Dylan Thomas Prize 2023 Shortlist

Launched in 2006 the Dylan Thomas Prize is “aimed at encouraging raw creative talent worldwide.” It is awarded for the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under, and celebrates the international world of fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama. On Thursday the judges of the 2023 Dylan Thomas Prize announced this year’s shortlist. The list contains four debuts, comprising of three novels, two short story collections and one book of poetry.

The longlist was announced on 26 January 2023 and the twelve titles have been whittled down to a shortlist of six books.

Here is the shortlist, with blurbs taken from the Swansea University website:

 ‘Limberlost’ by Robbie Arnott (Atlantic Books)

Ned West dreams of sailing across the river on a boat of his very own. To Ned, a boat means freedom – the fresh open water, squid-rich reefs, fires on private beaches – a far cry from life on Limberlost, the family farm, where his father worries and grieves for Ned’s older brothers. They’re away fighting in a ruthless and distant war, becoming men on the battlefield, while Ned – too young to enlist – roams the land in search of rabbits to shoot, selling their pelts to fund his secret boat ambitions.

But as the seasons pass and Ned grows up, real life gets in the way. Ned falls for Callie, the tough, capable sister of his best friend, and together they learn the lessons of love, loss, and hardship. When a storm decimates the Limberlost crop and shakes the orchard’s future, Ned must decide what to protect: his childhood dreams, or the people and the land that surround him…

At turns tender and vicious, Limberlost is a tale of the masculinities we inherit, the limits of ownership and understanding, and the teeming, vibrant wonders of growing up. Told in spellbinding, folkloric spirit, this is an unforgettable love letter to the richness of the natural world from a writer of rare talent.

Seven Steeples by Sara Baume (Tramp Press)

It is the winter following the summer they met. A couple, Bell and Sigh, move into a remote house in the Irish countryside with their dogs. Both solitary with misanthropic tendencies, they leave the conventional lives stretched out before them to build another–one embedded in ritual, and away from the friends and family from whom they’ve drifted.

They arrive at their new home on a clear January day and look up to appraise the view. A mountain gently and unspectacularly ascends from the Atlantic, ‘as if it had accumulated stature over centuries. As if, over centuries, it had steadily flattened itself upwards.’ They make a promise to climb the mountain, but – over the course of the next seven years – it remains un-climbed. We move through the seasons with Bell and Sigh as they come to understand more about the small world around them, and as their interest in the wider world recedes.

Seven Steeples is a beautiful and profound meditation on the nature of love, and the resilience of nature. Through Bell and Sigh, and the life they create for themselves, Sara Baume explores what it means to escape the traditional paths laid out before us – and what it means to evolve in devotion to another person, and to the landscape.

God’s Children Are Little Broken Things by Arinze Ifeakandu (Orion, Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

A man revisits the university campus where he lost his first love, aware now of what he couldn’t understand then. A daughter returns home to Lagos after the death of her father, where she must face her past – and future -relationship with his longtime partner. A young musician rises to fame at the risk of losing himself and the man who loves him.

Generations collide, families break and are remade, languages and cultures intertwine, and lovers find their ways to futures; from childhood through adulthood; on university campuses, city centres, and neighbourhoods where church bells mingle with the morning call to prayer.

I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel (Rough Trade Press / Granta)

In I’m A Fan single speaker uses the story of their experience in a seemingly unequal, unfaithful relationship as a prism through which to examine the complicated hold we each have on one another. With a clear and unforgiving eye, the narrator unpicks the behaviour of all involved, herself included, and makes startling connections between the power struggles at the heart of human relationships and those of the wider world, in turn offering a devastating critique of access, social media, patriarchal heteronormative relationships, and our cultural obsession with status and how that status is conveyed.

In this incredible debut, Sheena Patel announces herself as a vital new voice in literature, capable of rendering a range of emotions and visceral experiences on the page. Sex, violence, politics, tenderness, humour—Patel handles them all with both originality and dexterity of voice.

Send Nudes by Saba Sams (Bloomsbury Publishing)

In ten dazzling stories, Saba Sams dives into the world of girlhood and immerses us in its contradictions and complexities: growing up too quickly, yet not quickly enough; taking possession of what one can, while being taken possession of; succumbing to societal pressure but also orchestrating that pressure. These young women are feral yet attentive, fierce yet vulnerable, exploited yet exploitative.

Threading between clubs at closing time, pub toilets, drenched music festivals and beach holidays, these unforgettable short stories deftly chart the treacherous terrain of growing up – of intense friendships, of ambivalent mothers, of uneasily blended families, and of learning to truly live in your own body.

