Thursday, 27 November 2014

Guardian First Book Award: the morning after

How can you possibly enjoy not winning something so much? (Is it allowed?) Several reasons, these among them. May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break being on the shortlist in the first place, exceeding all realistic expectations by far. The winner, Colin Barrett, for Young Skins, being himself such a terrific writer. The company, the people in the room, and in particular the presence among them of so many readers – members of the reading groups from around the country who had read, discussed, taken to heart, all of the books on the shortlist, and whose meetings with the authors were, I think, something special for both parties.

And the morning after – today – the TLS, the Books of the Year issue, in which four critics choose three CBe titles:

Thomas Adès: ‘I was gripped and awed by Will Eaves's The Absent Therapist (CB editions), touching, addictive and unlike any other book.’

Beverley Bie Brahic: ‘Agota Kristof's The Notebook (translated by Alan Sheridan, CB editions). It embarrasses me to say I’d never heard of The Notebook until its reissue, along with Nina Bogin's translation of The Illiterate, Kristof's memoir. The Notebook is a great book, in the absolute.’

Eimear McBride: ‘CB editions’ reissue of the much neglected The Notebook by Agota Kristof is the book I have not been able to stop thinking about all year.’

Ferdinand Mount: ‘At Maldon (CB editions), J. O. Morgan's version of the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon, has all the clash and clang of War Music, and the same odd modernism to bring you up short – bin-liners, cricket balls, umbrellas. My ears are still singing with the gurgle of Saxon blood. Morgan is a worthy inheritor of Logue’s broadsword.’

Oh, and David Collard’s review of Things to Make and Break. You’ll have to buy the issue for the whole review, because I’m too tired to tap it out, but this bit for free: ‘That May-Lan Tan was recently shortlisted for the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award is surprising. She does not write badly about sex – she writes very well about bad sex, which is not the same thing. And not only bad sex – it’s sometimes disturbing, sometimes funny, always refreshingly explicit and, in one episode, spell-bindingly weird and transgressive. And she writes in character, often with quite dazzling ventriloquial skill.’

Friday, 21 November 2014

Covers that got away

A little problem with information is how it gets channelled. Saying something on one of the social media sites is making that something public – but not to everyone. Some people learn about CBe news here; some on Facebook, some on Twitter, some from the newsletters; there is overlap, but less than you might think. And X and Y, bless them, never go online at all, so I still write the occasional letter or postcard.

Apologies if you’ve already seen this – and I do know, oh yes, how irritating it is to be told the same thing again and again – but for the very specific blog readership a link to an Independent blog piece posted today about CBe book covers, with reference to May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break, is here. With pictures of how the book might have looked but doesn’t.

(By the way, both the Jennie Walker who wrote 24 for 3, first published by CBe and the only book I know of that has a puff quote from Mick Jagger ('Very original ... I loved it'; which itself is hardly original, but we can live with this), and the Jack Robinson who wrote Days and Nights in W12 are me. I lost track of who knew this and who didn’t; I started assuming this was common knowledge, and I was wrong. Everyone knows different things, or knows the same things differently; or doesn’t know, and that’s fine too.)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The magazine: update

The website page for the CBe magazine is now up: here. (Plus a little simplifying of the site: no pamphlets page but look, there they still are, now on the 'About & News' page at £6 for all three.)

Magazines and books are such different species. There is work that I might not choose to bring to book, but here seems right. Putting the first issue together is like compiling a guest list for a party: X and Y and Z may not like each other but I like them all and they’ll just have to muck along or avoid eye contact. It’s also like doing a jigsaw but with the pieces changing size and shape as I move to put them in place.

Sonofabook 1 is an indulgence: new, or previously untranslated, work by writers on the CBe list. Thereafter, the whole thing will put into the hands of guest editors. No book reviews because no print magazine, not even one coming out every month or so, can hope to attend to good new books without its choice of what to review appearing selective in the extreme. (Good long overviews of particular writers, live or dead, may be welcome.)

Because, after the first issue, I’m putting each issue in the hands of a different editor, I can’t hold anything over from issue 1 to the next, so anything I seriously want in but have run out of space for will vanish over the edge of the cliff. (I can, of course, forward such things to the next editor, but they will have their own ideas.)

Friday, 14 November 2014

Lists, canapés, congratulations

This afternoon, someone glanced up at me strap-hanging and offered me their seat on the Tube. It’s been a long week.

The photo is from Snape, where I spent last weekend at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Dan O’Brien was, as always, tireless and generous in his reading and in his talking through the background to his Fenton-Aldeburgh prize-winning War Reporter, which he has now done so many times but it never feels that way; he was also launching his new book Scarsdale. Julian Stannard was memorable and funny; I have no complaint at all about his new poems, from Worple Press, outselling the CBe book on Michael Hofmann that he co-edited. I’ve been to Aldeburgh for the last five consecutive years (plus one or two before that); first Michael Laskey and then Naomi Jaffa – who is standing down this year: standing ovation – have created something that is far, far more than the sum of its parts.

On Tuesday J. O. Morgan’s shortlisted At Maldon didn’t win the Saltire Poetry Book of the Year Award – which went to Alexander Hutchison’s Bones & Breath, and all praise. On Wednesday Will Eaves’s shortlisted The Absent Therapist didn’t win the Goldsmiths Prize – congratulations to Ali Smith for How to be Both.

Also this week, May-Lan Tan’s Things to Make and Break has made the cut from the longlist to the shortlist for the Guardian First Book Award (across all genres). May-Lan Tan’s book is one of two short story collections (the other is Colin Barrett’s terrific Young Skins) on the shortlist of five; there is one novel. May-Lan Tan’s book is also on the shortlist for the Bad Sex prize. If both final events are on the same night I may need to upgrade to a taxi.