Well, I’m now back from Cheshire having had a wonderful time speaking to a large and enthusiastic group of book-reading people in Waverton. They were so welcoming, so interested, so nice about my book (those who had read and reviewed Testament) that it was an absolute pleasure to be there. I spoke for far too long – over 50 minutes when I’d been asked for 30 to 40 – but you know how it is, they laughed at my jokes and asked interesting questions so the impetus to sit down and shut up was small.
I spent the train journey up to Chester writing my talk which was, essentially, about the main elements of a novel – plot, characters, theme and language – and how it’s almost impossible to separate them fully. Obviously, I was doing this with reference to Testament so I kept having to flick through the book to find relevant bits that I could read and, every now and again, I’d find myself actually quite impressed by what I’d done. That’s when I wasn’t wanting to rewrite the thing, obviously….
I must have looked a bit dappy. There I was sitting with my notebook in front of me, Testament on my lap, listening to The View on my little iPod (and occasionally, unintentionally, singing along… ooops!), scribbling my illegible spider diagrams which got more and more densely annotated until I had to make a fair copy so that I could glance at them and actually be able to read them during the talk.
Gwen Goodhew - one of the prime movers of the Waverton Good Read Award - had very kindly said that she would meet me at Chester station and take me home for supper before the meeting. ‘I’ll be holding a copy of your book’ the email had assured me. Well, better than a red carnation, I thought…and described myself and what I would be wearing as I am notoriously able to walk past burning buildings and not see them, never mind somebody standing in a crowd holding a book.
I shouldn’t have worried. Gwen had chosen a fairly quiet spot to wait for me in and the copy of the book that she was holding turned out to be an A4 bound proof copy. In other words, it was big. Unmissable, even for the observationally challenged.
‘Crikey’, I said, ‘where on earth did you get that?’
It turned out to be the only copy MNW had had to send. I realised that the Wavertons’ request for review copies of the book must have arrived at a time when the hardback edition of Testament had sold out and the paperbacks were not yet available.
Still, if you’ve ever seen a book bound in A4 format, you’ll realise what a disincentive it is to reading the thing, especially in bed (visions of it falling on your face and leaving you permanently scarred would immediately spring to mind) so I was even more chuffed when Gwen told me that everybody who had – man/womanfully - read it seemed to have liked it and Testament had made it to the longlist for the Award.
So, now, copies of the book will go out to anybody in the village of Waverton who wants to read it and is prepared to fill in a review sheet and give it marks out of ten. It’s fantastic that so many people who otherwise might not come across Testament are going to get a chance to read it.
It’s also in illustrious company. Here are the other longlisted books:
A Girl Made of Dust by Nathalie Abi-Eze
The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams
One Man’s Empire by Geoffrey Bird
The Paradise Trail by Duncan Campbell
How to Survive Your Sisters by Ellie Campbell
The Palace of Strange Girls by Sallie Day
The Love of My Life by Louise Douglas
The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato
Out of a Clear Sky by Sally Hinchcliffe
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Nights Beneath the Nation by Denis Kehoe
Spider by Michael Morley
Warrior of Rome 1: Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom
The End of Sleep by Rowan Somerville
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling
Monster Love by Carol Topolski
An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson
The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse
Those in the know will spot a couple of books which have been nominated for other prizes and, if what the people I spoke to on Monday evening said is to be believed, there are some crackers on the list. Spider by Michael Morley and Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith were particularly singled out for mention. Macmillan New Writing is represented twice (Geoffrey Bird is also an MNW author) which, given that the imprint only produces twelve books a year, speaks extremely well for the editorial judgement of Will Atkins.
One of the questions I was asked was –approximately – ‘given that you can’t untangle plot, theme, character and language, how do you actually go about writing a scene?’
The subject of the next blog post here, I suspect.