With striking wit, originality and tenderness, Send Nudes celebrates the small victories in a world that tries to claim each young woman as its own.

Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head by Warsan Shire (Chatto & Windus, [Vintage])

With her first full-length poetry collection, Warsan Shire introduces us to a girl who, in the absence of a nurturing guide, makes her own stumbling way toward womanhood. Drawing from her own life and the lives of loved ones, as well as pop culture and news headlines, Shire finds vivid, unique details in the experiences of refugees and immigrants, mothers and daughters, Black women and teenage girls. These are noisy lives, full of music and weeping and surahs. These are fragrant lives, full of blood and perfume and jasmine. These are polychrome lives, full of moonlight and turmeric and kohl.

The long-awaited collection from one of our most exciting contemporary poets is a blessing, an incantatory celebration of survival. Each reader will come away changed.

The 2023 judges are Di Spears (Chair), Prajwal Parajuly, Rachel Long, Jon Gower and Maggie Shipstead.

I have read two of the six titles and without giving too much away I hope one of the other four win it!!

And it is interesting how the Prize encourages “raw creative talent worldwide” but is restricted to a work published in the English language!


Goldsmiths Prize 2022 Shortlist

The Goldsmiths Prize was established in 2013 to reward fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form”. The winning writer receives a £10,000 prize.

Previous winners:

2013 – Eimear McBride for ‘A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing’

2014 – Ali Smith for ‘How to be Both’

2015 – Kevin Barry for ‘Beathebone’

2016 – Mike McCormack for ‘Solar Bones’

2017 – Nicola Barker for ‘H(A)PPY’

2018 – Robin Robertson for ‘The Long Take’

2019 – Lucy Ellmann for ‘Ducks, Newburyport’

2020 – M. John Harrison for ‘The Sunken Land Begins to Rise Again’

2021 – Isabel Waidner for ‘Sterling Karat Gold’

The shortlist for the 2022 Goldsmiths Prize has just been announced. Here are the six books in contention:

‘Somebody Loves You’ by Mona Arshi (And Other Stories)

‘Seven Steeples’ by Sara Baume (Tramp Press)

‘Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies’ by Maddie Mortimer (Picador)

“Peaces’ by Helen Oyeyemi (Faber & Faber)

‘there are more things’ by Yara Rodrigues Fowler (Fleet)

‘Diego Garcia’ by Natasha Soobramanien & Luke Williams (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

The judges for this year’s prize are Dr Tim Parnell (Chair), Natasha Brown, Tom Gatti and Ali Smith and the winner will be announced on 10 November 2022.

Happy reading.

2022 Booker Prize Shortlist

The judges for the 2022 Booker Prize have whittled the thirteen longlisted books down to a shortlist of six novels. As the press release says:

The shortlist includes the shortest book and oldest author ever to be nominated, three second novels, authors from five countries and four continents, three independent publishers and several titles inspired by real events.

Here are the six shortlisted books, with the summaries coming from the publisher’s websites (including American spelling if that is how it is presented):

NoViolet Bulawayo ‘Glory’

NoViolet Bulawayo’s bold new novel follows the fall of the Old Horse, the long-serving leader of a fictional country, and the drama that follows for a rumbustious nation of animals on the path to true liberation. Inspired by the unexpected fall by coup in November 2017 of Robert G. Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president of nearly four decades, Glory shows a country’s imploding, narrated by a chorus of animal voices that unveil the ruthlessness required to uphold the illusion of absolute power and the imagination and bulletproof optimism to overthrow it completely. By immersing readers in the daily lives of a population in upheaval, Bulawayo reveals the dazzling life force and irresistible wit that lie barely concealed beneath the surface of seemingly bleak circumstances.

And at the center of this tumult is Destiny, a young goat who returns to Jidada to bear witness to revolution—and to recount the unofficial history and the potential legacy of the females who have quietly pulled the strings here. The animal kingdom—its connection to our primal responses and its resonance in the mythology, folktales, and fairy tales that define cultures the world over—unmasks the surreality of contemporary global politics to help us understand our world more clearly, even as Bulawayo plucks us right out of it.

Although Zimbabwe is the immediate inspiration for this thrilling story, Glory was written in a time of global clamor, with resistance movements across the world challenging different forms of oppression. Thus it often feels like Bulawayo captures several places in one blockbuster allegory, crystallizing a turning point in history with the texture and nuance that only the greatest fiction can.

Claire Keegan ‘Small Things Like These’

It is 1985, in an Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces into his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he feels the past rising up to meet him — and encounters the complicit silences of a people controlled by the Church.

