Forgive this preamble to announcing my book release and thanks for bearing with me. In 2004 the novelist Tony Saint lamented, in the Telegraph, that he was not even the fifth best novelist in Waverton after his first novel had failed to reach the shortlist of the annual Waverton Good Read Award. Never heard of the WGRA? You are not alone. A little history, then. A family doctor in the village of La Cadière d’Azure, France, decided it might give his patients something to think about beyond their ailments if he got them all reading and voting on the latest novels. So Le Prix De La Cadière d’Azure was born and, although the prize is now discontinued, it inspired enterprising people from the village of Waverton (pop. 2000) in Cheshire to do the same.
Publishers are invited to send debut novels by British authors to be read by dozens of villagers who create a long list, then a short list and then – voila – the winner. It’s one of the few literary prizes run by readers and is now in its eleventh year. Previous winners have included Mark Haddon for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Maria Lewycka for A History of Tractors in Ukrainian, and Tom Rob Smith for Child 44. There are also one or two winning authors that you’ve never heard of like … ahem … myself. The Waverton win came (a cheque and a splendid dinner – thank-you, Waverton) and went but then calamity: my publisher ceased trading and my literary agent changed career. I just hope it wasn’t all my fault.
Despite the below-the-national-radar win and the collapse of my marketing and publishing support, I was delighted that out there, beyond the baying of the city, the steady readers of rural England had liked my novel. They say that the British comedian Norman Wisdom was big in Albania when he was unknown elsewhere and I like to think that I was once big in Waverton.
I had no time in any case to think about the lack of national interest because in the villages of my home patch it was all bouquets and elderflower champagne. Deep in rural Rutland, in mink-and-manure Manton, villagers filled the village hall for my author talk and in Kibworth in Leicestershire the effervescent owner of the Kibworth Bookshop corralled locals into the pub for a book group evening over gin and beer. In tiny Arnesby, where thatch is as rampant as roses, I fielded questions that good family folk really want to know from an author, such as what his mother thinks of the swearing in his novel. In book groups in Knighton, a village long ago swallowed up by Leicester, we drank glass after glass of wine until we’d all forgotten why we were sitting there with a novel on our laps. In Woodhouse Eves, retirement village for philosophers it seemed, I was probably out of my depth. Nevertheless, I was flattered and grateful for those evenings with readers.
Which finally leads me to say that my second novel, Fortunate, set in a Midlands town and in Zimbabwe, is now out. I’m conscious of the fact that it is just one of well over 100,000 books to be published this year in the UK but I will be more than happy to be big in a village - any village – once again.
Thanks for reading.
‘Unputdownable. An outstanding novel of love, courage and dangerous intrigue.’ Margaret Kaine.