Judging Britain's 12 best new novelists for The Culture Show


The wizards at The Culture Show are a kindly bunch; they know that reading novels en masse is a task made all the more pleasurable if it can be done in warm weather and preferably in a deckchair.

So last August, when I took delivery of my first batch of books to judge for the New Novelists: 12 Of The Best from The Culture Show, I was particularly delighted to be able to head for the garden, turn off my phone and start reading.

In all, there were 57 debut novels under consideration, and we read them in various combinations.

There were 24 books in my first tranche, and I couldn't wait to begin them. I've judged several literary prizes, including The Man Booker Prize, and that first moment - when you don't have a clue what you're about to discover - is always thrilling; but all the more so when the books are by first-time authors.

You won't have read any of the writer's previous books, because there are none; and you can't be influenced, however unconsciously, by reputation or author interviews or book reviews.

And there's always the thought that you might be about to get your first taste of a truly great writer of the future.

After that initial period of reading, the judging panel had two lengthy meetings and an awful lot of email exchanges in between, before we finally got to our dozen writers.

The idea was not to find an overall winner but to establish a list of the brightest new literary fiction talent, at the same time as revealing the process of how such book lists come to fruition.

Those eligible for this new British writers' shortlist had to have written and published their debut novel in the UK within the last two years.

So with these criteria in mind the publishing houses were approached and asked to submit one author each, although additional writers put forward were also considered.

The chair, John Mullan, journalist and critic Sam Leith, author Helen Oyeyemi, Culture Show editor Janet Lee and I then whittled down the entries to the 12 we considered most outstanding.

It's safe to say we didn't always agree, but that's exactly the point of having a panel - fiction isn't something you can judge by rigid criteria, and a novel that elicited exactly the same response from every reader would be a bland creation indeed.

But I think what we were all impressed by was the range of work on offer - from comic flights of fantasy to tender love stories, from sharply imagined historical fiction to acute observations of contemporary life.

I'm very pleased with our final selection, but it's by no means the last word on brand new fiction - and I'm sure you can add plenty of your own favourites.

Alex Clark is part of the judging panel for New Novelists: 12 Of The Best From The Culture Show.

New Novelists: 12 Of The Best From The Culture Show is on BBC Two at 9pm on Saturday, 5 March, (World Book Night) as part of the Books On The BBC 2011.

Immediately before the programme on BBC Two are two Culture Show specials: A Million Books For Free at 7.30pm, presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon and The Books We Really Read at 8pm, presented by Sue Perkins.

Evie Wyld, one of the 12 novelists selected for the programme, also also written for the BBC TV blog on her experience of being filmed for the show.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


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