Alan Garner ‘Treacle Walker’

‘Ragbone! Ragbone! Any rags! Pots for rags! Donkey stone!’

Joe looked up from his comic and lifted his eye patch. There was a white pony in the yard. It was harnessed to a cart, a flat cart, with a wooden chest on it. A man was sitting at a front corner of the cart, holding the reins. His face was creased. He wore a long coat and a floppy high-crowned hat, with hair straggling beneath, and a leather bag was slung from his shoulder across his hip.

Joe Coppock squints at the world with his lazy eye. He reads his comics, collects birds’ eggs and treasures his marbles, particularly his prized dobbers. When Treacle Walker appears off the Cheshire moor one day – a wanderer, a healer – an unlikely friendship is forged and the young boy is introduced to a world he could never have imagined.

Percival Everett ‘The Trees’

The Trees is a page-turner that opens with a series of brutal murders in the rural town of Money, Mississippi. When a pair of detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation arrive, they meet expected resistance from the local sheriff, his deputy, the coroner, and a string of racist White townsfolk.

The murders present a puzzle, for at each crime scene there is a second dead body: that of a man who resembles Emmett Till, a young black boy lynched in the same town 65 years before.

The detectives suspect that these are killings of retribution, but soon discover that eerily similar murders are taking place all over the country. Something truly strange is afoot. As the bodies pile up, the MBI detectives seek answers from a local root doctor who has been documenting every lynching in the country for years, uncovering a history that refuses to be buried.

In this bold, provocative book, Everett takes direct aim at racism and police violence, and does so in a fast-paced style that ensures the reader can’t look away. The Trees is an enormously powerful novel of lasting importance.

Shehan Karunatilaka ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’

Colombo, 1990. Maali Almeida, war photographer, gambler and closet queen, has woken up dead in what seems like a celestial visa office. His dismembered body is sinking in the serene Beira lake and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. But even in the afterlife, time is running out for Maali. He has seven moons to contact the man and woman he loves most and lead them to the photos that will rock Sri Lanka.

Elizabeth Strout ‘Oh William’

Lucy Barton is a successful writer living in New York, navigating the second half of her life as a recent widow and parent to two adult daughters. A surprise encounter leads her to reconnect with William, her first husband – and longtime, on-again-off-again friend and confidante. Recalling their college years, the birth of their daughters, the painful dissolution of their marriage, and the lives they built with other people, Strout weaves a portrait, stunning in its subtlety, of a decades-long partnership.

Oh William! is a luminous novel about the myriad mysteries that make up a marriage, about discovering family secrets, late in life, that rearrange everything we think we know about those closest to us, and the way people continue to live and love, against all odds. At the heart of this story is the unforgettable, indomitable voice of Lucy Barton, who once again offers a profound, lasting reflection on the mystery of existence. ‘This is the way of life,’ Lucy says. ‘The many things we do not know until it is too late.’

The winner of the 2022 Booker Prize will be announced on 17 October 2022.

2022 Booker Prize Longlist

The 2022 Booker Prize longlist, thirteen titles in total, was announced today. Given the changes to the rules in 2013 (for the 2014 award onwards), allowing entry for works written in English, not just works from the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, I haven’t been following it as closely, nor have I been reading many of the titles. However, this blog was established to track the award so here are the thirteen books that made the 2022 longlist (I have presented them in the same order as the Booker Prize website – which is not alphabetical by title nor author nor publisher – if you can figure out the order they’ve presented them please add a comment below, it better not be cover colour!!!)

‘The Colony’ by Audrey Magee

‘After Sappho’ by Selby Wynn Schwartz

‘Glory’ by NoViolet Bulawayo

‘Small Things Like These’ by Claire Keegan

‘Nightcrawling’ by Leila Mottley

‘Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies’ by Maddie Mortimer

‘Case Study’ by Graeme Macrae Burnet

‘Treacle Walker’ by Alan Garner

‘The Trees’ by Percival Everett

‘Trust’ by Hernan Diaz

‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ by Shehan Karunatilaka

‘Oh William!’ by Elizabeth Strout

‘Booth’ by Karen Joy Fowler

It is great to see independent publishers (Eg. Influx and Galley Beggar) on the list, let’s hope it doesn’t cost them a fortune in publicity and distribution to make the shortlist., which will be announced on 6 September. The winner will be announced on 17 October 2022.

Happy reading.

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlists 2022

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards shortlists have been announced, the Awards are held annually with the winners for each category being announced on 16 May 2022 as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival.

With numerous categories I’ll head straight into the shortlists.

