Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Up to now, I’ve only brushed up against prizes twice in my writing life. My very first published story was a runner-up in the Whitbread Short Story Prize. As a result it got published along with the winner and, I think, ten other runners-up in an anthology put out by Hamish Hamilton. It was only open to writers under 25, so there probably wasn’t a huge entry for it, but I was very excited. I was 19, I was published, I was getting started on a literary life. My girlfriend at the time put the letter from Hamish Hamilton in a cheap photo frame and yes, I actually hung it on my wall for a while.

Then, in 2009, I got longlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize for my book, Tender. I mention it below. I didn’t make the shortlist but it was all about writers mobilising their friends, relatives, colleagues, acquaintances and family pets to vote for them, so I wasn’t too worried about that. It was nice to get a nod.

Now though, my most recent novel, The Last Word, has been shortlisted for the Portico Prize, which describes itself as ‘one of the country’s leading literary prizes’ and is for a work of fiction set largely in the north of England. It does feel good to get noticed, to find my head raised slightly above the parapet. The Last Word features sex, death and a bus falling down a hole, but my fiction’s generally quiet, it aims to be subtle and suggestive, and publishers tend to worry that they won’t be able to sell it. More than once an editor liked it, but their publicity department said No. So, thanks to Salt – who incidentally also have a book on the Booker shortlist – for taking a chance. 

Does it actually mean anything? No, of course it doesn't. But it may help sales, and on the long slog, sometimes lonely, sometimes thankless, of the literary life I set out on 30 years ago, it's encouraging at least. And encouragement is important. Fingers crossed ...