The Barbellion Prize – A Roundup

At the end of last month I agreed to help promote the inaugural Barbellion Prize by reviewing its shortlist. I wrote about this here. All I initially knew about the books selected were their titles and the aims of the prize. I trusted that the judges would choose books worth reading – this proved a good call.

This year all shortlisted books were memoirs. It quickly became clear that each was structured differently, reflecting the authors’ skills – including use of language.

Most were beautifully written, a pleasure to read. Experiences were not mined for misery – to garner sympathy – but rather to help raise awareness of issues faced.

Over the past couple of weekends I have posted my thoughts on each book. Below are links to my reviews.

On 12th February, Golem Girl was announced as the winner of the prize. I have no quibbles with the judges’ choice – plus the amazing artwork by the author complemented the text perfectly. My personal favourite was probably Sanatorium, for its lyricism, but the list was so strong there was no disappointment at the outcome.

I was not the only book blogger approached to review the shortlist. If you would like to find out what other readers thought of these titles, check out the following blogs.

My thanks to the Barbellion Prize for arranging with the publishers for me to be sent copies of the four shortlisted books. I feel privileged to have been involved.

The Barbellion Prize

The Barbellion Prize is a book prize dedicated to the furtherance of ill and disabled voices in writing. The prize is awarded annually to an author whose work has best represented the experience of chronic illness and/or disability.

The awarded work can be of any genre in fiction, memoir, biography, poetry, or critical non-fiction from around the world – whether it is in English, in translation, traditionally published, or self-published.

The prize is named in tribute to English diarist W.N.P. Barbellion, who wrote eloquently on his life with multiple sclerosis (MS) before his death in 1919.

 

Earlier this month I was delighted to be contacted by Jake Goldsmith, creator of The Barbellion Prize, asking if I would consider taking this year’s shortlisted books to feature on my blog. I had been following the prize on Twitter and was happy to become involved.

In writing about why he set up the prize, Jake states:

It can take a lot of time and energy to be ill, and many do not have the luxury of being able to write about their lives, or be creative, or even the opportunity of an education in order to do that. And it would surely be better if we could see and celebrate these lives more.

The prize is being judged by

  • Dr Shahd Alshammari – Assistant Professor of Literature, currently teaching in Kuwait
  • Jake Goldsmith – founder and director of The Barbellion Prize
  • Cat Mitchell – Lecturer and Programme Leader of the Writing and Publishing degree at the University of Derby

All are writers who live with chronic illness.

 

The 2020 Longlist

I have only read one of the longlisted books – Saving Lucia – but liked the sound of the four books I was being offered.

I look forward to reading these as they arrive and posting my thoughts.

The winner will be announced on 12 February 2021.

 

To find out more about The Barbellion Prize, you may visit its website: here.

You may also follow them on Twitter: @BarbellionPrize

Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize Winners’ Event 2019

On Thursday of last week I travelled to London to attend a party at Foyles bookshop on the Charing Cross Road. The event was to culminate in the announcement of the winner of this year’s Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses. Long time readers will know that I am a particular fan of this prize and its ethos. I was honoured to serve as a judge last year.

This year I observed from a distance, as reader and advocate. My coverage of the longlist and shortlist is best summarised here. My thanks again to the publishers who provided me with books or a guest post. I urge you to read any or all of these fine literary works.

For the Winners’ Event I travelled to London by bus which takes twice as long as by train but costs £13 return as opposed to £56. As well as loss of comfort and time, bus travel also precludes reading as this makes me ill. I therefore downloaded podcasts to keep me entertained and these proved excellent preparation for the event.

  • Republic of Consciousness Podcast: the judges discuss the shortlist here
  • London Review Bookshop Podcast: the shortlisted authors read from their books here

The weather was glorious for the two days I was in the capital (I stayed over in my daughter’s student house) so on arrival I was able to walk from Victoria to the venue. I then enjoyed time in a bookshop which is always a pleasure.

The party was just getting started as I moved to the top floor space. There was a fine turnout of authors, publishers, writers and readers. I had some lovely conversations – thank you to those who came to say hello and to those who welcomed me when I joined their circles.

The founder and one of the organisers of the prize, Neil Griffiths, then gave a speech that I felt encapsulated its ethos – celebration rather than competition. He stated that he will be stepping back from the organisation next year which a few people commented on with concern. The RofC is a valued and increasingly respected voice in the world of literary fiction.

Neil introduced each of the books on the shortlist before announcing the winner.

Actually, there were two winners because two of the books shortlisted could not be denied the title: Murmur by Will Eaves, published by CB Editions; and Lucia by Alex Pheby, published by Galley Beggar Press.

Each of these winners gave a short speech of appreciation.

 

I keep coming back to this guest post provided by Charles Boyle last year in which he wrote:

“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.”

It was a pleasure and a privilege to once again spend an evening in the company of this esteemed – if not widely enough recognised and generously rewarded – literary community.


If purchasing their books on line do please consider buying direct from small publishers as this is the best way to support their ongoing work.

Related posts:

Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses – Winner 2017 (write-up of the 2018 event)

Gig Review: The Republic of Consciousness Prize Winner(s) Event (write-up of the 2017 event – the prize’s inaugural year)

 

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.

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: 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)

 

 

 

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