The Christina Stead Prize ($40,000) for Fiction.

Tony Birch for ‘Dark as Last Night’
Merlinda Bobis for ‘The Kindness of Birds’
Katherine Brabon for ‘The Shut Ins’
John Hughes for ‘The Dogs’
John Kinsella for ‘Pushing Back’
Claire Thomas for ‘The Performance’

The UTS Glenda Adams Award ($5,000) for New Writing (writer has not previously had a published book length work)

Ella Baxter for ‘The New Animal’
Kavita Bedford for ‘Friends & Dark Shapes’
Stuart Everly-Wilson for ‘Low Expectations’
Angela O’Keefe for ‘Night Blue’
Monica Raszewski for ‘The Archaeology of a Dream City’
Chloe Wilson for ‘Hold Your Fire’

The Douglas Stewart Prize ($40,000) for Non-Fiction

Bernadette Brennan for ‘Leaping Into Waterfalls: The enigmatic Gillian Mears’
Veronica Gorrie for ‘Black and Blue: a memoir of racism and resilience’
Amani Haydar for ‘The Mother Wound’
Kate Holden for ‘The Winter Road: A story of Legacy, Land and a Killing at Croppa Creek’
Brendan James Murray for ‘The School: The ups and downs of one year in the classroom’
Mark Willacy for ‘Rogue Forces’

The Kenneth Slessor Prize ($30,000) for Poetry

Eunice Andrada for ‘Take Care’
Evelyn Araluen for ‘Drop Bear’
Eileen Chong for ‘A Thousand Crimson Blooms’
Dan Disney for ‘accelerations & inertias’
John Kinsella for ‘Supervivid Depastoralism’
Bella Li for ‘Theory of Colours’

The Patricia Wrightson Prize ($30,000) for Children’s Literature

Philip Bunting for ‘Me, Microbes and I’
Peter Carnavas for ‘My Brother Ben’
Christopher Cheng & Stephen Michael King for ‘Bear and Rat’
Karen Foxlee for ‘Dragon Skin’
Morris Gleitzman for ‘Always’
Kirli Saunders for ‘Bindi’

The Ethel Turner Prize ($30,000) for Young People’s Literature

Kathryn Barker for ‘Waking Romeo’
Felicity Castagna for ‘Girls in Boys’ Cars’
Leanne Hall for ‘The Gaps’
Pip Harry for ‘Are you there, Buddah?’
Rebecca Lim for ‘Tiger Daughter’
Rhiannon Wilde for ‘Henry Hamlet’s Heart’

The Nick Enright Prize ($30,000) for Playwriting

Kodie Bedford for ‘Cursed!’
James Elazzi for ‘Queen Fatima’
Elias Jamieson Brown for ‘Green Park’
Finegan Kruckemeyer for ‘Hibernation’
Kirsty Marillier for ‘Orange Thrower’
Ian Michael, Chris Isaacs for ‘York’

The Betty Roland Prize ($30,000) for Scriptwriting

Shaun Grant for ‘Nitram’
Alec Morgantiriki Onus for ‘Ablaze’
Kelsey Munro for ‘Bump Episode 10 ‘Matrescence’ Season 1’
Leah Purcell for ‘The Drover’s Wife The Legend of Molly Johnson’

The Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000)

Randa Abdel-Fattah for ‘Coming of Age in the War on Terror’
Safdar Ahmed for ‘Still Alive’
Eunice Andrada for ‘Take Care’
Kodie Bedford for ‘Cursed!’
Amani Haydar for ‘The Mother Wound’
Rebecca Lim for ‘Tiger Daughter’

The NSW Premier’s Translation Prize ($30,000) – a biennial award

The award will next be offered in 2023.

The Indigenous Writers’ Prize ($30,000) – a biennial award

Larissa Behrendt for ‘After Story’
Lisa Fuller for ‘Ghost Bird’
Anita Heiss for ‘Bila Yarrudhangglangdhuray; River of Dreams’
Terri Janke for ‘True Tracks’
Gary Lonesborough for ‘The Boy From the Mish’
Alf Taylor for ‘God, the Devil and Me’

There are also awards for “People’s Choice” (Only taken from the Fiction Award list), “Book of the Year” and a “Special Award”.

