Not Thomas Not the Booker Not to be…

So it’s over

The Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize drew to a close this morning with a very happy outcome for one of the authors on the shortlist.

Dark Chapter by Winnie M Li is Not the Booker winner 2017


Huge congratulations to Winnie. Her book is moving and brave and a worthy winner. The public vote was a closely fought battle, with Winnie’s novel achieving 130 votes, 24 ahead of Harriet Paige’s Man with a Seagull on his Head.

The public vote wasn’t the end of it, though. The judges’ verdict came next, chaired by Sam Jordison, head judge (think Len Goodman or Shirley Ballas) and organiser of the Not the Booker prize for the last 9 years.

The judges’ comments were really interesting, and listening to and watching them live online as each book was reviewed was a rather surreal experience.

And there was a little surprise for me.

One of the judges – book blogger and avid reader, Jackie Law – made some lovely comments about Not Thomas, saying it was her second choice behind Man with a Seagull on his Head. She called Not T poignant, never mawkish and a very engaging story which raised important issues without preaching. I’m very grateful to Jackie for her positive remarks.

Next the judges’ points were awarded. Yvain Poncet, along with Jackie, voted for Man with a Seagull, while third judge, Hannah Macdonald, gave her vote to Dark Chapter which, when added to the public vote, made this novel the winner.

Sam commented that Dark Chapter was ‘possibly controversial but that’s what winners are meant to be.’ He decided not to use his casting vote, saying: ‘We can feel that we made a strong choice.’

And that was the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize done and dusted for another year

IMG_20171012_193740997Not the Booker shortlisted authors at the Big Green Bookshop, Wood Green, London, from left to right: Rowena Macdonald, Harriet Paige – chair, Sam Jordison – Winnie M Li & me


I feel as if I’ve woken up from a very strange dream. This prize contest began back in July and seems to have dominated the last two and a half months of my writing life. It’s been a completely bizarre episode but one, as I’ve said many times since the summer, I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

So what have I learned from my Not the Booker experience?



#1 Sometimes opportunities come along that are too good to waste and you have to be brave and just throw yourself at them – even if, like me, you’re not terribly brave at all.

#2 Public voting is a mixed blessing – some people don’t mind you letting them know they can vote for your book if they wish, while some people do.


#3 The vast majority of people are helpful, kind and supportive.

#4 Social media is a godsend – but you knew that already, it’s just me that needed convincing.

#5 Social media is not a godsend when you’re on it for eight hours or more, seven days in a row.

And finally…

#6 Being shortlisted, when you’ve not got a snowball’s chance in hell of going any further (I’m thinking judges’ voting here) is almost as good as winning – I am just so grateful I had a place on that shortlist.

As I was dropping off to sleep last night, I began wondering what advice I’d give anyone who finds their book nominated for the NTB next year

I’d say go for it 100%, obviously, but what else? What tips would I share?

And then I started thinking of a whole new blog post, one titled ‘So you’ve been nominated for the Not the Booker Prize 2018…’

But I think I’ll put that on hold until next year, by which time the last few months will be a happy, distant memory and I won’t remember a single tip to share.

Thank you for reading and keeping me company on this often weird and wonderful experience. And to everyone who voted for Not Thomas and cheered me on – I am so grateful. You are all magnificent!

Diolch o galon,

Sara x

P.S. I’m planning on starting what I hope will become my new novel soon, and so my next series of blog posts will have some writing tips about points to remember when beginning a fresh WiP. I need reminding – I began writing Not T back in 2001!

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 bookshops.




Not the Booker Final Public Vote

A huge thank you and diolch yn fawr to everyone who voted ‘Not Thomas’ onto the shortlist of the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

NotThomas cover final front only

The final public vote has just opened to help decide the winner. I know the original vote was fraught with problems because of the Guardian’s fiendishly difficult website, but if you’d like to vote for Not Thomas and have the energy to tackle that voting page again, this is the link.

Hopefully, having navigated the page once, second time around it won’t be quite so horrendous. 

Of course, you’re still able to vote even if you didn’t vote in the first round. Click in the box that says ‘join the discussion’ near the bottom of the voting page. 

The Guardian would like your vote to start with the word VOTE then the title and author of the book and a 50 word review. Your previous review should still be online, and if you click on your username it should take you to it.

