Not Thomas & Not the Booker: How We Battled the Guardian Website Part 1


I must have said it a thousand times by now – the last fortnight has been the craziest of my writing life.

During the final days of July, from out of the blue, came a nomination for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize longlist – an opportunity I could only have dreamt of – and on Monday 31st July I was thrown into a state of total mind-numbing panic.

I had only just finished a blog tour with Brook Cottage Books, and it was Anne Williams of Being Anne that nominated Not Thomas for the Not the Booker longlist after she’d reviewed it for the tour.

It makes me laugh now to remember how nervous I was before the blog tour began. I didn’t feel very confident on social media, and was afraid I’d forget to retweet on Twitter or share on Facebook. I was afraid I wouldn’t know how to message people to thank them for their reviews, and that I’d miss their replies…

I didn’t know the baptism of fire that awaited me.

The Not the Booker longlist was announced by Sam & Lisa, of the Guardian reading group, and we were off – all 192 of us that had titles on there – in a rush for the line, with hopes of getting off the also-ran list and into the winner’s enclosure.

Before the winner could be found though, a shortlist had to be created. It was to be decided by a public poll – a vote for two titles from different publishers and a 100 word review that ‘showed you cared’. The five titles with the most votes would go through to the shortlist, and a sixth title would join them, selected by the judges. There was just one week to rally votes.

So the rules understood, the race began.   

Not every author felt like making a charge for the finishing line, of course. The big names, I’m sure, hadn’t even bothered to spare a glance at that long, long longlist. Colm Tóibín, the Smiths – Ali & Zadie – Will Self and Matt Haig probably went about their Monday as if nothing earth-shattering had happened at all. Colson Whitehead has probably never even heard of Not the Booker.

When you have a Pulitzer Prize for fiction I expect a mug from the Guardian doesn’t feature on your wish-list.

Plenty of other not-quite-so-well-known authors decided they would sit back and see what happened. Some were just happy to feature on the list and in some of the comment boxes, and to get a bit of extra publicity for their titles that way. Some had been nominated before and hadn’t enjoyed it the first time round.   

But for me, being on the Not the Booker longlist was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

My debut novel, Not Thomas, had been published by Honno, a small female-only Welsh publisher, just two months before. It was receiving better-that-we-could-have-hoped-for reviews, and news of it was spreading by word of mouth. It had been July’s Book of the Month with both Waterstones Wales and the Welsh Books Council. 

Despite this, Liz – the PR person who Honno had employed on a freelance basis for the first couple of months of the novel’s life – had had very little luck getting mainstream media outlets to take any notice of Not Thomas. It certainly wasn’t for want of trying or lack of enthusiasm on her part.

But a book from Wales about child neglect & drugs? Well, that’s a hard sell.

She tried the Guardian and the Indy. “If only they’d read it…” she used to say.

“We can’t make them do that,” was always my sad reply.

But here it was, this one-off chance – an opportunity to make someone read it. And that someone was going to be Sam Jordison of the Guardian’s Reading Group – if only I could get it onto the shortlist.

It was a chance for Not Thomas that would never come around again. And so I took a deep breath, tied my colours to the sticking post and became the ‘tiger mother’ Tomos never had but always deserved.

And I let battle commence.

Thanks for reading!

Part 2 coming to this page sometime in the not too distant future.

Until then… Yours,

Sara x

Which novel do you think the Guardian judges will choose as title #6?

Will you be reading and reviewing all the titles on the shortlist? 

Have you read ‘Not Thomas’? What did you think of Tomos? 

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas – a story of child neglect and hope – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy on Amazon.



21 thoughts on “Not Thomas & Not the Booker: How We Battled the Guardian Website Part 1

  1. I looooooooooved reading this post, my friend!!!!! It was such a ride and I was right there with you every moment.

    What an amazing story, no matter what the outcome.
    BUT I HOPE YOU WIN #1!!!!!!!!!!

    I bought the book FINALLY and I’ll read it asap + give it the 5-star Amazon review that my “psychic self ” knows it deserves! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Janice Rosser

    An amazing and thought provoking book that will leave you an emotional wreck at times, but SO well written and deserves to be read. What Tomos goes through will tug at your heart strings, however he has a lovely teacher who helps him. How will things turn out? Do buy this wonderful book!


  3. Carol Lovekin

    Naturally, I’m biased & I want #Tomos to win & I believe he will. (And by association, you!) I haven’t had time to think about #6 & in all honesty? – save for The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, I shan’t be reading the rest on the shortlist – they simply don’t appeal & life really is too short to read books that don’t leap out at me.

    The issue of exposure in England for books published in Wales is a thorny one. I’m sure it’s being addressed by brains smarter than mine (& with more clout.) I would welcome & join in a campaign.

    The very best of everything, Wendy! #LoveTomos

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Reblogged this on Judith Barrow and commented:
    Have you read ‘Not Thomas’? What did you think of Tomos? Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas – a story of child neglect and hope – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy on Amazon. Do not miss this book!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Annabelle – it’s an odd thing with novels set in Wales. There are some hugely successful authors like Catrin Collier and Iris Gower, but they’re historical writers and I wonder if ‘Wales in the past’ is more appealing than ‘Wales in the present’.
      When you compare the number of contemporary novels with Welsh settings that have a wide readership to the number with contemporary Irish settings, there’s a huge imbalance.
      A great topic for a debate, I think!
      Thank you again for reading and reviewing Not T, Annabelle – I really appreciate it.
      Sara x

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Writing Rejection Strikes Before Publication Day! | Dyane Harwood

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