Book and Brew was one of 12 shadow judges of this year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. Now it’s over for 2016, I take a look back at the experience and what it meant for me.
A Baileys dozen
I’m pretty addicted to social media and obsessed with following publishers, prizes and authors to find out what’s coming up in the book world. When I saw a Facebook post from The Reading Agency asking for book clubs to shadow the Baileys Prize, I jumped at the chance.
I filled in the form, profiled our members and talked us up. Then I forgot about it and got on with other stuff (I enter a shed load of competitions for free books and related paraphernalia so they tend to merge into one!).
Then, one night in April, I heard back. I work in communications and marketing for a local authority by day and it was my turn to cover the Cabinet meeting – it means a 6pm start and usually an hour of listening to decisions being made by politicians. I had my phone on the table and noticed an email pop up. It was from the lovely Sharon at The Reading Agency – we’d only been bloomin’ selected. My instinct was to yelp with joy but I was in a council chamber so had to settle for an internal screech. I very subtly typed a message to the book club members telling them the good news – I received four digital yelps in return. We were thrilled to be one of just 12 groups to get the job of shadowing.
The reading list
The plan was to have two book clubs read each of the six shortlisted titles. We were to read, review and talk about the books on social media, taking pics and highlighting favourite scenes as we went along.
While we waited to get our reading assignment, we provided the Baileys team with a group shot and were profiled alongside the other clubs on prize website. Very fancy.
I read up on the six shortlisted books and would have happily taken any of them – the great thing about this year’s titles was that they were so diverse but equally brilliant.
Then, the day came when Sharon emailed us with our selections. And ours was…The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie. Brilliant!
Then this arrived:
And, then this…
I began reading immediately. I couldn’t put the book down. Both because I really enjoyed it and because I was taking the reviewing part of my role pretty seriously. I hadn’t officially critiqued a book since my days at uni studying English. Plus, given the profile of the prize, I knew loads of people would see what I was writing, including Elizabeth McKenzie. She’d managed to get a few books published, I just had a blog and a notepad; who am I to judge?
However, it went a bit too far. I took the book everywhere. And, always had a Baileys (or wine) in my hand to accompany it. See…
The rest of the club got really into it too, with pics on Instagram, Good Reads chats and tweets to Elizabeth McKenzie (I have to use her full name each time cos she’s an author and ergo a proper grown up).
A kick up the proverbial
In all seriousness though, being a shadow judge has been truly inspirational. I’ve wanted to start a blog for a while and had a few half-arsed attempts before setting up this one. The Baileys role gave me the impetus to do something better and put some real effort in.
I updated my WordPress profile, picked a template and sat up til 2am one night fiddling with colour schemes, layouts and settings. I then started to write and found that I had loads and loads to say. About reading, books, writing, authors. Ideas kept flowing and I was writing on a daily basis. This creative outlet was exactly what I needed. The aforementioned council job is challenging on a good day and harrowing on a bad one; Book and Brew lets me write and think about what I love instead.
My social media following rocketed. I saw more than a 200% increase in my Twitter following in the first two weeks of putting some effort in. My Instagram followers grew, and people were talking about Baileys and books all over Facebook. I was chatting to the other shadow judges, comparing notes and favourite passages from the book. This was great.
Falling at the last hurdle
I was enjoying the experience so much that I booked a ticket to the shortlist readings in London. They were taking place the night before the prize announcement and would include readings from each author, as well as signings. What’s not to love? I booked my train tickets, two days off work (the event would finish too late to get back to Newcastle the same day) and a hotel. Sweet.
Then it all went wrong. Halfway down to London my train stopped. It didn’t move again for four hours. There was a house on fire up ahead and the East Coast Mainline was at a standstill until it was sorted. I didn’t arrive at Kings Cross until 18:57 (instead of 13:40). The readings started at 18:30. I’d missed them. And, I’d been on a train for more than eight hours – two and a half of which without air conditioning. You can read all the gory details here. (You can laugh at my suffereing. It’s OK.)
To say I was devastated would be a gross underestimation. My bookish heart was broken as I sat caged and wilting on the train in the June heat while the great and good of the publishing world gathered in London. I was so sad I had to go shopping when I eventually got off the bloody train. That was two days ago and I’m still livid. Meh!
I’m not going to let that last little blip stop me, though.
Being a Baileys Prize shadow judge has given me the inspiration to make a go of this blogging malarkey.
I write all the time, I make new connections all the time, I read more and more and more. I’ve written for other blogs, have some more commissions coming up and I’m going to be one of the official bloggers for the Berwick Literary Festival in October.
There is no stopping me now.
Thanks to The Reading Agency and Baileys Prize team for picking Book and Brew. You’ve helped to turn a bookworm from Newcastle into a proper book blogger.