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 the fourth of the series Gavin Pugh managed to have a quick natter with editor and journalist Michelle Pauli, who is giving us the straight eye view over the LGBT prize and its submissions.
Gav: As the honorary heterosexual on the panel, Michelle, has the process been eye opening?
Michelle: Not quite as eye-opening as I expected! Even Alan Hollinghurst has calmed down with his latest. What has been eye-opening – and brilliant – is the sheer range of books that have been submitted, from slim literary novels to all kinds of genre fiction, biographies to blockbusters. It’s been great to be introduced to some new names, to read some established names that I’ve never quite got round to in the past and to welcome some old friends. Judging a prize forces you to be open-minded, to read books you would never normally pick up, and that’s a really valuable exercise. I recommend judging a prize like this to anyone who is feeling jaded in their reading.
Gav: How did you find the reading pile for the Green Carnation Prize? Were you running to the letter box or taking a deep breath before each book?
Michelle: Some submissions have been a little daunting for their lack of portability as I tend to do a lot of reading on trains but, generally, seeing the ever rising and increasingly toppling Green Carnation pile of reads has been exciting rather than heart-sinking. It’s really encouraging that so many publishers are enthusiastic about the prize and keen to get on board by submitting their writers, from household names to debut authors. It’s felt like a very fresh list with some unexpected submissions and that’s kept the anticipation level high when the postie knocks on the door with yet another parcel of books too fat to fit through the letterbox.
Gav: Compared with your normal reading are you noticing any recognisable differences between those and the entries?
Michelle: As my “normal” reading recently has tended towards books for children and young adults (this year I launched and now edit the Guardian’s children’s books website)…yes…in certain respects there is quite a wide difference! With a few honourable exceptions (Malorie Blackman’s Boys Don’t Cry, Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking Trilogy, Linda Newbery’s The Shell House, for example) gay characters do not feature often enough in children’s and young adult fiction, and there is a real dearth of picture books, in particular, that reflect the diversity of families today, whether same sex parents or families from different cultures. I’ve been disappointed that no publisher has submitted a young adult / crossover book for the prize this year.
Having said that, the books on the Green Carnation list that have really gripped me have done so for the same reasons that a great young adult book grips me – intriguing narrative, beautiful writing, fully realised characters and that almost indefinable something special.
Gav: Have you been making any plans on how you’re going to persuade your fellow judges to get your favourite books on the long or short lists? Or is it too early to talk tactics?
Michelle: Obviously, living in Brighton, I’m going to lure them all down here for a judging meeting, get them legless and then dangle them off the end of the pier until they agree with me.
Luckily, giving how all our preliminary discussions are going, it seems we broadly agree on many of the titles or, at least, we all seem to strongly dislike the same books, which is pretty important. We share our thoughts by email on the books as we read them and that’s definitely helping to clarify and crystallise matters before we even get to the longlisting and shortlisting stages. Then…let the battles (and pier-dangling) commence!
Gav: Was it strange coming onto a prize as the new girl, along with Stella Duffy, where three of the judges had been on the panel before? Have they all been welcoming? Do you think having some regular judges adds to or detracts from the panel?
Michelle: I think it’s a great idea having a mix of “old” and new judges. It’s something that’s been mooted for the Booker prize as a way to establish some kind of continuity – and I certainly think the Booker could learn from the Green Carnation prize in this respect (and probably a few others). With the prize only in its second year, what’s been fantastic is that it feels like we’re all helping to build it together, from the decision to open up the prize from gay men to LGBT this year to sharing ideas about how to publicise the prize. It’s all openly discussed and brilliantly chaired by Simon and the three old-timers couldn’t have been more welcoming.
Gav: Finally, what books could have won if this year’s format of the prize was around earlier?
Michelle: Oooh, tricky question. OK, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin, without a doubt. I read it when I was a teenager and it made me desperate to live in or at least visit San Francisco one day. I read it again when I did finally go there last year and neither the city nor the rereading disappointed. I reckon Sarah Waters would have been in the running last year, had the prize been open to women then. Going further back, I would have loved to have seen Joe Orton get it, whether for plays or diaries, and, even further back, I don’t know if Denton Welch could have won, but I’d have liked him to.