Judging the Costa Book Awards

8 Nov 2017

costa book awards logo

Judging the Costa prize – the Novel category – was an eye-opening experience. One thing that struck me was the large number of historical novels (and a few futuristic ones too, it has to be said).  It’s not something you tend to notice unless you have a stack of fifty books to read on your office floor. The better historical novels are less about escaping into the past, and more about reframing the uncertainties and horrors of what’s happening in the world today – let’s just say I read more than one reworking of a Greek tragedy.

The most exciting bit was the final meeting – we each read the other judges’ selections (my two fellow judges chose three books each and then sat in a room to discuss, until we reached an agreement. It was quite a long meeting. We weren’t always united. But in the end, the best book definitely won. 

The Book that Changed My Life

2 Apr 2014

Last week I was asked to write a piece about The Book That Changed My Life. I wracked my brains for ages – thinking of things like Jane Eyre or Rebel Pony  – yes really – a book I read repeatedly as a child – the book that got me hooked on reading.

But then I realised that there is only one book that I can honestly say changed my life. It’s the book that made me believe I could be a writer. It’s the first place I saw my name in print. It’s been sitting on the shelves of every home I’ve ever lived in – so much part of the furniture that I don’t even notice it any more. I wouldn’t dream of reading it for pleasure. But I treasure it.

It’s The Collins Robert bilingual dictionary – written, painstakingly, over years and years, by my mum.  The first edition was published 1978 (see her proud pic, left).  I used to have to fight my way through index cards, stacks of paper, shelves and shelves of dictionaries to say hello to her when I got back from school each day. The family joke is that when The Dictionary was finally published, I was dim enough to be genuinely confused, since I thought ‘The Dictionary’ was a place in our house (‘mum’s at The Dictionary again’ or …’where’s mum?’ ‘The Dictonary’).

She went on to do other editions, other dictionaries, other lexicographical projects – her work changed the face of lexicography forever in fact – but this book that started it all will always be the most special.