It’s been a weird couple of months on the shortlist

and I have yet to take part in the Big Green Bookshop event, where I’ll meet some of the other authors, which I’m really looking forward to, and my scathing reviewer, Sam Jordison, which should be rather interesting. I’ll be reporting back when I get the chance!

In the meantime, thank you so much for your support of Not T and me – I appreciate it very much indeed.

Bye for now & diolch o galon,

Sara x

P.S. Here’s that voting link again

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 bookshops.



Not the Booker Goes Silent

It’s been a strange week on the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize shortlist.

Guardian Mug

All six shortlisted novels have been reviewed by Sam Jordison, who runs the prize, and one novel, in a shock announcement, has been removed from the competition by its author. There’ve been no more books to review and no comments from readers, as the threads under each of the novels are closed. And so it’s been a very quiet week on the Not the Booker page.

So what happens next?

As there’s no up-to-date information yet this year, I’ve looked back at what happened last year, and I’m assuming there’ll be another online public vote, where readers can choose their favourite book from the shortlist of five. The voting will probably open this weekend, or soon after, and run for the whole week.

I’m guessing that, like last year, people will be asked to vote for only one novel on the shortlist and to write a 50 word review – half the number of words required in the previous round. 

If Sam follows last year’s system, the book that wins the public vote will get two points. No points will be awarded for second place.

Then it’s the turn of the judges. 

Sam will choose three judges from people who’ve reviewed this year’s books in the comment threads on the Not the Booker page. Last year, the judges were announced when the public voting opened. This year, surprisingly, the judges don’t need to have read all of the shortlisted books, only three. Each judge has one vote, and in the case of a tie, Sam has the casting vote.

The winner will be announced live online.

Last year, the judges discussed the shortlisted novels with Sam via Skype on the morning after the public vote closed. Maybe that will be the case this year too. I expect Sam will let us know soon. But until then, all the above is speculation.


So this week has been a pause for breath. 

Next week will be busy, with public voting open again, that dreadful Guardian site to help would-be voters navigate and a live event at the Big Green Bookshop in London. Four of the shortlisted authors are expected to be there, including this one, and Sam will be chairing the discussion. Oh the joy – Tomos and I will need all the positive vibes you can send us!

I’ll update my blog when I have more definite information but until then, thanks for reading,

Sara x

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.


Not the Booker SHOCK Announcement


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.”

Read her full statement here

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!

Sara x

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.



Not the Booker at the Halfway Point


Well, here we are – mid way through the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize process.

Half of the novels on the shortlist have been reviewed by the Guardian’s Sam Jordison so far. ‘Dark Chapter’ by Winnie M Li, ‘The Ludlow Ladies’ Society’ by Ann O’Loughlin and my own, ‘Not Thomas’ have all felt the sting of Sam’s not overly-friendly reviewing skills. They’ve had their turn for comments from members of the reading public too.

As I type, Sam is uploading his review of the fourth novel, ‘The Threat Level Remains Severe’ by Rowena Macdonald, and then that too will be ready for all the comments – positive, negative or indifferent – that readers want to throw at it.

It’s been a fun and odd five weeks for my novel ‘Not Thomas’ since the Guardian’s shortlist was announced.

Although being reviewed first wasn’t the easiest of positions, it has meant that ‘Not Thomas’ has ended up being mentioned in relation to the other books too. And the more it’s mentioned, the more its title gets ‘out there’.

In his review, Sam denounced Tomos as too young to think the way I’ve portrayed him. That’s fair enough – after all, I expect everyone has their own view of what a typical five-year-old is like, and even if we don’t know any right now, we’ve all been one in the past.

Fortunately for me, a few teachers and some other people who work with children came to Tomos’s defence in the comment thread of the ‘Not Thomas’ review, pointing out that at age five children fit into a broad spectrum of abilities.

And even Sam defended ‘Not Thomas’ the other day –  in a very mild way, of course. When someone who hadn’t even read it suggested it was a ‘clunker’, Sam said it wasn’t a clunker and that “Not Tomas (sic) had some good points”. That’s about as much praise as I expect from him. (But note the misspelt title – what little he gives with one hand he takes away with the other!)

There are five more weeks to go before this year’s winner of the Not the Booker prize will be announced.

The live announcement will be made on Monday 16th October. But before that, there’ll be a week of public voting to endure, and along with some of the other finalists, I’ll be attending an event in London where there’ll be debates, readings and Q&A sessions. All good fun – nerve-wracking, nail-biting, good fun.

