Last week the shortlist for the Green Carnation Prize was announced. I think it’s a great shortlist, some new names, some well-known names, cross-genre, cross-gender – and unpredictable. I think that’s a good thing. In truth, the final shortlist is not quite my own personal preference of shortlist, though it’s very close. I don’t think it’s exactly the shortlist any one of the judges wanted, but for each of us it’s very very close. And I’m fine with that, I recognise that judges’ preferences will always be different, and still think we have a list to be proud of, a list we could all agree on and if some of us lost one book from our own top six, we were perfectly happy to agree one someone else felt more passionately on. I can say for sure there was no horse-trading and no negotiating – no “I’ll agree yours if you agree mine”. (Not least because none of us had time for that!)
And yet …
Yesterday there was this piece in The Guardian.
And then this piece in the Pink Paper.
And this piece in Pink News.
Leaving aside for now the absurd use of the phrase “openly-gay” in the Pink Paper, which sounds as if they’re treading into Daily Mail ‘self-confessed’ territory … what on earth is all this about? That it’s wrong not to have loads of famous names on a shortlist?! That literary celebrity OUGHT to imply shortlisting?
But back to the oddly-headlined Guardian piece (and I know that’s not the writer’s fault! how many weird headlines have I suffered under before now …!) :
That headline is misleading (and wrong) on so many levels it’s tempting to simply ignore, but as I’ve been asked to write a piece about the prize, but I’ll give it a go anyway :
1. As a writer who has made more longlists than shortlists, I can confirm that while not being shortlisted can be painful, it’s never a snub. We all know prize-judging is incredibly difficult and convoluted, and to try to second-guess what will be on any list is absurd. So not being on the shortlist cannot be a snub, as there is never a promise in the first place. Longlisting is always lovely, and even that is not guaranteed.
2. ‘Famous authors’ snubbed – well, out of six writers on the list, two (Jackie Kay and Colm Toibin) are already bestsellers and major prize-winners, so I’d hardly say they weren’t famous.
3. Oddly, in its list of the ‘famous writers’ snubbed, the Guardian piece doesn’t mention Val McDermid who was also on the longlist and is arguably more famous – and easily as best-selling – than any of those mentioned as being snubbed. Or does Val not count as famous because she’s a massively successful genre writer, and literary prizes – and literary pages – usually ignore genre writers?
I could go on, but what really disturbs me is that, instead of acknowledging that we Green Carnation Judges have come up with an eclectic list of well known and lesser known writers, of books that cross genre, including work by non-British writers new to many in the UK, we get a piece about the famous not being on the list – such a shame when it would have been a great chance to introduce the less-famous that are.