On being shortlisted for the 2013 Sunday Times Fiction Prize

On being shortlisted for the 2013 Sunday Times Fiction Prize

Last night (Saturday 18th May) I had the extraordinary experience of being shortlisted for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize 2013. My wife and I had flown to the Franschhoek Literary Festival on a whim, so serendipity reigned, and I was at the celebrity-studded event when the shortlist was announced. I assume this will be the first and last time I come ahead of a Nobel Prize winner (Gordimer) and a thrice Nobel nominee (Brink).

In any event, for an original aspiration of self-publishing a novel for my long-suffering friends to read, to hitting this shortlist two years later, this has been a bewildering and somewhat bemusing experience (I am well-aware of the exigencies of timing and luck in these matters).

One of the more interesting (and perhaps base and childish) joys of this honorific have been related to a minor revenge of sorts. When Entanglement was published it received overwhelmingly positive reviews. There were one or two somewhat ambivalent, but well-argued reviews, which were disappointing, but certainly an acceptable part of the fabric of criticism.

And then there were the other two.

One proclaimed the book to be ‘boring, pretentious and badly written’ and went on to imply that I had somehow tricked Pan Macmillan into publishing a piece of crap. The other, in a major weekend newspaper, spent an entire back page essentially telling the readers that this was the worst book ever written, and went as far as to attack me personally (although the writer had never met me).

These two reviews held much more emotional sway over me than the many instances good (and often glowing) coverage. I contemplated murder and suicide simultaneously when I read them, and they chafe still in the late chill of the pre-dawn hours.

Christopher Hope, a Whitbread winner, once said to me – you take your first bad review with you to the grave. This is an understatement of considerable dimensions.

And then last night. A public recognition. A loud accolade from a panel of prestigious and experienced literary judges. Who said of my book “excellent, fast paced, clever and funny debut, commended for its sharp characterisations and superb writing”.

Never has revenge tasted so sweet.

To the two writers of those grave-accompanying reviews – I blow an immature raspberry in your general direction.