I’ll be over-dosing on the flower remedy again!

Thanks for reading.


Sara x

P.S. Have you read any of the books on the shortlist? Let me know what you think of the competition so far.

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher and from Amazon.





Especially for those readers of Not Thomas who aren’t familiar with Welsh…

Today’s Welsh word (or rather, phrase) is a bit of a weird one because half of it is in English – well, sort of.

On page 74, the lady next door is a little shocked when Tomos pops his head through the hole in the hedge and shouts ‘Hello’ at her. In her surprise, she yells: ‘Yessee mawr!’

‘Mawr’ is the Welsh word for ‘big’ – although here its meaning is more ‘great’.

‘Yessee’ isn’t a Welsh word, at least it’s not written in Welsh in Not Thomas, but many people from Wales, Welsh-speaker or not, will recognise its sound as ‘Iesu’ which is the Welsh name for Jesus.

The lady next door doesn’t like to ‘take the Lord’s name in vain’, and so, like the gran of a friend of mine, insists she’s simply adding some ‘ees’ onto the end of yes. That’s better for the soul, apparently. 

And much easier to read if you’ve never come across the name ‘Iesu’ before.

Thanks for reading – diolch yn fawr!

Sara x

P.S. This is the first Not Thomas #WelshWordWednesday that I’ve put on my blog, but there are others on my Sara Gethin Writer Facebook page. I’ll do a round up of them all here too soon.

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher and from Amazon.


Ann’s Take on Not the Booker

Guardian Mug

I was so delighted to read Ann O’Loughlin’s post ‘Women Write Great Books’ on the wonderful Irish book blog ‘Swirl & Thread‘ today, that I thought I’d share it on my own blog too.

Ann, like me, has a novel shortlisted for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize 2017. Her novel is set just outside Dublin and is called ‘The Ludlow Ladies’ Society’. I’m reading it at the moment, appropriately enough while on holiday in Ireland, and it’s a good job I am on holiday as I’m finding it hard to put down. I thoroughly recommend it.

So here’s the start of Mairead’s introduction to Ann’s post, with a link to the rest. I hope you enjoy it as much a I did:

“As most of you are now aware The Guardian plays host to the wonderful Not The Booker Prize, since it’s inception in 2009 by journalist Sam Jordison. This is a literary award decided by the reader and it gives opportunity to many authors to access the type of coverage and notoriety…”

Read more on Swirl & Thread

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy direct from the publisher or from Amazon.


Not the Booker Part 2 & Sam’s Scathing Review


What a week and a bit it’s been!

A lot has happened since I last wrote about my experiences of being on The Guardian’s Not the Booker shortlist. The main new event is that my novel, ‘Not Thomas’, has been reviewed by Sam Jordison, The Guardian’s book club reviewer.

And the review is pretty scathing – which is exactly how I expected it to be

In fact, I’ve spent the whole time between being shortlisted and his review warning my supporters, and especially my family, that Sam’s review would rip my novel to shreds. ‘Surely not?’ they all countered. ‘Believe me,’ I would reply, ‘I’ve been following Not the Booker for a few years now, and it’s not a friendly place to be.’

‘Why then,’ a good friend asked me, ‘did you want anything to do with it in the first place?’

Good question.

‘It’s a brilliant platform,’ I told her. ‘Let a reviewer tear my lovingly crafted novel to pieces – if it means Not Thomas reaches an audience it would never otherwise have had, I’ll gladly let them do it.’

She didn’t quite get it

And I guess it does sound pretty weird. I suppose it’s not the path all writers would choose to go down. I’m sure there are plenty of authors who would rather cut off their fastest typing hand than launch themselves into a less than flattering spotlight.

But when I was nominated for the Not the Booker, I saw it as a huge opportunity I simply couldn’t waste. I knew my novel would attract negative attention. I knew it would receive a harsh review from Sam. I knew many of the comments from the Guardian’s book clubbers would be damning and brutal, but yet…

I also knew that very many people who had read Not Thomas had praised it.

I knew those readers had recommended it to other people, and they’d liked it too. Word-of-mouth was working well for Not T, but word-of-mouth is a slow process. I needed to hurry things up. I’m over fifty and I may never write another book. This was my one, and possibly, only chance at getting my novel out into the big wide world.

What would you do if you were me?

