As the final few days before the Green Carnation Prize judges reveal their longlist for 2011, we thought it would be nice to get to know them a little better while we wait with baited breath for the announcement on September 28th. In our second in the series Gavin Pugh manages to catch up with a very busy Stella Duffy, who is midst teaching, directing and writing, to talk about being a judge on this years prize panel.
Gav: As quite a prolific and well known writer, you must have had your fair share of reviews, how are you finding being on the other side of the shelf and doing the judging?
Stella: Hmm, well the first thing is I don’t think of myself as prolific at all! I have plenty of friends who write a novel a year, I’ve only ever managed that three times, generally I have a book out every two years. I do write other things in between, plays, lots of short stories, so I know it seems like I do a lot, but it’s nothing compared to my friends in the crime writing arena, who have, some of them for 20+ years, written a novel a year – as well as everything else they do!
That said, I’ve had great reviews, awful reviews, middling reviews. I’ve been longlisted, shortlisted and won prizes … When you get a positive mention it’s great, when you don’t it’s gutting (no matter what anyone says!), but it’s also very important for us to remember that ANY review, ANY judging is utterly subjective. One group of judges might award an author one time and another group of judges might not even have put that author on the longlist. It’s a hard balance to achieve, and one I’m still working towards, but these things should be seen as lovely – and irrelevant to the actual work of writing, to what we do in the privacy of our own work. Of course, I know exactly how useful good reviews and awards are to book sales! But that’s another matter …
Gav: The Green Carnation Prize this year is open to all LGBT writers but by being a judge you’re instantly excluded – if you weren’t would you be happy to see your latest book ‘Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore’ entered? And what does the Green Carnation Prize mean to you as a writer?
Stella: Yes, of course I would have loved Theodora to be included – especially as the Green Carnation was just a gay men’s prize last year and has a wider remit this year! But them’s the breaks …
As a writer I think it’s great to have a prize acknowledging difference, divergence, that not all writers are straight. Of course there are always those detractors who say it’s not necessary (as there are for the Orange) and, maybe, for some people it isn’t necessary. Maybe they really and truly see no difference between an LGBT and heterosexual sensibility. Maybe they truly do operate in a world where there is no discrimination and it is as easy to be LGBT as it is to be straight, where no-one ever makes the wrong assumption about their sexuality, where they never hear or see any homophobia even in gentle jokes. I personally don’t live in a world like that – yet – so I’m happy to support this prize.
Also, see above – prizes help with publicity, help with sales, and anyone who doesn’t acknowledge that doesn’t understand the BUSINESS of publishing.
Gav: How important do you think seeing positive portrayals LGBT character is to LGBT people, especially teenagers?
Stella: Any positive, public LGBT role models are of value. I’d have loved to have known there were more happy, engaged, interesting lesbians when I was growing up. I knew of none. All young people need role models. And a note on the ‘teenagers’ question – we also need, very much, to consider our elders. While I am happy to be out and seen as a role model for youth, I’d also hope that my activity is of value to older LGBT people, for whom coming out has been much harder, many of whom still feel unable to be out, and MANY of whom are unable to receive appropriate care in hospitals, care homes etc, because we do not yet live in a world where an elderly woman, one who has not been out during the majority of her life, might be able to freely talk about her sexuality to a carer, who ALMOST INEVITABLY will assume she is heterosexual. While I very much support all the campaigns to take care of our LGBT youth, I really think we also need to be taking better care of our LGBT elders – not least because we will all be them soon enough!
Gav: Finally, what books could have won if this year’s format of the prize was around earlier?
Stella: Hah! Any one of the very good books by all those brilliant women writers I count as friends – and how rude it would be for me to single out just one!