Specsavers have now become the National Book Awards major sponsor, henceforth the title. But what’s the difference between this award and others? Well, it’s down to the 750 members of the National Book Awards Academy to vote for the winners from a shortlist chosen by 50 specially selected Academy members. So rather than it being down to a few illustrious literary personas, it is the buyers and retailers who have their say this time.
Now that Hillary Mantel has won the Booker Prize with Bringing up the Bodies, it is not surprising that she a contender, under the National Book Awards, for the Waterstones UK Author of the Year. There are some hugely strong contenders within all the categories, as listed below, and this is certainly a good place to start the Christmas shopping list for all the bookworms in your family.
The winners will be announced on 4 December at a ceremony held at London’s Madarin Oreitnal Hotel.
Autobiography/Biography of the Year:
• My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding (Viking Adult)
• Patrick Leigh Fermor by Artemis Cooper (John Murray)
• Back Story by David Mitchell (HarperCollins)
• Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
• Who I Am by Pete Townshend (HarperCollins)
• Camp David by David Walliams (Michael Joseph)
Specsavers Popular Fiction Book of the Year:
• 1356 by Bernard Cornwell (HarperCollins)
• The Thread by Victoria Hislop (Headline Review)
• The Rose Petal Beach by Dorothy Koomson (Quercus Books)
• Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James (Arrow)
• Citadel by Kate Mosse (Orion)
• Me Before You by JoJo Moyes (Michael Joseph)
Crime Book of the Year available on iBookstore:
• A Wanted Man by Lee Child (Bantam Press)
• Kind of Cruel by Sophie Hannah (Hodder and Stoughton)
• A Question of Identity by Susan Hill (Chatto and Windus)
• The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (Orion Fiction)
• Perfect People by Peter James (Pan)
• Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina (Orion)
WHSmith Food & Drink Book of the Year:
• Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook by Mary Berry (DK)
• The Great British Bake Off: How to Turn Everyday Bakes into Showstoppers by Linda Collister (BBC Books)
• Hugh’s Three Good Things by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (Bloomsbury)
• The Hairy Dieters by Si King & Dave Myers (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
• Lorraine Pascale’s Fast, Fresh and Easy Food by Lorraine Pascale (HarperCollins)
• Gok Cooks Chinese by Gok Wan (Michael Joseph)
Google Play™ International Author of the Year:
• HHhH by Laurent Binet (Harvill Secker)
• The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Granta)
• Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain (Canongate Books)
• The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline Review)
• Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (Allen Lane)
• The Dinner by Herman Koch (Atlantic)
Magic 105.4 Popular Non-fiction Book of the Year:
• A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen (Hodder and Stoughton)
• Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre (4th Estate)
• Is It Just Me by Miranda Hart (Hodder and Stoughton)
• Moranthology by Caitlin Moran (EburyPress)
• Brazil by Michael Palin (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)
• The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (Picador)
Waterstones UK Author of the Year:
• Capital by John Lanchester (Faber and Faber)
• Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (And Other Stories/Faber and Faber)
• Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel (4th Estate)
• The Casual Vacancy by J. K. Rowling (Little, Brown)
• NW by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
• Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson (Vintage)
National Book Tokens Children’s Book of the Year:
• The Wolf Princess by Cathryn Constable (Chicken House)
• The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle (Templar Publishing)
• Pirates Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort (Simon and Schuster)
• Itch by Simon Mayo (Doubleday Children’s)
• Tom Gates: Genius Ideas (mostly) by Liz Pichon (Scholastic Children’s Books)
• Ratburger by David Walliams (HarperCollins Children’s)
audible.co.uk Audiobook of the year:
• Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, read by Simon Slater (Whole Story Audiobooks)
• Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, read by Juliet Stevenson (Random House Audiobooks)
• Casino Royale by Ian Fleming, read by Dan Stevens (AudioGO)
• Is It Just Me? by Miranda Hart, read by Miranda Hart (Hodder and Stoughton)
• The Killing by David Hewson, read by Christian Rodska (Macmillan Digital Audio)
• The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year by Sue Townsend, read by Caroline Quentin (Whole Story Audiobooks)
New Writer of the Year:
• The Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne (Headline)
• The Somnambulist by Essie Fox (Orion)
• The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
• The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen (Chatto and Windus)
• The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (Salt Publishing)
• Care Of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles (4th Estate)
Alison OReilly 27/11/12
The title of ‘book festival’ rather understates this amazing event; it’s more like a complete course in Humanities! There were choirs, theatre, religion, history, biography, walks & talks and even a pub quiz on offer. This festival offers far more than any other ‘book’ festival…in the world? It certainly offered more than any book festival I’ve ever attended.