Well, this is what I did as Sara…

Once I knew I was definitely on the Not the Booker longlist, I set about asking those people who’d already read Not Thomas and liked it, to think about giving it one of their votes.

There were very many worthy titles on the list – some of them from writers I knew personally, some from Welsh writers like me, and some from world-famous authors. I felt uncomfortable asking people specifically to vote for my novel, but I wanted to draw their attention to the fact that this particular prize is voted for by the public. And they had two votes, so if they had a spare, they might consider giving it to Not Thomas.

I sent out that message on Facebook and Twitter, and I waited to see what happened

Thankfully, messages of support started coming in. People who’d read Not Thomas wanted to vote for it, but The Guardian’s Not the Booker voting page was proving a nightmare. At the top of the page it promised a ballot paper below, but at the bottom of the page there was no ballot paper to be seen. Nowhere did it say ‘Vote Here’. You had to click on ‘Join the Discussion’ to place your vote. Even then it wasn’t straight forward.

People who typed their review straight into the comment box often found the review disappeared once they clicked ‘submit’

So I wrote a step-by-step guide and pinned it to my Facebook page. I wasn’t directing people to vote for Not Thomas, of course, but setting out guidance generally about how to navigate the voting page. Despite this, a lot of people contacted me to say sadly they’d had to give up.

But thankfully, so many more actually managed to vote. I had wonderful support from a whole range of readers. Two book clubs in my town had read Not T and they voted for it, and they encouraged other people to read it and vote if they liked it too. A fantastic group of on-line book bloggers, who had hosted a Not Thomas blog tour the week before, did the same.

A group of teachers who’d all read Not Thomas voted and shared the news about my Not the Booker nomination on Facebook. They encouraged more teachers to read it too, and to vote for it if they liked it. Family and friends got on board, of course, and very touchingly, people from my home town who’d read Not Thomas contacted me to ask how to vote too.

There are accusations every year in the Not the Booker comments thread about how publishers get their staff to vote for books on the longlist. This sort of mass voting results in reviews that are a rehashing of the book’s blurb

Well, I’ll just say that Not Thomas is published by a tiny, tiny publisher – Honno Welsh Women’s Press based in Aberystwyth. Four people work there, all part time. I had their total support, of course, and five authors who are also published by Honno did a fantastic job of sharing my posts, and reminding people which box took you through to vote on the Guardian page. But mass voting and rehashing book blurb it most certainly was not.

All week long, I sat at my computer replying to the wonderful, and sometimes heartbreaking, comments that Not Thomas readers sent me via Facebook and Twitter. Teachers, foster carers and social workers contacted me, all pleased that the issue of child neglect had been raised by Not Thomas. One message particularly stands out, from a person who said she had been a neglected child, just like Tomos. She thanked me for giving a voice to neglected children everywhere. Through my tears, I wrote and thanked her for her kind comments.

It was a very long and extremely emotional week

As it drew to a close at midnight on Monday, 7th August, the last vote and review for Not Thomas came in at 11.58. It was from my lovely 21-year-old niece. I crawled off to bed, exhausted by the whole process, but hopeful that the wonderful efforts of all the fantastic Not T readers had got the novel through to the next stage.

At lunchtime the next day, my neighbour rang to congratulate me. I was still in bed, totally exhausted by the week’s efforts. I hadn’t yet discovered what he was about to tell me – Not Thomas was not only on the shortlist but had the most votes. It was absolutely amazing.

And I’m so grateful to every single person who took the time and had the perseverance to vote for my novel. It was a massive team effort, and I’m so glad Tomos supporters are part of ‘the journey’. I know it’s a horrible term, but I think it’s the right one here.

There’ll be more updates soon about this Not the Booker experience, but for now the comments are coming in on The Guardian’s page in reply to Sam’s scathing review. You can read them here and comment too, if you wish. There’s no guarantee your comment won’t be ripped to shreds by the Guardian’s book clubbers – just as they’re shredding Not Thomas – but that’s all part of the fun.

That’s the result of stepping into the spotlight – and this month, I wouldn’t want little Tomos to be anywhere else

Thanks for reading my (very long!) post. Please leave a comment if you were part of the huge team effort to get Not Thomas onto the shortlist, or even if you weren’t.

Sara x

Sara’s debut novel Not Thomas is published by Honno Press in paperback and as an e-book, and is available to buy directly from the publisher or from Amazon.


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.