On winning the Not the Booker prize – the event. Thursday 10 November 2011
Descending the dark paint spattered stairs, I entered a cellar room divided by a brick partition with a hole blown through it so big it looked like it had been a victim of Jihadists. The ceiling was hung low and encrusted with pre-energy efficient light bulbs – so this is where all the good bulbs that actually light up a room have gone – I thought.
I was in the cellar space of The Book Club bar in Shoreditch. I was here for the Not the Booker event. Joining me on the panel were Sam Jordison, The Guardian reviewer, instigator and brains behind the prize; Mark Thwaite, blogging guru and Quercus books online head honcho; Lars Iyer, the affable philosophy professor, Fall fan, and author of Spurious, second place winner; and Julian Gough, charming wag, Tipperary’s answer to Cervantes, and author of Jude in London, third place winner.
I felt genuinely honoured to be amongst such luminaries, having enjoyed Sam’s sometimes caustic but always insightful reviews, Mark’s pertinent blogs, Lars’s comedic Beckett inspired monologue, and Julian’s ribald picaresque tale. We were the panel, here to discuss the impact of the internet on books, reviews and literary prizes; but the real reason I had come was to claim my trophy: a Not the Booker first prize mug. I had been drinking from my cupped hands and was in need of a containing vessel.
I approached Sam: Hi, may I have my mug please?
Sam: Ah! Haven’t you received it? Well, the thing is, the editor is on holiday, it’s all a bit chaotic.
I consoled myself that although I had travelled down from Bradford to claim my reward, Lars had travelled from Newcastle and Julian from Berlin. It could be worse, I thought, at least the beer’s good.
Sam introduced events, Mark explained the role of the blogger, I talked of my concern about finding readers, in this culture of the ever growing producer. I’d hardly said anything at all when a purple haired Scottish woman, freshened by a few glasses of pinot grigio, stood up and accused me of being smug and self-congratulatory – even worse – a ‘liberal’.
I tried to defend my corner. Not the Booker was an irreverent way of poking fun at established prizes such as the Man Booker, to highlight their lack of democracy and transparency. For instance, most people had no idea that it cost publishers a lot of money to win. No one was saying the Not the Booker was better or more worthy, far from it, it was just there to encourage a debate – which was what we were having.
Fun! She shrilled. It shouldn’t be fun, this was serious.
Well, I thought it was fun, I said, indeed it had been up to this point, and I thanked her for that.
Things got heated, someone mentioned Foucault, Julian tried and failed to get the audience to like us again. We argued over the din of the toilet’s hot air hand blowers, the clatter of the adjacent room’s pool table and barmaid’s phone conversations.
This is shambolic, I thought, but great fun. Only hang on, we’re not supposed to be having fun. Oh well, fun was had despite everything, and Not the Booker reigned once more as the King of the Irreverent, the Irascible and the Irresolute…
…I still haven’t got my mug.