Wednesday 13 June 2018

Leicester Book Prize 2018

By Jonathan Taylor

Over the last few weeks, I've had the pleasure of judging the inaugural Leicester Book Prize, with co-judges Farhana Shaikh and Matthew Vaughan. Farhana Shaikh runs Leicester Writes Festival, and Dahlia Publishing, and founded the prize; Matthew Vaughan is Development Librarian in Leicester, runs Leicester Writers' Showcase, and is also himself a storyteller.  

The prize was open to any book by a Leicestershire-based writer, published between May 2017 and April 2018. Books could be commercially, independently or self-published. Since this was the first year that the prize had run, we had to decide on judging criteria, and a statement about the prize. This is what we came up with:

“As well as literary and aesthetic quality, we will reward texts which represent or embody the values which we see as characteristic of the city: diversity, individuality, multiculturalism, democracy and an ever-surprising eccentricity. For that reason, the prize will aim to treat texts which are independently published, self-published or, in some way, marginalised, on an equal footing with books from major publishers. It will aim to celebrate books which have been overlooked by the mainstream.”

It was an absolute delight reading the books submitted. The books were remarkably varied and of a standard which would compare with any city in the country, or beyond. I have felt for a while that the literary scene in Leicester - with its multiple literary festivals, its nationally-known poetry and open-mic events, Leicester Writers' Club, its publishers and university courses - is going through a bit of a golden age; and the quality of the books on both shortlist and longlist is a testament to this. 

All of the books were celebrated at a special event on June 12th at the Exchange Bar in Leicester, which included readings, talks and the presentation of the award. I don't believe literature is a competition; so, although in the end we had to choose a "winner," it's important to stress that the prize celebrates all of the wonderful books published in the area over the last year. 

I've listed the books below, with a few thoughts on each of them. 


The winner of the 2018 Leicester Book Prize was Rod Duncan, for his novel The Queen of All Crows. This was a hugely imaginative, compelling and ambitious work of speculative fiction, which frankly I loved, start to finish. I've never read anything quite like it. 


The other books on the shortlist were:

Animal Lovers by Rob Palk: a very funny, and elegantly written novel, which was hugely entertaining throughout. 

The Things We Thought We Knew by Mahsuda Snaith: a thoughtful and poignant novel about friendship and loss - full of poetry and humour. 

Neon Sky by Maud Wainwright-Pilton: a sophisticated and musical novel in poetry - I couldn't put it down.


The other books on the longlist were:

Birds Without Sky by Malka Al-Haddad: a harrowing collection of poems, with beautiful illustrations, about the refugee experience - a politically important and hard-hitting book. 

Kingstone by Katherine Hetzel: a beautifully written and very original fantasy story.

Dream Dreams by Sandra Pollock: an inspiring pamphlet of poems. I particularly enjoyed the poems written in the Barbadian dialect. 

Restless Coffins by M. P. Wright: a crime novel full of adventure and political substance - vivid and compelling. 

Writers Rod Duncan, Maud Wainwright-Pilton, Rob Palk

Friday 8 June 2018

The (Im)Precision of Language: Poem by Shaindel Beers

Shaindel Beers is author of the poetry collections A Brief History of Time (Salt Publishing, 2009), The Children’s War and Other Poems (Salt, 2013), and Secure Your Own Mask (White Pine Press, 2018). Her poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She is currently an instructor of English at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, and serves as poetry editor of Contrary. Her website is:

The (Im)Precision of Language

How far the ring-necked dove is
from wringing a dove’s neck. The way
a stand of trees can hide a deer

stand, concealing the hunter who
will shoot the deer. The deer, who will
fall in the fall in the fallow field.

Once, someone who was dear to me
threatened me with a deer rifle. Cleaned
it random times, out of season when

he was upset. Said, I don’t want to be
divorced. We can make this work, while
working the polishing cloth along the metal

barrel of the gun. My blood barreled through
my body when I would see his truck in the drive.
I was never not scared to come home, to fall

asleep, to say the least little thing wrong.
Language became a tricky game where saying
nothing meant everything, where saying everything

meant nothing left to fear. I sang my sorrow song
to anyone who would listen, recognized the panic
of birdsong, the desperation of the killdeer

feigning its broken wing. Anything to lure the predator
from its nest. Its broken wing was strength
of a different kind. I figured showing my weakness

might help me. Someone might understand the bird
of my heart always crashing against the cage
of my ribs, the moth of hidden fear fluttering

to escape from my throat. Once, in my Shakespeare
class I learned that brace meant a pair, a brace
of kinsmen, of harlots, of greyhounds,

a brace of warlike brothers. In another time
I stood at the front of the classroom in a chest
brace because my husband had collapsed

the cartilage between my ribs. I couldn’t reach
the string on the movie screen and had to ask
for help. I said, I’m wearing a brace, so I can’t

stretch. I thought of the grimace stretching
across the nurse’s face when I said, I know, 
this sounds like domestic violence. It was an accident,

just goofing around. I wrapped the Velcro belt
around my ribs each morning as he ribbed me
that I should have given up, What was I trying

to prove by staying in a submission hold
until he cracked my ribs? How could I be
so stupid? So stubborn? I didn’t know he

was grooming me for greater violence,
the rock thrown at me in the car,
the wedding ring pressed so tight

by his hand holding mine that I bled.
Which brings us back to the dove,
the difference between ringing

and wringing and where language leaves us 
when someone controls every word we say,
when we have no one left to talk to.