Panda Radio has a close relationship with the Costa Book Awards and we love chatting to the authors and poets that get shortlisted in them. This year the Day Show’s Kavita spoke to 7 of the talented nominees, all based in the Greater London area or the South-East.
Elisa Lodato grew up in London and read English at Pembroke College, Cambridge. After graduating she went to live in Japan, where she spent a year teaching, travelling and learning to speak the language. On returning to the UK, she spent many happy years working for Google before training to become an English teacher. Helping pupils to search for meaning in a text inspired Elisa to write her own first novel. ‘An Unremarkable Body’, was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award for unpublished writers in 2016, with the judges describing the tome as ‘A stunning debut exploring grief and sadness with a great twist – brilliant.’
Kavita had a very remarkable conversation with Elisa Lodato, learning a lot about the language used in post-mortem reports and how it inspired the book.
Stuart Turton is a freelance travel journalist who’s previously worked in Shanghai and Dubai. He’s the winner of the Brighton and Hove Short Story Prize and was longlisted for the BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines competition. TV rights for The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle have been optioned by House Productions. He lives in West London with his wife and daughter. The judges were wowed by the book, describing it as an ‘Impossibly clever, genre-busting murder mystery that feels like a mash-up of Cluedo, Sherlock and Groundhog Day.’
Panda radio’s very own Kavita discovered that the primary reason for this cleverness in how the book was written was actually Stuart’s mother! She just can’t help looking at the end of murder mysteries to find out who done it.
Tom Rachman was born in London and raised in Vancouver. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the Columbia School of Journalism and has been a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press stationed in Rome, with assignments taking him to Japan, South Korea, Turkey and Egypt, among other places. Since 2006, he’s worked as an editor at the International Herald Tribune in Paris. He is the author of ‘The Imperfectionists’, a bestseller published in ten countries; ‘The Rise and Fall of Great Powers; Basket of Deplorables’ and ‘The Italian Teacher’. Tom undertook extensive studies in painting and poetry for this novel, speaking with a wide range of artists including Grayson Perry, Rem Koolhaas and Edmund de Waal. The judges reckoned that the nominated book, The Italian Teacher, was ‘A hugely pleasurable story, fizzing with energy.’
In this interview, Tom opened up to Kavita about the destruction that can surround great artists as their eccentricities affect their friends and family.
Hannah Sullivan’s debut collection is a revelation – three long poems of fresh ambition, intensity and substance. Though each poem stands apart, their inventive and looping encounters make for a compelling unity. ‘You, Very Young in New York’ captures a great American city, in all its alluring detail. It is a wry and tender study of romantic possibility, disappointment, and the obduracy of innocence. ‘Repeat Until Time’begins with a move to California and unfolds into an essay on repetition and returning home, at once personal and philosophical. ‘The Sandpit After Rain’ explores the birth of a child and the loss of a father with exacting clarity. The judges had this to say about the nominated work ‘Three Poems’ -‘Memorably funny with a vibrant sense of place.’
Kavita pored into the experiences of Hannah Sullivan, to find out that the three poems are not inspired by her own life. Instead, the unconnected trio stem from significant historical events.
Benjamin Zephaniah is a pioneer of performance poetry. His talent as a lyricist and storyteller emerged at a young age, helping him to survive the racism he faced growing up in 1960s Birmingham.
A vibrant music scene in the form of roots reggae and the sound system culture of the 1970s provided the backdrop to a teenage life that was, at every turn, encountering institutional racism. This award-winning playwright, lyricist and much-loved poet has been a voice of reason and resistance for almost four decades. His memoirs provide a vivid portrait of an extraordinary life that celebrates the power of poetry and the importance of pushing boundaries.
With Benjamin Zaphaniah, Kavita talked for an epic 17 minutes, trading ideas about recipe songs, Benjamin’s old Barbie doll, race relations and so much more! Including his poetry, in the book ‘’The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah: The Autobiography’’.
Candy Gourlay is of Filipino heritage, and began her career as a journalist for the opposition press during the People Power Revolution before becoming an author. Her debut novel Tall Story won the Crystal Kite Award in 2011 and was shortlisted for a further 13 awards including the Blue Peter Prize, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and the Branford Boase. Candy is fascinated by colonialism and travelled to her book’s remote mountain setting whilst writing Bone Talk. She is a positive force within the BAME movement in the publishing world and has spoken with wisdom and compassion about cultural appropriation. ‘Bone Talk’ received great approval by the judges, describing it as “A powerful, complex and fascinating coming-of-age novel.”
Kavita helped Candy teach all of us at Panda radio a lot about headhunters (the literal, very scary kind) and about Candy’s upbringing in the Phillipines. Also that the definition of “children’s book” is that it is good for everyone up to the age of 100 (sorry 101 year olds).
Natalie Hart is a writer, researcher and communications adviser, specialising in conflict and post-conflict environments. She has worked extensively across the Middle East and North Africa, including three years in Iraq where Pieces of Me is set. Natalie has a BA in Combined Middle Eastern Studies (Arabic and Spanish) from the University of Cambridge and an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Pieces of Me originated as a short story which won the Write Stuff Competition at the London Book Fair in 2016. Her entry to the Costa Book Awards, ‘Pieces of Me’, had the judges singing praises, stating that it was ‘A beautiful and heartfelt debut about identity and belonging.’
Natalie Hart explained to Kavita about how her research experiences in Iraq during the war influenced the book.