Friday, 16 March 2018




The seven category shortlists for the 2018 Books of the Year Awards are announced today by Chair of the Judges and Editor of The Bookseller Philip Jones who said: “The true range, breadth and brilliance of writing and publishing is demonstrated in these shortlists, from the unexpected triumphs to the brand juggernauts. The year 2017 was marked by big books that got bigger, break-outs that broke further, and conversation starters that spoke louder.”
Giants of the children’s book world David Walliams and Philip Pullman, line-up alongside the remarkable breakout success of debut Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, household names Jamie Oliver, Tim Peake and Bruce Dickinson, fiction megastars Lee Child and Marian Keyes, the book that sparked a National conversation, Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and the international bestselling phenomenon Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.
Reflecting on the Books of the Year shortlists Philip Jones also said
“In a year that was marked by notable instances of event-publishing, some stand-out new names, and the return to form of some greats, there was also evidence of a broadening of the market, with debuts from Angie Thomas, Gill Sims and Gail Honeyman mixing it with the fiction blockbusters and the non-fiction giants. The Books of the Year shortlists reflect the strength and industry of a sector that can be both Happy and challenged. In 2017 The British book trade was valued at £1.6bn, it was the year when a lot worked.”
The British Book Awards’ Books of the Year, which were introduced in 2016 to celebrate the books that demonstrate the real value of publishing, are the only literary awards in the UK that champions books that have been both well-written and brilliantly published. This year, industry magazine The Bookseller, which runs the Awards has further expanded the 2018 ceremony to introduce a new award for the best Audiobook as an acknowledgement of the growth and popularity of the audio books market. The other six categories are Fiction, Debut, Crime & Thriller, Non-fiction: Narrative; Non-fiction: Lifestyle and Children’s Book of the Year.
The shortlists, which consist of six books in each of the seven categories and which uniquely honour not just the author and illustrator of a title but the entire publishing team, are:
Books of the Year – 2018 shortlists
Crime & Thriller BOOK OF THE YEAR


The Midnight Line by Lee Child (Bantam Press)

The Girl Before by JP Delaney (Quercus)

The Dry by Jane Harper (Abacus)

Spook Street by Mick Herron (John Murray)

He Said/She Said by Erin Kelly (Mulholland)

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (HarperCollins)
The Break by Marian Keyes (Michael Joseph)
Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore (Hutchinson/Windmill)
Winter by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (Fourth Estate)
City of Friends by Joanna Trollope (Mantle)
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (Viking)
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (Harper Fiction)
Sirens by Joseph Knox (Doubleday)
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)
Why Mummy Drinks by Gill Sims (HarperCollins)
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent (HarperCollins)



Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (Particular Books)

Oi Cat! by Kes Gray, Jim Field (Illus.) (Hodder Children's Books)     
The Lost Words          by Robert Macfarlane, Jackie Morris (Illus.) (Penguin Random House Children’s)
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One by Philip Pullman, Chris Wormell (Illus.) (David Fickling books in assoc. with Penguin Random House Childrens)
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (Walker Books) 
BAD DAD by David Walliams (Harper Collins Children’s Books)
Non-fiction: Lifestyle BOOK OF THE YEAR
Recovery: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand (Bluebird)
Happy: Finding joy in every day and letting go of perfect by Fearne Cotton (Orion Spring)
5 Ingredients by Jamie Oliver (Michael Joseph)
The Christmas Chronicles: Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter by Nigel Slater (HarperCollins)
The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to be Calm in a Busy World by Haemin Sunim (Penguin Life)
Cooking for Family and Friends by Joe Wicks (Bluebird)
Non-fiction: Narrative BOOK OF THE YEAR
What Does This Button Do? By Bruce Dickinson (Harper Non-Fiction)
Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (Bloomsbury Circus)
This is Going To Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay (Picador)
I AM, I AM, I AM: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O'Farrell (Tinder Press)
Ask an Astronaut: My Guide to Life in Space by Tim Peake (Century)
The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young (Faber & Faber)
Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle, Narrator: Stephen Fry (Audible)
The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney, Narrators: Emilia Fox, Finty Williams, Lise Aagaard Knudsen (Quercus)
Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman, Narrator: Cathleen McCarron (HarperCollins)
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust volume one by Philip Pullman, Narrator: Michael Sheen (Penguin Random House UK Audio)
Kid Normal by Greg James and Chris Smith, Narrators: Greg James and Chris Smith (W F Howes/Nudged Audiobooks)
How not to be a Boy by Robert Webb, Narrator: Robert Webb (Audible Studio)
The category winners will be decided by seven panels of judges, and a separate panel will go on to choose the overall Book of the Year. The category winners and the Book of the Year will be revealed at a glamorous awards ceremony on Monday 14 May at Grosvenor House in central London which will bring together authors, publishers, booksellers and literary agents for a night celebrating the entire book industry.
New for 2018, the British Book Awards will also celebrate an author and illustrator who have achieved outstanding commercial success alongside making a genuine contribution to the general health of the book world.
Nigel Roby, Publisher of The Bookseller, said: “The British Book Awards are about recognising all the elements that contribute to a healthy book trade and ensuring that more books reach more readers. Having an award for Author of the Year makes absolute sense. Similarly, illustrators are a vital part of expanding book readership, especially among young readers, and should be recognised.”
Produced by leading industry magazine The Bookseller, the British Book Awards represent a high point in the book trade’s calendar, with winners including Publisher of the Year, Independent Bookshop of the Year and Editor of the Year. The Books of the Year awards recognise the publishing as well as the books, with both author and publisher as recipients of the prize.



