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Granta Best of Young British Novelists under 40

Friday 12 April 2013, 16:35

Di Speirs Di Speirs Editor, Readings

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Editor's note: Editor Di Speirs explains how she chose 5 stories from the latest Granta Best of Young British Novelists under 40 list for Book at Bedtime, listen from 15 April 2013. 

Olivia Colman Olivia Colman, actor.

It’s been a strange and absorbing experience. I’m used to literary embargoes so it wasn’t the secrecy per se – but choosing five stories for Book at Bedtime from Granta’s generation defining list of the 20 Best Young British Novelists Under 40 has proved even more than usually intriguing.

The once in a decade Granta lists – whether you like them or loathe them – have come to be seen as a potent measure of the state of British writing. There’s a certain frisson to discovering who has achieved the coveted label for 2013; a title which we’ll see on publicity blurbs for years to come and which will affect a writer’s trajectory.

Harry Lloyd Harry Lloyd, actor.

Much has been said about how accurate any list of writers chosen to represent a new generation can be; about the fallibility of the process and the arbitrariness of the cut-off point of 40, (which may affect women writers who often flourish in their forties and afterwards - you need only look at AS Byatt or Deborah Levy) and about the names who inevitably won’t be there on Monday evening.

But at a time when the literary world is in transition, anything that brings some of the best and most exciting new British writers to new audiences is a cause for debate, delight and celebration.

I have not been party to the nominations from publishers nor the discussions that went on between the esteemed panel of judges. I read the twenty pieces submitted ‘blind’.

They arrived in a couriered envelope, the authors’ names redacted rather ominously in black. Normally, in these times when profile and appeal are part of the publishers pitch, work arrives with considerable hype. Here, for once, I had the material raw.

Sagar Arya Sagar Arya, actor.

Having spent much of my career championing debut writers and bringing them to radio audiences, there was an added trepidation for me – would writers I admire be there? And would I recognise them if so!

Of course it was hard not to play the guessing game as I read through pieces, widely diverse in content, geography and style. Some writers gave it away – one in the first line – either in setting or subject, a certain edge or a recognisable grit. By the time I’d read all twenty pieces I had some strong bets, some hedged ones and a few outsiders.

But I was choosing the pieces above all, for radio. And so there were stories and extracts that I loved or admired but whose language, structure or plot ruled them out. I wanted too, to reflect the remarkable range and diversity of this year’s list.

In the end I settled for stories that take you from the wilderness to war, from domesticity to a dystopian nightmare, from new beginnings to a terrible disillusionment with all a narrator held dear.  

And of course at that point I found out just whose work I’d plucked from the hat, (that was a tense moment!). I did allow myself a little delight on learning that among my five there are two writers whose debut novels I brought to Book at Bedtime, one whose short story was short listed for a past BBC National Short Story Award, one we’ve commissioned and one that we’ve wanted to.

At this stage I can say no more but to my partial mind (all literary judgement being subjective ultimately) they are a great bunch. Front Row will reveal the full list on Monday at 7.15pm.

  • Listen to the 5 Granta Stories chosen for Book at Bedtime
  • Hear who has been selected for the Granta Best of Young British Novelists Under 40 on Front Row
  • Granta is the Magazine for new writing


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