is not easy to publish their kind of fiction. This reader is very glad that the fabulous small presses enrich us by managing to do so anyway.

Having concluded formal proceedings there was once more time to mingle. The venue staff ensured that nobody went thirsty – we were well looked after.

   

As Neil has a book coming out next year he will hand over organisational duties to James Tookey. I do hope that we see Neil’s Family of Love, published by Dodo Ink, take its place on the 2018 shortlist.

Thank you to the publishers who have provided me with interviews or guest posts as part of my coverage of this prize. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to be involved.

Guest post by independent publisher, And Other Stories

Chatting to independent publisher, Daunt Books

Chatting to independent publisher, Freight Books

Choosing a favourite from The Republic of Consciousness Prize Shortlist

rocp

Today I will be travelling up to London to attend the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses Winners’ Event. My thanks to Neil Griffiths for my invitation. Regular readers may have noticed that I have been running a feature on this prize for the past few weeks. I introduced this here: Reading the Republic of Consciousness Prize Shortlist. If you click on the covers below you may now read my reviews of each shortlisted book.

martinjohn   born-on-a-tuesday

finefrontsmall   lightbox

counternarratives   treats

forbidden-line   solar-bones-cover

How does one choose a favourite from such a stellar line-up?

This question led me to contemplate a more controversial one – what makes a book good?

A well known, much coveted literary prize has been criticised for being too high brow at times yet this is exactly what certain readers, some of whom admire their own good taste in literature, wish more of the popular books could be. Some decry the number of ‘genre’ titles being published each year despite these enjoying sustained high sales. The book buying public does not always conform to a standard the self professed literary elite consider desirable.

Of course, I understand that readers buy books brought to their attention, which is more likely to happen if a generous publicity budget is allocated, a cost the smaller presses would struggle to cover. Personally I choose not to read many of the most popular genres of books as I do not enjoy them, but those who do help to subsidise the market for everyone else. Bookshops need to shift volumes of these bestsellers if they are to afford the shelf space for more radical works.

To return to this prize, which aimed to draw attention to small, independent publishers producing brilliant and brave literary fiction, the shortlist was a pleasure to peruse. I have read many innovative, challenging, entertaining and all round excellent books from independents over the years – they are well worth seeking out. There are lots of small presses and, between them, they offer a wide variety of works. Some even publish ‘genre’ books.

I have no wish to criticise anyone’s choice of reading matter, although I will always encourage everyone to read more books. What I will also do is to shout loudly about those titles I consider worth reading, which includes several being considered here.

The benefit of literary prizes is that they generate discussion. Word is spread by more people of books they have enjoyed. For each individual reader, perhaps this is what makes a book good.

So, how did I choose my favourite?

Each of the above books is technically well written – the construction and use of language impressed. There was originality, a challenge to thinking and a compelling story to tell. Where I found differentiation was in entertainment and engagement. Not all succeeded in holding my attention to every word on every page.

In the end I carefully mulled between two novels – Martin John and Solar Bones, and two short story collections – Light Box and Treats. From here I chose based on the story that lingered.

I am not on the judging panel, which is perhaps just as well, but if I were asked to nominate a winner from this excellent shortlist it would be Solar Bones. We shall see if any agree with me this evening. Whoever wins, I can see how each would deserve the accolade.

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Reading the Republic of Consciousness Prize Shortlist

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In mid January I wrote of my plans to read the Republic of Consciousness Prize shortlist (you may read my post here). Between now and the announcement of the prize winner on 9th March I will be posting my thoughts on each book along with guest posts from those of their publishers who chose to take part in this feature. I am grateful to all who found the time to provide me with content.

I had previously read two of the books from the prize longlist which did not make it onto the shortlist. I have since read one other. If you click on a title below the photograph you may read my reviews.

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I had also previously read one of the shortlisted books:

Given the quality of the writing in all of these books I was eager to tackle the remaining shortlist and have not been disappointed. All credit to the prize judges for curating such an impressive selection.

On Friday I will post the first of my remaining reviews – Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Tramp Press). This has already won the Goldsmith Prize and the Irish Book Award Novel of the Year. It was the only other book from the Republic of Consciousness Prize long and short lists that I already had on my TBR pile. All other shortlisted books have been generously provided by the publishers for this feature – a big thank you to them.

Next week I will post my thoughts on: Fine Fine Fine Fine Fine by Diane Williams (CB Editions – who went into semi-retirement just before the shortlist was announced); Martin John by Anakana Schofield (And Other Stories) which was also shortlisted for the 2015 Giller Prize and the 2016 Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction; Treats by Lara Williams (Freight Books).

My reviews for the remaining three books on the shortlist – Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John (Cassava Republic) which was shortlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature and longlisted for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature, Counter Narratives by John Keene (Fitzcarraldo Editions), and Light Box by KJ Orr (Daunt Books) – will follow along with the promised publisher guest posts.

Naturally I am not the only person reading these books. I recommend you check out the reviews being posted by the contemporary small press – A site for small presses, writers, poets & readers as they are excellent.

As a footnote to this introduction I will add one other thing that this exercise has taught me – how to spell consciousness. I have been hashtagging it on Twitter incorrectly for over a month. If you spot me doing this sort of thing again? Please let me know.