Wow! What a week for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.
Everything was going along swimmingly – albeit with some pretty choppy waves for a couple of us on the shortlist – and then crash! Out of the blue, Ann O’Loughlin, author of The Ludlow Ladies’ Society, gave Sam Jordison quite a shock.
Ann has withdrawn her novel from the shortlist.
In a statement published by the Guardian, she said:
“I feel a great sense of relief to be moving away from a competition that caused so much stress in my life and that of my family.”
Ann already has a very large, faithful following of readers, and as she points out in her statement to the Guardian, her novels have been translated into eight languages and are published in the US. As she says, she didn’t ask to be nominated, and she was worried from the start about what she refers to as the “unjustifiable criticism” that appeared in the comments section from people who hadn’t even read the book.
And she’s quite right.
There are a few people on the Guardian page who clearly don’t read the nominated books but still enjoy leaving a barbed comment or two. All that is par for the course, as far as I’m concerned, but then I’d followed this prize for a few years and knew exactly what to expect. Had I been going into this without a clue what it could be like, then I might feel, like Ann, that it wasn’t worth the stress.
And yes, it is stressful at times – and I imagine it will be even more so, now that mine is the only novel left on the shortlist that Sam has been particularly scathing of.
But for me it’s worth that bit of stress.
Unlike Ann, who’s been writing novels for a number of years and has a few under her belt, Not Thomas is my first novel for adults. I don’t have a ready-made fan base – although I’m incredibly grateful to my wonderful readers who have championed Not Thomas and brought it to the attention of others, and who nominated it for the Not the Booker prize and voted it onto the shortlist.
I always said that being part of this prize was like building a platform for Tomos – giving him a headstart in a world jam-packed with new books.
Not Thomas is a debut novel, published by a tiny publisher, and Not the Booker has brought it to a wider audience than would otherwise have been possible so soon after its publication.
I’m really sorry Ann has decided to leave the competition, but I know her novel will do very well, with or without the publicity of Not the Booker.
The other week I went into Easons, the huge bookstore on O’Connell Street in Dublin. Ann’s novel The Ludlow Ladies’ Society was very prominently positioned on a table near the main door. It had a similar position in many of the other Dublin bookstores I visited too. I have no doubt it’s going to fly off the shelves in Ireland and beyond.
So, au revoir and all the very best to Ann.
While the five of us left on the shortlist will be squirming for a while yet – and me in particular – I know The Ludlow Ladies’ Society will be doing just fine.
Thanks for reading – please let me know your thoughts!
P.S. Don’t forget the Narberth Book Fair in Pembrokeshire tomorrow, 23rd September. At 11am I’ll be chatting to Jan Baynham about writing ‘Not Thomas’ and my experience of being on the Not the Booker prize shortlist. It’s free so come along!
Sara’s debut novel ‘Not Thomas’ – a story of child neglect, love and hope, shown through the eyes of five-year-old Tomos – is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher, from Amazon and from all good bookshops.