Kicking off with the local, and now world famous, Chivenor Women’s Choir accompanied by The Appledore Silver Band, the festival continued to wow its audience with a wealth of literary icons that included the much loved and revered Ruth Rendall and the fabulous, and unique, writing duo that is Nicci French.
Nicci Gerrard and Sean French gave a fascinating talk on how they’ve managed to write fifteen books as one author. Their very unique way of writing allows one of them to write a scene then, handing it over to the other to edit, the ‘editor’ then writes the next scene and then vice versa. This is how they manage to keep the same ‘voice’ travelling through their novels. It’s an amazing concept which possibly could only been done by a husband and wife team. And whilst they never discuss who wrote what, there were other speakers who were only too glad to discuss exactly what they’d done.
Big names from television, such as the newscaster and Eggheads quiz master, Jeremy Vine and TV presenter Fiona Phillips, also took the stage to discuss poignant events of their lives. Biographical accounts of the lives of the Royal Family, past and present were also revealed by Helen Rappaport and Jenny Junor. These two biographers brought the audiences into lively discussions. As did the festival’s famous patron, Martin Bell, war correspondent, MP and writer of dodgy poems delighted the audience with lively snippets about his time at the front when he was shot by the Serbs and robbed by the French all in one day! His war and his subsequent political life gave rise to some amazing events which he cleverly weaved into his anecdotal reminisces between his recital from his dodgy poems. A raconteur master!
The buzz from the event-goers certainly spilt over into an après-event as the attendees, who had before been strangers, struck up conversations whilst sitting down for a cup of coffee or a sip (?) of wine, in the church hall and the local ‘watering holes’, and chatted endlessly about the topics raised by the speakers.
But the talent didn’t come just from the very famous. One very lively debate, that certainly spilt out into further discussions, was given by Professor Helen Taylor from Exeter University whose own interest is focused on women’s reading experiences and habits. After all, did you know that 80% of books sold are bought by women? Taylor, quoting Ian McEwan, told the audience, ‘When women stop reading, the novel will be dead.’ Interesting!
And there was theatre! Being an avid theatre-goer, who doesn’t blanche at watching over twenty plays a year in London, I can honestly say that Multi Story Theatre’s production of Backward Glance was terrific. Gill’s mannerisms, her accents and her attention to little tiny, nuances of each character made the transition from each of the three characters she portrayed so easy to follow. Whilst Bill Buffry’s solid performance complimented his acting partner. But what else would you expect from the people who are the producers of the Barnstaple Theatrefest? Their acting ability would not be amiss on a London stage which is probably why they appeared at the Camden People's Theatre this month in their play ‘Josh’s Monsters’. We are so lucky to have such wonderful talent on our doorstep.
But it wasn’t all sitting around! The walking events, The Ghost Walk and The Lost Appledore history, were sold out in an instant. Plus there were six workshops, some of which were for inspiring writers.
The organisers of this event cannot possibly be given the full token of the event-goers’ appreciation and the volunteers who helped tirelessly throughout the day were welcoming and extremely helpful.
So whilst this event is becoming increasingly popular, referring back to Professor Helen’s observation that most of the audience are women attendees, I think it’s time for us all to broaden our men’s horizon. Come on you men! Next year, let’s see you!
Alison OReilly 27/11/12
On the 11 September, the Man Booker Prize team announced their final six. A good mix of writers, such as the established wordsmiths Mantel and Self who are the front runners for this prize, and debut novelists, Moore and Thayil, who have certainly made their mark this year. There’s enough talent in this final six to give the judges a bit of a headache in deciding who will be the outright winner. So the six finalist are, (odds as per William Hill on the day of announcement):
1. Will Self Umbrella (Bloomsbury) 7/4
Now believed, by William Hill, to be the forerunner for this most prestigious prize, Self has already won the Bollinger Everyman Wodhouse Prize for Comic Fiction in 2008 with his book The Butt and he was short-listed for the Whitbread Novel of the Year in 2002 with his book How the Dead Live. Will Self is undoubtedly a most prolific writer but is his book good enough to win? We’ll have to wait until October to find out.
2. Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate) 2/1
Winner of 2009 Man Booker Prize with her novel Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel CBE is no stranger to winning awards. Her novel Fludd (1989) was winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, the Cheltenham Prize and the Southern Arts Literature Prize and A Place of Greater Safety (1992), winner of the Sunday Express Book of the Year award. Could Mantel be the first woman to win the prize twice?
3. Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books) 5/1
Author of one of my all time favourite books, The Gift of Rain, Tan Twan Eng was born in 1972 in Penang. Having studied law in London he returned to Malaysia to practice but now, fortunately for us readers, he concentrates on writing. The Garden of Evening Mists is only his second novel and as The Gift of Rain was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2007, one could say that his change of career was a very good move.
4. Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories/Faber & Faber) 7/1
Although I’m not a great lover of this book, I do appreciate that Levy has talent. Her skills in writing spill over into poetry and plays – which have been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company. Her previous books: Beautiful Mutants, Swallowing Geography and Billy and Girl have also received great critical acclaim.
4. Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt) 7/1
To be joint-forth with your debut novel has got to shout ‘talent’. Born in 1971 in Manchester, Moore has a few prizes already under her belt for short stories including the Best British Short Stories Prize 2011.
6. Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber) 10/1
An accomplished performance poet, songwriter and guitarist, Jeet Thayil was born in Kerala, India in 1959 and now lives in New Dehli. Although Thayil has published four collections of poetry, Narcopolis is his debut novel.
Alison OReilly 1/10/2012
Joe Jacobs, a Jewish ex-refugee now turned poet, and his wife Isabel, a war correspondent, are holidaying in the south of France with their fourteen year old daughter, Nina. They have been joined by their old friends, Mitchell and Laura who run a failing souvenir shop near Kings Cross, London. One afternoon, they find a young, naked Kitty Finch swimming in the pool of their hired villa. Isabel, without consultation with the others, invites Kitty to stay and so begins the fragmentation of the group. Kitty’s penchant for naturalism, coupled with her mental health problems, breakdown the controlled order of those around her.
Whilst Kitty appears to be a very fragile character, her underlying determination shines through. ‘Swimming Home’ is the title of Kitty’s poem, a poem based on her thoughts that: ‘Life is only worth living because we hope it will get better and we'll all get home safely.’ She is so desperate for Joe to read it, that she’s deliberately tracked him down on holiday.
This is a story of the devastating effects of depression and how it ripples through family, friends and the community however the story is so subtly told that it lacks strength at times.
The theme of the story is great but the characters surrounding the main protagonist, Kitty, are too understanding and in this way the novel lacks a sense of reality. Having said that, it is interesting in the way in which Kitty is able to connect to the people around her and by drawing them out, she is able to show to them their own unbalance world. Her relationship with Joe is tragic in many senses of the word and can leave question marks as to the reality of this relationship.
Being selected as Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime also shows how quietly and subtly the subject matter has been dealt with, which in itself, may not be a good advert.
Alison OREilly 1/10/2012
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Six months into retirement and life seems to have come pretty much to a halt for Harold Fry, an ex-brewery inspector. Until that is, one day when he receives a letter from an old colleague, Queenie Hennesey, who writes to say goodbye having been told that she has terminal cancer. Harold pens a quick reply and on the way to post the letter he meets a young girl at the garage who convinces him that he should personally take the letter to Queenie – in Berwick-upon-Tweed, six hundred miles from his home in Kingsbridge, Devon. So he sets off immediately, on foot. During his pilgrimage, he meets an array of lively characters, many of whom add much humour to the book. However, and more to the point, Harold begins to feel that he is atoning for the mistakes he’s made in his life; mistakes with his wife, Maureen, and their son but most importantly with Queenie. As he gradually pours light onto his own guilty secrets, and sheds life’s material luxuries, he begins to lighten his load both physically and metaphorically. As Harold begins to come to terms with his own life, Maureen, who was left at home in Kingsbridge, evaluates their marriage.