Thursday, 15 March 2018

The Premise of Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks

The man was just looking for his boots.

His name was Shawn Slappy. He was a security guard at a local hospital who had been living with his girlfriend, an exotic dancer named Sherry Murphy. He suspected she had hidden the boots from him, so when he reached the basement door and found it locked, he pried it open with a screwdriver.

What he discovered there was beyond a nightmare: Two little boys cowering in the darkness, starving, filthy, and covered in burns. Slappy had been living in the house for months and had no idea he was sharing it with them.

When authorities arrived, the story only got worse. One of the boys said he had a twin brother who he hadn’t seen in weeks. Police eventually found the emaciated remains of seven-year-old Faheem Williams stuffed in a plastic storage bin.

The Faheem Williams case became a notorious one in Newark, the rough-and-tumble New Jersey city where this all unfolded fifteen years ago. It prompted a complete overhaul of New Jersey’s child protective services.

It also—thought I never would have known it at the time—sparked the beginnings of my latest novel, Closer Than You Know.

I was a newspaper reporter in Newark at the time, watching on in horror like the rest of the city. As a kid growing up in an upper middle class suburb in Connecticut, I had absolutely no experience with the social services system. If it was there at all, it was well hidden.

In a poor city like Newark, there was no rug large enough to sweep it under. In nearly every neighbourhood I went into as a reporter, child protective services was an enormous presence in people’s lives.  But what I really took away from that time is the simple reality that no matter where you live—a poor U.S. city, a wealthy U.K. enclave, or anywhere in between—there is a government agency with the statutory authority to take your children from you.

Now, most of the time, that authority is only used with great discretion; and only, if anything, too late.

But what an incredible power.

Especially if it was abused.

That’s the premise of Closer Than You Know, my latest thriller: that someone who understands the child protective services system could manipulate it to steal a child.
It’s actually not as difficult as you might think. In some places, especially poorer communities, people use social services as a weapon, making anonymous phone calls alleging abuse out of sheer spite. And social workers, who have been trained to avoid another tragedy like Faheem Williams, have no choice but to act first and ask questions later.

So that’s the scenario facing Melanie Barrick, the protagonist of this novel. She’s a young working mother who goes to pick up her infant son from childcare one evening only to learn he’s been taken away by social services—and no one will even tell her why.

For Melanie, who grew up in foster care herself, it’s doubly terrifying: No one knows the horrors of “the system,” as everyone coldly calls it, than someone who spent her childhood trying to survive it.

Which leads to the book’s title. It references an exchange Melanie once had with one of her foster care sisters, upon learning she was about to be shipped off to a new placement.

This is a disaster,” Melanie moaned.
Honey, this is the foster care system,” the sister replied. “Disaster is always closer than you know.”

Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Visit him on Facebook or sign up for his newsletter, which covers the exploits of his unruly interns, at

Closer Than You Know by Brad Parks is published in March by Faber & Faber (£12.99)
It was a lesson she learned the hard way growing up in the constant upheaval of foster care. But now that she’s survived into adulthood - with a loving husband, a steady job, and a beautiful baby boy - she thought that turmoil was behind her.  Until the evening she goes to pick up her son from childcare, only to discover he’s been removed by Social Services. And no one will say why.   A terrifying scenario for any parent, it’s doubly so for Melanie, all too aware of the unintended horrors of ‘the system’. When she arrives home, her nightmare gets worse – it has been raided by Sheriff’s deputies, who have found enough cocaine to send her to prison for years. If Melanie can’t prove her innocence, she’ll lose her son forever. Her case is assigned to Amy Kaye, a no-nonsense assistant Commonwealth’s attorney. Amy’s boss wants to make an example out of Melanie, who the local media quickly christens ‘Coke Mom’.  But Amy’s attention continues to be diverted by a cold case no one wants her to pursue: a serial rapist who has avoided detection by wearing a mask and whispering his commands. Over the years, he has victimised dozens of women in the area - including Melanie. Now it’s this mystery man who could be the key to her salvation… or her ultimate undoing.

Monday, 12 March 2018

Natasha Bell on Finding Her Genre

There’s a certain amount of luxury to writing your first book: no pressure, no deadlines, no expectations. Of course, the benefits of all this luxury are inevitably overshadowed by a persistent sense of self-doubt, a need to fit writing around the day job/life/everything else, and the big, overriding yet unanswerable question: “Why on earth am I doing this to myself?” Still, you’ll often find authors looking back nostalgically at writing their first book, and I’m no exception.

The biggest luxury I realise I had but didn’t recognise when I first set out to write Exhibit Alexandra was naiveté about genre. I started with a story: I knew Alexandra was missing, I knew what had happened to her, and I knew her husband Marc would need to find her. The plot was clear to me; what was not, was how to tell it.  It’s taken me eight years and I don’t know how many drafts to get from that initial idea to the novel I now get to hold in my hands. What seems crystal-clear in hindsight is that, for those eight years, most of what I was looking for was my genre. Even so, it wasn’t until I had a book deal and was sitting in a meeting room with my editor while she all but bashed my head against the table to make me see it, that I properly realised what I was writing.

The thing about finding your genre is that it makes you wonder how you ever thought you belonged anywhere else. You don’t realise you’re playing Prince Charming trying to slip a glass slipper onto dozens of knobbly feet until you find the one it fits. I’d floundered around for so long trying to tell this story in all the wrong ways, that there was a beauty and obviousness when I finally hit upon the right way. Story and genre felt interconnected.

Exhibit Alexandra straddles a few labels: crime, psychological thriller, domestic noir, and what Jake Kerridge appears to have coined “cellar-lit”. One of the early reviews describes its unreliable female narrator as a “nigh-exhausted genre.” The rest of the review was lovely, so I won’t take exception too much, but it did get me thinking. First (because I’m an angry feminist), about why, after centuries of unreliable male narration, we can only apparently stomach a few years of the female equivalent. And, second, about what it is that makes the crime and thriller genres so ripe for this kind of story.

What unreliable narration does is force us to explore the complexities of a character. It asks us to be active readers, looking out for hints and clues that the character misses, but also building an image of them as a whole, inconsistent and struggling human being. We might open a book looking for a story, seeking escape, but an unreliable narrator and particularly a female one will push against our instinctive passivity as readers. She’s prickly. She refuses to sit neatly into the hero’s journey. She won’t allow us to pigeon-hole her. And we definitely won’t finish the novel feeling anything as simple as like or dislike.

The strength of doing this in a crime book is that the genre already has great form for
destabilisation. Time and again it presents us with the world we know – with recognisable characters, locations and scenes – then violently disrupts it. By portraying but disturbing the everyday, we’re forced to re-examine it. Alexandra is an ordinary woman, a wife and a mother. Because of this, it is only through her disappearance that we (and her husband) begin to pay attention to everything else that was going on in her life before she disappeared.

My first draft was told from Marc’s point of view and later I tried out third person, but it wasn’t until I realised this was Alexandra’s story to tell that it properly came to life. By using her unreliable voice and adding an obvious layer of subjectivity to all of the events of the novel, hopefully the process of destabilisation works on both the characters’ lives and on our act of reading them.  In hindsight, Exhibit Alexandra could not have been any other kind of book, but I’m strangely grateful for my meandering journey into this genre. I think if I’d set out to write crime, then the narrative I’d have come up with would have been less complex, less rich and less challenging (both to write and to read). By doing it this way, though, genre and story are in equal partnership, pushing against as much as complementing one another.