Recent Literary Awards & Online Events: Folio Prize and Claire Fuller

Literary prize season is in full swing! The Women’s Prize longlist, revealed on the 10th, contained its usual mixture of the predictable and the unexpected. I correctly predicted six of the nominees, and happened to have already read seven of them, including Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground (more on this below). I’m currently reading another from the longlist, Luster by Raven Leilani, and I have four on order from the library. There are only four that I don’t plan to read, so I’ll be in a fairly good place to predict the shortlist (due out on April 28th). Laura and Rachel wrote detailed reaction posts on which there has been much chat.

 

Rathbones Folio Prize

This year I read almost the entire Rathbones Folio Prize shortlist because I was lucky enough to be sent the whole list to feature on my blog. The winner, which the Rathbones CEO said would stand as the “best work of literature for the year” out of 80 nominees, was announced on Wednesday in a very nicely put together half-hour online ceremony hosted by Razia Iqbal from the British Library. The Folio scheme also supports writers at all stages of their careers via a mentorship scheme.

It was fun to listen in as the three judges discussed their experience. “Now nonfiction to me seems like rock ‘n’ roll,” Roger Robinson said, “far more innovative than fiction and poetry.” (Though Sinéad Gleeson and Jon McGregor then stood up for the poetry and fiction, respectively.) But I think that was my first clue that the night was going to go as I’d hoped. McGregor spoke of the delight of getting “to read above the categories, looking for freshness, for excitement.” Gleeson said that in the end they had to choose “the book that moved us, that enthralled us.”

All eight authors had recorded short interview clips about their experience of lockdown and how they experiment with genre and form, and seven (all but Doireann Ní Ghríofa) were on screen for the live announcement. The winner of the £30,000 prize, author of an “exceptional, important” book and teller of “a story that had to be told,” was Carmen Maria Machado for In the Dream House. I was delighted with this result: it was my first choice and is one of the most remarkable memoirs I’ve read. I remember reading it on my Kindle on the way to and from Hungerford for a bookshop event in early March 2020 – my last live event and last train ride in over a year and counting, which only made the reading experience more memorable.

I like what McGregor had to say about the book in the media release: “In the Dream House has changed me – expanded me – as a reader and a person, and I’m not sure how much more we can ask of the books that we choose to celebrate.”

There are now only two previous Folio winners that I haven’t read, the memoir The Return by Hisham Matar and the novel Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli, so I’d like to get those two out from the library soon and complete the set.

 

Other literary prizes

The following day, the Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist was announced. Still in the running are two novels I’ve read and enjoyed, Pew by Catherine Lacey and My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell, and one I’m currently reading (Luster). Of the rest, I’m particularly keen on Kingdomtide by Rye Curtis, and I would also like to read Alligator and Other Stories by Dima Alzayat. I’d love to see Russell win the whole thing. The announcement will be on May 13th. I hope to participate in a shortlist blog tour leading up to it.

I also tuned into the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards ceremony (on YouTube), which was unfortunately marred by sound issues. This year’s three awards went to women: Dervla Murphy (Edward Stanford Outstanding Contribution to Travel Writing), Anita King (Bradt Travel Guides New Travel Writer of the Year; you can read her personal piece on Syria here), and Taran N. Khan for Shadow City: A Woman Walks Kabul (Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year in association with the Authors’ Club).

Other prize races currently in progress that are worth keeping an eye on:

  • The Jhalak Prize for writers of colour in Britain (I’ve read four from the longlist and would be interested in several others if I could get hold of them)
  • The Republic of Consciousness Prize for work from small presses (I’ve read two; Doireann Ní Ghríofa gets another chance – fingers crossed for her)
  • The Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction (next up for me: The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams, to review for BookBrowse)

 

Claire Fuller

Yesterday evening, I attended the digital book launch for Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground (my review will be coming soon). I’ve read all four of her novels and count her among my favorite contemporary writers. I spotted Eric Anderson and Ella Berthoud among the 200+ attendees, and Claire’s agent quoted from Susan’s review – “A new novel from Fuller is always something to celebrate”! Claire read a passage from the start of the novel that introduces the characters just as Dot starts to feel unwell. Uniquely for online events I’ve attended, we got a tour of the author’s writing room, with Alan the (female) cat asleep on the daybed behind her, and her librarian husband Tim helped keep an eye on the chat.

After each novel, as a treat to self, she buys a piece of art. This time, she commissioned a ceramic plate from Sophie Wilson with lines and images from the book painted on it. Live music was provided by her son Henry Ayling, who played acoustic guitar and sang “We Roamed through the Garden,” which, along with traditional folk song “Polly Vaughn,” are quoted in the novel and were Claire’s earworms for two years. There was also a competition to win a chocolate Easter egg, given to whoever came closest to guessing the length of the new novel in words. (It was somewhere around 89,000.)

Good news – she’s over halfway through Book 5!

28 responses

  1. It sounds as if I need to explore more non-fiction.

    I’ve no idea how Claire manages to be so prolific and so damned good with it but I’m delighted to hear that there’s another from her already in the offing. And thanks so much for the mention. How lovely that they quoted that line!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know if you’d be watching and thought you’d be pleased to hear that 🙂 Yours was the only review quote that made it into her agent’s intro!