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2022 Longlist

Appropriately on International Women’s Day the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction is announced. Here are the thirteen titles longlisted for the 2022 Prize:

‘The Bread the Devil Knead’ by Lisa Allen-Agostini
‘Salt Lick’ by Lulu Allison
‘Remote Sympathy’ by Catherine Chidgey
‘The Paper Palace’ by Miranda Cowley Heller
‘The Sentence’ by Lousie Eldrich
‘Flamingo’ by Rachel Elliott
‘Sorrow and Bliss’ by Meg Mason
‘The Exhibitionist’ by Charlotte Mendelson
‘The Book of Form and Emptiness’ by Ruth Ozeki
‘This One Sky Day’ by Leone Ross
‘The Island of Missing Trees’ by Elif Shafak
‘The Great Circle’ by Maggie Shipstead
‘The Final Revival of Opal & Nev’ by Dawnie Walton

Eight of the thirteen titles beginning with “The…”

Of the titles I have only read one, “This One Sky Day” by Leone Ross as it was shortlisted for this year’s Goldsmiths Prize. I will possibly get to a few more over the coming months, depending upon availability (for example, last year’s longlisted ‘Detransition Baby’ by Torrey Peters took seven months to arrive in the post!!!)

This year’s judges are Mary Ann Sieghart (Chair), author of ‘The Authority Gap: Why We Still Take Women Less Seriously Than Men, and What We Can Do About It’, Pandora Sykes, journalist, Anita Sethi, author of ‘I Belong Here: a Journey Along the Backbone of Britain’, Dorothy Koomson, author of ‘I Know What You’ve Done’ and Lorraine Candy journalist.

This year the shortlist of six titles will be announced on 27 April and the winner on 15 June 2022, unlike some prizes this one gives you a decent amount of reading time to get through the titles before culling the list and announcing a winner.

Rathbones Folio Prize Shortlist 2022

The Rathbones Folio Prize commenced in 2014, under the name of the “Folio Prize” as it was sponsored by the London based publisher “The Folio Society” for its first two years. There was no prize in 2016.  Since 2017 it has been sponsored by Rathbones Investment Management.

The prize was created after a group “took umbrage at the direction they saw the Booker Prize taking…leaning toward popular fiction rather than literary fiction” its launch also coincided with the Booker’s decision to open the award up to international writers, writing in English, in 2013. However, during the first two years the prize was presented to an English language book of fiction published in the UK by an author from any country. The prize dropped from £40,000 in 2014 and 2015 to £20,000 in 2017 and 2018, then climbed to £30,000 from 2019 onwards.

Since Rathbone’s sponsorship, from 2017, the prize was awarded to the best new work of literature published in the English language during a given year, regardless of form (fiction, non-fiction, and poetry).

“The jury for the prize is called the Academy, a body of more than 250 writers and critics that includes Margaret Atwood, Peter Carey, A. S. Byatt, Zadie Smith and J. M. Coetzee. Books are nominated by members of the Academy, three each, ranked. Points are given to each book depending on how many first, second or third rankings are earned. The top scoring books are made into a longlist of 60 books (80 in the first two years). The list of nominated titles is then judged by a panel of three to five judges drawn from the Academy who select a shortlist of eight and the final winner.” (Thanks Wikipedia) A full membership listing can be found here.  

On 10 February 2022, the shortlist for the 2022 Rathbones Folio Prize was announced, here are those works (listed in alphabetical order by author surname). The blurbs are taken straight from the Rathbones Folio Prize website.

Natasha Brown, Assembly

A Black British woman is preparing to attend a lavish garden party at her boyfriend’s family estate, set deep in the English countryside. At the same time, she is considering the  carefully assembled pieces of herself.

Damon Galgut, The Promise

This novel charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The family is gathering for Ma’s funeral; the younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for – not least the failed promise to the family’s black maid.

Selima Hill, Men Who Feed Pigeons

This collection brings together seven contrasting but complementary poem sequences all relating to men and different kinds of women’s relationships with men.

Philip Hoare, Albert and the Whale

In this illuminating exploration of the intersection between life, art and the sea, Philip Hoare sets out to discover why Albert Dürer’s art endures. In encounters with medieval alchemists, modernist poets, eccentric emperors, queer soul rebels and ambassadorial whales these explorations provoke awkward questions: what is natural or unnatural? Is art a fatal contract? Or does it in fact have the power to save us?

Claire Keegan, Small Things Like These

In 1985, in an Irish town, Bill Furlong, a coal and timber merchant, faces his busiest season. As he does the rounds, he encounters the complicit silences of a people controlled by the Church.

Gwendoline Riley, My Phantoms

Bridget is in her early forties. She sees her mother, Helen (Hen), once a year, an arrangement that suits them both. But what is this relationship that feels to Bridget mostly performative? Is Bridget cruel to Hen, or is she merely rational? Is it possible for these two women to find peace with one another without acknowledging the truth of it, without reckoning with the past?

