The long list for this year’s Dylan Thomas Prize has just been published and it’s an amazing roll of young writing talent. All are under 30, and two of the authors are only just in their 20s. That fact simultaneously encourages and terrifies me. There’s a press release here and this is the long list:
- Tom Benn, 24 – The Doll Princess (Vintage Publishing)
- Ben Brooks, 20 – Grow Up (Canongate Books)
- Matthew Crow, 24 – My Dearest Jonah (Legend Press)
- Andrea Eames, 26 – The White Shadow (Harvill Secker/Random House)
- Amelia Gray, 29 – Threats (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
- Chibundu Onuzo, 21 – The Spider King’s Daughter (Faber)
- Maggie Shipstead, 28 – Seating Arrangements (Blue Door)
- Alexandra Singer, 29 – Tea at the Grand Tazi (Legend Press)
- DW Wilson, 27 – Once You Break A Knuckle (Bloomsbury)
- Lucy Wood, 27 – Diving Belles (Bloomsbury)
The organisers of the prize have very kindly sent me copies of all ten of the books on the long list.
I was so excited to open the parcel and didn’t know where to start. So I chose randomly and began with Lucy Wood’s collection of short stories, ‘Diving Belles.’ And what a book to start with! I’d hate to be the judges if this is the standard.
They’re haunting and haunted stories but what they focus on is the distance between the human characters rather than the distance between the human and the supernatural beings of which they tell.
And they avoid making the supernatural – the strangeness – the centre of the stories.
Instead that centre is the difficulty of relationships, the missed opportunities in even the closest relationships.
The ghosts, the giants, the elves, the spirits – these are the backdrop which highlights those problems. Or then again they become living symbols or enactments of the real-life relationships. Or they provide means of viewing the ‘normal’ refracted through an extremely strange situation.
For instance, how long do you keep on helping someone you still care about even though you’ve split up and, more pressingly, you’re about to turn into stone?
How do you cope with the strain of learning to live with someone, learning to live in a strange town at the same time as coming to terms with the fact that your parents have sold your childhood home? Oh and the ghost of an ancient mariner has moved in too.
But the story I love best is ‘Wisht’ which is full of menace and gloom, hints of ghostly hounds and fearful moors, but turns out to be so much warmer than you expect. A twist on the traditional short-story twist. Lovely.
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