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      1. I certainly am and even more delighted now!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Well, here in Ripon we have a treat in store immediately after Easter. Our local independent Little Ripon Bookshop is having a Zoom event with Clare Fuller – and we gather her son will be present too. I already have my copy of the book. Best get reading!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That will be a wonderful event. Enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! My husband’s nabbed the book before I could get my hands on it, and is really enjoying it.

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  3. Argh! I missed Claire’s launch. I was sure I’d registered, but obviously hadn’t. There are so many digital events at the moment, it’s hard to keep track. Very keen to read the Machado, and hope to do the Dylan Thomas tour too – Kingdomtide and Pew are the two that attract me from that, although I probably ought to read My Dark Vanessa too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Pew is a very interesting book, and quite short. I think you’ll like it. Don’t feel you must read Vanessa if you don’t feel drawn to it! (It might be upsetting for you as a mum of a young woman who was recently a teen?)

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      1. I’m lucky, few books trigger me, but they do tend to be about mothers and daughters! So, noted.

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  4. I know I have moaned about this on your blog before but I wish literary prizes would space themselves out a bit more. I’m sure they have Reasons for all being in spring but new prizes like the Jhalak, for example, have also picked the same slot and it makes it much less likely that I’ll get to read many books from their respective shortlists. Even with picking only a few books to read off the Women’s Prize longlist, all my reading time seems to have been eaten up by that. I will definitely read In The Dream House, though, plus Luster is now on two lists so I might make it my 8th WP read.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s hard to keep up with everything. I’ll dabble here and there, as I always do, rather than focusing on any one prize. I remember that in one recent year the WP list seemed to fall into pairs; while that’s not quite as clear this year, Luster is reminding me a lot of Exciting Times, with the focus on a young woman’s experience and a voice that’s often quite funny and sexually frank.

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      1. Yeah, this is why I thought I’d give Luster a miss, as I’m burnt out with those kind of books and am already reading Exciting Times. But then I got it into my head that I’d like to read exactly half of the WP longlist and Luster seems like a good 8th pick! We shall see.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I quickly ditched How the One-Armed Sister…, so if all goes well I think I’ll end up reading 12 of them (not interested in Craig, French or A. Smith).

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I have In The Dream House lined up to read next month and I am really interested in all the listed books in the Republic of Consciousness Prize, which is becoming one of my favourite Prize lists. I agree with Laura’s comment above – they really do come thick and fast at this time of year – and the Dublin International Literature Prize shortlist was also announced this week!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The RoC nominees are sometimes too experimental for me, so I was surprised to see that I’d read two of the finalists. Certainly anything that brings small presses more attention is a good thing.

      I hadn’t even had a look at the Dublin International Literature Prize list yet. I’ve read two and DNFed two from that shortlist; not a great record 😉 It’s unusual that some of the books seem out of date, i.e. they already won different awards a year or two ago.

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      1. Yes, The Dublin International Literature Prize always seems to lag behind a bit. I think this year it’s not as interesting because, as you say, all those books have been around and winning prizes for quite a while.

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  6. That sounds like a lovely book launch event – and a bit different. Wish I could have been there, but this week I decided to skip everything till I feel 100% again. I have the book on my TBR list and also Carmen Machado’s one, which I’ve kept putting off because I thought it might be rather upsetting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sorry you’ve not been feeling yourself! I’ve had an ear thing this week that has had me feeling dizzy and headachy, but I’ve mostly been able to keep up a regular workload.

      I didn’t find the Machado upsetting per se, as she’s not very explicit about the abuse (and a lot of it was verbal and emotional rather than physical, though there was some rough treatment). She probes her experience from every angle, and asks why these stories of same-sex domestic violence haven’t been told before. It felt like she was truly breaking new ground.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A tour of the writing room. Yes, I want to see that more! Well done on your prediction of the Machado–still on my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Except it was night, so we couldn’t see the view out her window above the desk. But she described it as a green bank, which sounds nice.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. There’s a great interview with David Naimon and Machado on the TinHouse website; I really enjoyed listening to it, but didn’t feel compelled to follow-up as of yet. Well done on the Women’s Fiction predictions! And coincidentally, I’ve just picked up my suspended hold on Luiselli’s novel; when I was resetting Indelicacy, I spotted that one and decided to request them both and make some space on my list.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We can do a buddy read of the Luiselli if you like? I might not get hold of it until May now, as April is looking busy-busy with review copies and prize lists still.

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  9. I have really enjoyed the two Claire Fuller books I’ve read and intend to read the other two ASAP. Sounds like a fun event!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Her books are always readable and engaging, but still on the literary end. I didn’t like the new one as much as her others, but it’s still worth seeking out.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Obviously delighted with In the Dream House’s win. I think you’d really, really like Kingdomtide, and for me it might just edge My Dark Vanessa…!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, that sounds promising! I remember it was your top book of last year when basically no one had heard of it, you trendsetter 😉 I’m awaiting news of what I’ve been assigned for the blog tour.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hehehehehe 😀 Blog tour sounds fun! I’ll keep an eye out.

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  11. […] the Zoom book launch event, Fuller confessed that she’s “incapable of writing a happy novel,” so consider that your […]

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