Sunjeev Sahota, China Room

Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days at work in the family’s ‘china room’, sequestered from contact with the men. This is a heart-stopping story of love, family, survival and betrayal from a prize-winning author.

Colm Toibin, The Magician

The Magician is at once the intimate portrait of a writer and, at the same time, the story of a turbulent century. It tells the story of Thomas Mann, who would find himself on the wrong side of history in WW1; would have six children and keep his homosexuality hidden; would write some of the greatest works of European literature, and win the Nobel Prize, but would never return to the country that inspired his creativity.

The 2022 judges are Tessa Hadley (Chair), writer of short stories and novels, Rachel Long poet and founder of the Octavia Poetry Collective for women of colour and William Atkins, non-fiction writer. Tessa Hadley saying at the shortlist announcement; “We’re so excited by our shortlist for the Rathbones Folio Prize this year. Our eight books were chosen from a fairly dazzling longlist of twenty; so many good books, prose fiction and poetry and non-fiction – so difficult to weigh one against another. There were just a few books that had seized us from the first page and hadn’t let us down until the last, and then seemed even richer and larger on a second reading.”

The winner of the £30,000 prize will be announced on 23 March 2022.

Carmen Maria Machado won the 2021 prize for her memoir of domestic abuse in a female relationship ‘In the Dream House’ (Serpent’s Tail) becoming the second female to win the award after Mexican novelist Valeria Luiselli won the award in 2020 for her book ‘Lost Children Archive’ (Fourth Estate).

2022 Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist

Worth £20,000, the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize is “the world’s largest literary prize for young writers”. Awarded for the best published literary work in the English language, written by an author aged 39 or under, the Prize celebrates fiction in all its forms including poetry, novels, short stories and drama.

On 4 February the longlist of titles for the award was announced:

  • A Passage North – Anuk Arudpragasam (Granta)
  • What Noise Against the Cane – Desiree Bailey (Yale University Press)
  • Keeping the House – Tice Cin (And Other Stories)
  • Auguries of a Minor God – Nidhi Zak/Aria Eipe (Faber)
  • The Sweetness of Water – Nathan Harris (Tinder Press/Headline)
  • No One is Talking About This – Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Milk Blood Heat – Dantiel W. Moniz (Atlantic Books)
  • Hot Stew – Fiona Mozley (John Murray Press)
  • Open Water – Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking, Penguin General)
  • Acts of Desperation – Megan Nolan (Jonathan Cape)
  • Peaces – Helen Oyeyemi (Faber)
  • Filthy Animals – Brandon Taylor (Daunt Books Publishing)

Chair, co-founder and co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, Namita Gokhale is joined by judges Rachel Trezise, Luke Kennard, Alan Bilton and Irenosen Okojie to reduce the longlist down to six titles, with the shortlist announcement coming on 31 March 2022. The winner will be announced on 12 May 2022, two days before International Dylan Thomas Day.

Previous winners of the Prize were:

2006 – Rachel Trezise for ‘Fresh Apples’

2008 – Nam Le for ‘The Boat’

2010 – Elyse Fenton for ‘Clamour’

2011 – Lucy Cadwell for ‘The Meeting Point’

2012 – Maggie Shipstead for ‘Seating Arrangements’

2013 – Claire Vaye Watkins for ‘Battleborn’

2014 – Joshua Ferris for ‘To Rise Again at a Decent Hour’

2016 – Max Porter for ‘Grief is the Thing with Feathers’

2017 – Fiona McFarlane for ‘The High Places’

2018 – Kayo Chingonyi for ‘Kumukanda’

2019 – Guy Gunaratne for ‘In Our Mad and Furious City’

2020 – Bryan Washington for ‘Lot’

2021 – Raven Leilani for ‘Luster’

Bleak House – Charles Dickens (a few thoughts)

…who is telling the story (should the narrator be first or third person, close or omniscient) when in fact the truly problematic question is: Who is listening?
              – Francine Prose ‘Reading Like A Writer’

When Charles Dickens wrote ‘Bleak House’ he decided to discard “should the narrator be first or third person” logic and wrote a novel using both! It is a complex novel, innumerable characters (Wikipedia lists twenty-one major characters and forty minor ones!), and an intricate plot, presented in two parallel voices, the omniscient third person and the first-person voice of Esther Summerson, Dickens’ only female narrator. The third-person narration is in the present tense and Esther’s voice in the past tense.

