It’s a case of ‘Happy Birthday To Us’ today at Green Carnation Towers as we celebrate our first birthday with lots and lots of cake.
It seems hard to believe that it was exactly a year ago today that the prize was founded and all because of a single tweet. Co-found, judge for 2011 and last years Chair, Paul Magrs, caught up with us to tell us how he feels the prize has developed in the space of a single year…
‘It was the day of the usual Booker nonsense and I was sitting at my laptop, staring at the sunny street outside and was, as ever, logged into twitter, facebook – in fact, anything that could remind me that I was connected to the world outside. Writers at home need these connections – and the water cooler friends that you make via these networks are genuine lifelines. I forget what I was wrestling with last July on that day – probably with two books at once. Doing 12oo words on both each day, as my deadlines dictated last year. It’s so easy to feel home alone and adrift with the weight of this stuff. And then suddenly everyone’s clapping and crapping on about longlists and stuff.
‘And it was just a blip – a tiny thought – the kind of thing you can fit into 140 characters on Twitter. Why isn’t there a prize for gay writing? And it wasn’t because gay writers are never bookered or garlanded with oranges or whatever. It was because I was just thinking about prizes in general and how they play to different audiences and, when they do their job well, they draw attention to books that people might not have noticed otherwise. So anyway, exactly a year ago – and one tweet and one dirty joke later (man fooker, hahaha!) – suddenly it was a real thing. Simon Savidge tweeted me back – DMed me, in fact – and said – let’s make it happen. Let’s talk about this seriously. For me, the moment had fleeted by, of course. I’m onto the next self-distracting idea, the next silly double entendre — but Simon made me think about it and put us both to work. He made me take my silly idea seriously – WHY wasn’t there a prize like this? And why shouldn’t we just start it and do it right now?
‘Within two days we had our fabulous first panel of judges, and we had our first books arriving in the post. And here I sit – one year on – with all these heaped novels around me in the beach house at the bottom of our garden. Simon’s chairing this year and he’s the one badgering us to read, read, read and report! and doing all the hard work, of course. I’ve learned such a lot in these two years – about prizes and judging, making statements and compromises and having discussions and digressions and fending off backlash and drumming up interest… Above all it’s taught me about taking diversionary tactics seriously. Those blips of thoughts and tangents and ideas that come unbidden when you should be doing something else… they can wind up taking over your life…’
And here are, co-founder and judge again this year, Nick Campbell’s thoughts…
‘Oh, that’s nice, I think. Here I am sitting at my desk in the University, timetabling away, thinking about lunch. Paul Magrs, one of my favourite writers, is doing something on his blog about new books by gay men. ‘Do you want to join in?’ he says. Well, of course, I’m happy to suggest a few titles. What else am I doing? Answering emails on term dates.
Oh – he wants me to read them. There’s a website already, and people talking about it on Twitter. This is really happening – something’s really happening. I go to Gay’s the Word to ask for advice for our longlist and they’ve already heard about us. Odd. We’re all chatting away via email like nobody’s business – I’m being covert, have to keep minimising, click, click.
Suddenly books are coming in, and Jo Grant from Doctor Who is texting about her love for Christopher Fowler, and more books, and more. Some I’ve never heard of, and they’re brilliant – hilarious – moving – the whole shebang. I come back from holiday and there’s been heated debate about what’s not been longlisted. People are asking, What’s this book, Who’s this guy, What are your criteria? My Mum’s saying, Where are the women? And suddenly we’ve packed out Gay’s the Word, we’re arguing about the shortlist, and it’s got a life of its own…
One of those ideas like a flying spark that catches and burns (thanks, Paul). A lot of hard work and passion (thanks, Simon). Clear-sighted, strong opinion (thanks, Katy and Lesley). It’s so exciting that the Green Carnation has flourished, with our fantastic new judges and extraordinary new submissions – and I think, in these days of gloom, when we talk about people being disconnected and politically apathetic and not interested in reading, that the Internet, purveyor of porn and misinformation, could be a greenhouse for such a blooming good idea. Which has ended up with loads of people chatting away about great books!’
And indeed this year The Green Carnation Prize seems to have exploded, with so far well over double the entries from last year and there are more still coming. Now that’s the perfect birthday present.