Being short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, great things are expected. This very easy-to-read story begins slowly, which could make the reader doubt the book’s quality, but as the journey progresses, Harold becomes more insightful into his own life and that of others. Rachel Joyce has created a character in Harold that is able to give some great philosophical advice, much of which could be well-worth taking onboard in one’s own life. Much likened to Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry gives food for thought to the reader, which is undoubtedly the reason as to why it was short-listed.
Alison OReilly 30/8/2012
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
Ned Beauman transports the reader from 1931 Berlin through to Paris in 1934 and then drops them into 1935 Los Angeles with the help of his main protagonist, Egon Loeser. Loeser, a theatre set designer, is a self-obsessed, and sex-obsessed, man who falls for Adele Hilter (no relation to the dictator) and follows her to Paris and then onto the US. So obsessed is he, that he doesn’t really notice that World War II has began and foppishly ignores the atrocities. He is self-pitying, lacks empathy and his grasp on reality often slips but his wit shines through and carries the plot forward – and sometime sideways. Meanwhile the sub plots around the main event focus on a pact with a cosmic evil and the set designer, Adriano Lavicini and also on a physicist, Professor Franklin Bailey, who, in 1938, comes close to perfecting a radical new technology that could stop future wars.
The metaphors and similes flow in this brilliantly written book, which is now rumoured to be one of the front-runners for the Man Booker prize, if not ‘the’ winner. Although only his second book, Beauman demonstrates that he is a literary genius. The book is engaging, the characterisations are sharp and the plotline flows – what more could you want from a book? Perhaps something more factually correct might have improved it? But it is a work of fiction and a story about teleportation so forget the little inaccuracies and enjoy it!
Alison OReilly 30/8/2012
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens
As with many writers, Hitchens feels that writing is not just a job, it defines who you are and your raison d'etre. It is also very cathartic and this comes across very strongly in this short book of seven essays written by Hitchens after he’d been diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus. Reminiscent of John Diamond, a British journalist who chroniclized his struggle with cancer in his weekly column in The Times, Hitchens puts his very own unique spin on the problem as he muses that it wasn’t he who was battling with cancer, it was cancer that was battling with him!
Being well-known for public speaking and debating, he writes of his indignation at the thought of losing his voice. He also continues his life-long fight with religion and his fury at the thought of death stopping him from writing. He is open and honest about his feelings, without being emotive, but he still manages to add that Hitchens’ sparkle of sarcastic wit and with his great insight, and empathy, he manages to write about his last days and of his impending death. However, the immense pressure of his illness does show its face at times and the fact that his ‘deadline’ came sooner than expected means that this may not be his best work.
Alison OReilly 30/8/2012
MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2012
The long-list has finally been announced and, as usual, it contains a variety of literature genres. The shortlist will be announced on 12 September and the winner being ‘the best novel in the opinion of the judges’ will be proclaimed on 16 October. So, without further ado, the final twelve – in order of favourites according to Ladbrokes:
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
A historical novel set in 1535 when Henry VIII begins to turn his attention away from his second wife, Anne Bolyn, and towards Jane Seymour – who, as we know, will later become his third wife. Currently this novel is the favourite to win with odds at 4/1.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Hailed as joint-second favourite, this humorous story of Henry Fry who, as a retiree, is bored with life until one morning a letter arrives from an old flame who is on her deathbed. He pens a quick reply and on his way to the post he is convinced that he should deliver the letter himself, thus begins his pilgrimage. 6/1
Umbrella by Will Self
Spanning a century, the book examines the complex story of Audrey Death a sufferer of encephalitis lethargica and Dr Busner, a medic who cares for post-encephalitic patients. Self’s latest offering finds itself a joint-second favourite at 6/1.