I have a great deal of difficulty in beginning to write my portion of these pages, for I know I am not clever. I always knew that. I can remember, when I was a very little girl indeed, I used to say to my doll, when we were alone together, ‘Now, Dolly, I am not clever, you know very well, and you must be patient with me, like a dear!’ And so she used to sit propped by in a great arm-chair, with her beautiful complexion and rosy lips, staring at me — or not so much at me, I think, as at nothing — while I busily stitched away, and told her every one of my secrets.

An unreliable narrator indeed, Esther is not as simple as she first presents herself, as we learn with her relationships and intuitive sense. With her voice come the usual narrative errors, for example the first section of Chapter Fifty-One where she relays a conversation between Mr Woodcourt and Mr Vholes, where Mr Woodcourt is attempting to ascertain Richard’s address, Esther is not present however she suddenly has this omniscient ability.

And Esther withholds information in her narration, to heighten the tension, not divulge the mystery:

What more the letter told me, needs not to be repeated here. It has its own times and places in my story.

‘Bleak House’ is a novel of mystery, it contains a murder, a detective (I read somewhere one of the first detectives in fiction, could that be true?), it even contains spontaneous combustion, and, as per the usual Charles Dickens trope, characters with unknown parentage who may (or may not) come into wealth. It is the omniscient third person voice where the mystery is heightened, by withholding information.

Mr Snagsby can not make out what it is that he has had to do with. Something is wrong, somewhere; but what something, what may come of it, to whom, when, and from which unthought of and unheard of quarter, is the puzzle of his life. His remote impressions of the robes and coronets, the stars and garters, that sparkle through the surface-dust of Mr Tulkinghorn’s chambers; his veneration for the mysteries presided over by that best and closest of his customers, whom all the Inns of Court, all Chancery Lane, and all the legal neighbourhood agree to hold in awe; his remembrance of Detective Mr Bucket with his fore-finger, and his confidential manner impossible to be evaded or declined; persuade him that he is a party to some dangerous secret, without knowing what it is. And it is the fearful peculiarity of this condition that, at any hour of his daily life, at any opening of the shop-door, at any pull of the bell, at any entrance of a messenger, or any delivery of a letter, the secret may take air and fire, explode, and blow up — Mr Bucket only knows whom.

As Wayne C. Booth states in his ‘The Rhetoric of Fiction’:

Mystery is easily enough attained in any mode, of course, but one trouble with the old-fashioned methods of ‘Bleak House’ and The Brothers Karamazov’ is that often no reason for the mystery is provided other that the narrator’s desire to mystify. He knows all the time what he holds back until later, and although a skilful author, like a skilful magician, can conceal his suppressions and unveilings pretty well, we are likely to feel cheated when we discover that facts were held back for no good reason.

Between March 1852 and September 1853 ‘Bleak House’ appeared in nineteen monthly instalments, the final one being a double edition. The two narrative voices appear in each edition. The chopping and changing, whilst disorienting to begin with adds a regular change of perspective to a large literary work (my Oxford World’s Classics edition runs to 914 pages for the novel itself with added sections for notes, introductions, recommended reading etc), one that, with careful reading, takes some time to complete.

The opening is transfixing, you are entering a murky place, a place where everything is indistinct, here’s the second through fifth paragraphs from Chapter One:

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping, and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

Gas looming through the fog in divers places in the streets, much as the sun may, from the spongey fields, be seen to loom by husbandman and ploughboy. Most of the shops lighted two hours before their time — as the gas seems to know, for it has a haggard ad unwilling look.

The raw afternoon is rawest, and the dense fog is densest, and the muddy streets are muddiest, near that leaden-headed old obstruction, appropriate ornament for the threshold of a leaden-headed old corporation: Temple Bar. And hard by Temple Bar, in Lincoln’s Inn Hall, at the very heart of the fog, sits the High Lord Chancellor in his High Court Chancery.

Never can there come a fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which this High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds, this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.

And as we moved from the fog along the river into the “very heart of the fog” we have entered the murky and corrupt legal profession, Dickens not holding back in his disdain of lawyers and courts. As I read this opening, I had thoughts of Olga Tokarczuk’s opening part of ‘The Books of Jacob’ (translated by Jennifer Croft), ‘The Book of Fog’!!!

Whilst sharing my reading experience of Dickens, on Twitter, I have learned of others currently reading his books, a wintertime tradition for a few, there is even another reading ‘Bleak House’. Given it is the height of summer here, I am not convinced that there’s a winter association with Dickens as these other readers thought, maybe there is a Christmas time one given his Christmas themes, whatever the attraction I think another during December – January 2022-2023 could be on the agenda. As for the opening quote from Francine Prose, there’s never been any question as to “who was listening” for Charles Dickens, I wonder if those fancy creative writing courses of today would condone the use of two voices within a single novel?

