The highlight of my social calendar is the annual readings of extracts from the Bailey’s prize for fiction short-listed novels, one day ahead of the winner being announced. Over the years I’ve been to most of the 20 plus events. That it takes place at the Royal Festival Hall only adds to the pleasure for me. I love the South Bank and it’s proximity to Waterloo, a straight run and the end of the train line for me.
It’s such a thrill to be in the presence of six world-class authors, to hear them read the words they wrote and listen as they field questions from the Chair of judges and members of the audience. Exhilarating. Then later there’s a chance to get books signed by the authors and to linger by the book-signing station and watch the adoration. I work out who seems popular. Who revels in the signings and who looks ill at ease. Publishers and agents and other book industry minions flutter about. There’s an energy and a tension and maybe it’s because the chair is speaking the truth after all when she says they have a difficult job ahead to choose a winner and there’s less than a day to go.
On Tuesday night there were few men in attendance. It is a literary prize awarded to women I suppose. Charles Dance, who read on behalf of Donna Tartt (regrettably unable to attend) said he’d never felt more conspicuous. Tartt was tipped to win and would have been a draw. Her absence, a big disappointment, was eased by the presence of Dance. Previous no-shows sent agents or publishers to read on their behalf.
So in an auditorium almost full to the brim with women I would have noticed the grim reaper aka Will Self. In a lengthy article for the Guardian he sounded the death knell for the novel. Were he among us, he’d surely have revoked his words. I’d happily read any of the six short listed books and have every intention of reading them all. Last night first time novelist Eimear MacBride, was announced as the winner. She was one of two Irish authors who made it on to the short-list. Her stream of conscious writing lent itself perfectly to her reading. Lyrical and staccato.
I booked my seat back in March so I got a good one. Right up front. Of course I know where I’d really love to sit.