The Yips by Nicola Barker
A comic novel featuring a woman priest, a Muslim sex therapist and a family of fascists. Set in Luton, The Yips (a sound made by athletes failing to perform well) delves into the depths of the masculine psyche. 7/1
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
The story circles around three main events: the link of a pact with a cosmic evil and the collapse of a ceiling in Paris causing the death of 25 members of the audience and the set designer, Adriano Lavicini; a physicist, Professor Franklin Bailey, who, in 1938, comes close to perfecting a radical new technology that could stop future wars and finally, Egon Loeser who reflects on his life in 1962 in West Berlin and ponders the riddle of his lack of sexual conquests. 10/1
Philida by Andre Brink
Joint sixth place with Teleportation, is the story of a slave girl, Philida and the son of her master, Francois Brink, on the eve of the liberation of slavery in the Cape in 1832. Brink reneges on his promise to set Philida free forcing her to set off on a journey of defiance.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
On a boat trip across the north sea, Futh, a middle-aged man who has recently separated, is reminded of his first trip to Germany, as a young boy, accompanied by his newly divorced father. It was on this first trip that Futh omitted to do something which could have serious repercussions on his current trip. 12/1
The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
The story follows a young, female, law graduate, Yun Ling Teoh, as she discovers the only Japanese garden in Malaya where she manages to get the owner, Aritomo to agree to make her his temporary apprentice. It’s during this time, that the surrounding jungle begins to unfold some secrets. 12/1
Skios by Michael Frayn
So named after the Greek island on which the story is set. A young, charming, world-famous authority on scientific organisation, Dr Norman Wilfred, arrives to give his lecture for the Fred Toppler Foundation. But meanwhile at the other end of the island a very irate, old and balding Dr Norman Wilfred has lost his luggage, his whereabouts and his sense of humour!
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Set in a summer villa on the French Riviera, where a family of three share a villa with a married couple they have known for some time. one afternoon, an unknown woman is found swimming in their pool. 14/1
Communion Town Sam Thompson
They say that there’s a story in everyone, in every street, in every town. Thompson’s first novel looks at all sides of a community and the town never looks the same to any of them. Ten different characters, ten different stories, ten different views of a community. 14/1
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
Bombay in the 1970s where all faiths meet in Rashid’s opium room. As time changes the hippies move in but Rashid and his eunuch, Dimple, continue to trade. Thayil apparently lost 20 years of his life on addiction so this debut novel should be very realistic. 20/1
Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James
Young, very rich and very attractive Christian Grey meets Anastasia Steele, a 22 year-old literature student who’s just taken her finals. He whisks of her off her feet and into his helicopter. Flying her to his apartment in Seattle, he introduces her to his ‘playroom’ – of whips and chains. Ana, at this stage, is a virgin so it’s down to Christain to ‘educate’ her.
Fifty Shades of Grey, the first in a trilogy, has had phenomenal success and has been dubbed ‘mummy porn’ – titillation for the older women. Understandable really, as it’s a sort of viagra-injected Mills & Boon. The sex scenes, which are very explicit and manifold, are the core of the whole book and James certainly has a talent for writing these.
The sales of the trilogy have exceeded 4 million and this, apparently, has largely been due to the Kindle – no-one can see what you’re reading! On the ‘literature luvvie’ front, the best thing about this book may be the increase in sales of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of d’Urberville (a book studied by Anastasia) which is a story that challenged Victorian notions of female purity and sexual double standards. Emm, I wonder where James got the idea for her books?
Man-Booker prize material it ain’t – but it is ‘lip-bitingly’ popular!
Alison OReilly 29/7/2012
The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna
It’s 2002 and Sierra Leone has just emerged from one of its most bloodiest civil wars where child soldiers mutilated and murdered their parents; young girls were viciously raped and enslaved; and spontaneous, public executions were everyday events.
British psychologist Adrian Lockhart, leaves his failing marriage, in Britain, to take up a hospital post in Freetown where 99% of people have post-traumatic stress disorder. His only private patient is Elias Cole, an ex- Dean of the city’s university who in his final stages of life, has a need to divulge and discuss the decisions he made when he was a young man. Decisions that were spurred by a need to survive within a harsh political regime and for the desire for a woman. This is something Lockhart begins to understand in more depth when he meets and becomes romantically involved with a young local girl, Mamakay.
Kai Mansaray, a surgeon in the same hospital, having been used to using Lockhart’s flat for catnaps in between emergencies, continues this habit after Lockhart has moved in, thus the two men become friends. However Mansaray rarely sleeps as he is haunted by an incident that happened during the war causing him to want to escape by immigrating to the US, leaving his long-term girlfriend, Nemebah, behind.
Initially the book slowly unwinds to reveal itself, then it grips the reader by the throat and draws them into a real page-turner. Beautifully written, the characters tell of lives that we, in our cosy British homes, cannot imagine. This book is a stonking good novel because it has been well thought out and well researched. It most certainly deserved to be on the short-list of last year’s Man Booker prize as it should remain one of ‘the’ literary greats for many years.
Alison OReilly 29/7/2012