The Letters Page Volume 1 – edited by Jon McGregor

A letter is a voice.

An envelope contains its sound.

  • Carol Mavor ‘Thoughts One Can’t Do Without:’ (Series) ‘A Magpie and an Envelope’

I closed my last post with a quote from a Juxta Press pamphlet, a memoir by Carol Mavor. After her parent’s deaths she had found an envelope, a letter written for her, and left by her father.

As professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham, Jon McGregor set up “The Letters Page” in 2013. At that stage he had recently won the Dublin Literary Award for ‘Even The Dogs’ and his Costa Book Award winning novel ‘Reservoir 13’ was still a few years away from being finished/published. A literary journal was founded on letters being received in his office by post. As Jon McGregor points out in one of the first letters published:

…a letter always comes from the past. Unlike the many forms of digital correspondence, which arrive immediately and can be responded to immediately, postal correspondence insists on coming from another time and place. You wait for a letter, and your correspondent waits for a reply. The person who sent you the letter is already a little bit older by the time you read it.

McGregor felt there was “some virtue in this” and a literary journal was born.

“The Letters Page” published its first issue in October 2013, sending a selection of letters from Magnus Mills, Colum McCann, Clare Wigfall, and Gerard Donovan, amongst others, to our small-but-heroic band of early subscribers. The issue was launched by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, Sir David Greenaway, who pressed the appropriate button on the laptop and sent the PDF file winging its way into the world.

There has been six subsequent issues featuring letters from Kevin Barry, George Saunders, Claire-Louise Bennett, Naomi Alderman, Andrey Kurkov, Joanna Walsh, and many more. As one of the early subscribers I do have PDF copies of the publications, however it is the handcrafted limited edition boxed set containing loose-leaf reproductions of the contributors’ original handwritten letters, alongside an illustrated booklet of transcriptions that I am looking at today. Volume 1 published by Book Ex Machina.

The long-term aim was for the letters to become “a printed object, something beautiful to hold and keep hold of, something we could send you, fittingly, through the post.” A selection of “our” (read Jon McGregor’s) favourite letters from the first seven issues were collected and published in this boxed set.

The loose-leaf reproductions of the handwritten letters revealing more than their transcriptions. For example, Cassie Gonzales’ letter, submitted under the name of Linda Lopez, is typed, contains corrections in red and various redactions (text struck through with XXX) – in the facsimile you can decipher the redacted text, in the transcription it is presented as footnotes. The heightened tension and the unravelling of the protagonist is more effective in the manic XXX redacted version.

George Sanders’, ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’, handwriting is indecipherable, I had to go straight to the transcription. For Clare Wigfall’s letter it is suggested that you source and play Vivaldi’s motet “Nulla in mundo pax sincera” whilst reading the instalment of a young frightened child. Or the artistically drawn “Dear x” by Éirann Lorsung, thirteen and a half poems (only half of one piece appears on the page), this letter comes with an exclusive song by Ben Weaver which you can download by using a QR code.

There is also a letter that appeared in the “Protest” issue, “urgent accounts of marches and riots in Hong Kong, Budapest, and Kiev”, it is a from Audrey Kurkov and it addresses the aftermath of winter riots in Ukraine. The hypocracy of kids sending gifts to freedom fighters or the army.

One day examples of this artwork by children on both sides of the front line will hang side by side on display in one museum.

Time being the theme that links a number of these works, as McGregor had mentioned “a letter always comes from the past” and he also says “here we are – or here we will be, in four or five months’ time, when you read this”, a prediction that would have been appropriate upon the release of this collection, however I am re-reading these letters five YEARS later. Their timelessness very much showing through.

A letter to Alan Bennett, from Karen McLeod featuring a recollection of stories about her father and his recent stroke, as well as soaking in the bath. Or Naomi Alderman, writing on a plane from Israel to London:

You know what Orthodox Jews are good at? We’re good at saying “no”. At refusing.

A Bartleby letter.

There are also letters, although not facsimiles, from well know writers such as Kevin Barry, Joanna Walsh and others, a beautifully presented and produced collection, inspiring the resurrection of the letter, in our more recent times of isolation, something that Jon McGregor couldn’t have foreseen, however these connections something we should probably revive.

I do have addresses for a number of my followers, in the coming weeks I may post you a letter, keep an eye on your mailbox!!

The boxed set was limited to 500 copies, a few remain, if you are interested you can purchase it directly from the publisher here.