QUIET FLOWS THE UNA makes longlist for new UK prize
The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses: Longlist Announcement
by Neil Griffiths
If the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses isn’t a grand enough name, we added a strapline to make it even clearer the kind of work we wanted publishers to submit. I confess I lifted the line from Galley Beggar’s website, but in my defence it seemed to me to set the bar at just the right level, whilst at the same time encapsulating what is missing from much of mainstream publishing these days. We weren’t just looking for great novels but ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose.’ It is on the website and was emblazoned below the name of the prize on the submission form.
All this is a way of saying that we had many excellent submissions that didn’t quite fall under this rubric. There were great acts of imagination; wonderfully accomplished storytelling; some beautiful stylists; many ‘exuberant’ characters; and one or two narratives that defy all explanation. Indeed, a fair few are in my estimation superior to many on the Man Booker longlist. But in the end the judges were asked to privilege small presses publishing writers who are challenging what is possible in literature whilst still taking pains (‘Genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains’ – Thomas Carlyle) in sentence making.
I understand that for many this prize should be about small presses tout court. But if we look at the 2016 Man Booker Prize shortlist, a small press, Saraband, published His Bloody Project and outsold all the other books on the list. It was essentially crime fiction, and as with most genre novels of any quality, a little exposure and it will find a large readership. I’d also wager, given the self-consciously stylised prose and unconventional narrative structure, David Szalay’s All That Man Is has sold significantly fewer, despite equal exposure. One could argue then, that the prize should support ‘difficult’ literature tout court, irrespective of the size of the publisher. But Jonathan Cape, Szalay’s publisher, is an imprint of Penguin/Random House, a global business: they can survive with smallish sales of a niche novel. Small presses cannot – hence our prize.
Finally, a few words on how we arrived at the longlist. It was always our intention to have a long-ish longlist – the prize is as much about exposure as it is about winner, and the more books we can place on people’s radar the better. (With that in mind please do share this article across social media, and be sure not to miss the chance to win subscriptions to many of the longlisted small presses, and the final shortlist here.) To make the longlist each book needed two or more votes by the panel of judges. At this stage there has been no disagreement. To accompany the list I have written a few of sentences about each book, but no inference should be taken from what I think in terms of probability to make the shortlist; I am one of eight judges and the comments below are entirely my own.
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