On 23rd May 2012, the Fiction Uncovered 2012 Chair of Judges, John Sutherland – Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at UCL, announced the eight Fiction Uncovered writers selected for this year’s promotion at an evening event at The Union, Soho, London.
Below is a transcript of John Sutherland’s speech before announcing the eight titles.
“It’s a great honour to represent the judging panel and the organisers of Fiction Uncovered in announcing the eight novelists whom we salute this evening, and presenting them with a sumptuously bound copy of their novel as a testimonial of our high regard for their achievement.
Literary History records the novel, in its modern form, coming into existence some four hundred years ago. It took the prize system much longer to come on to the scene. The first award for the best novel of the year was the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, founded in 1919.
There are now many prizes (let us hope the number is not diminished by the current difficulties of the ‘Orange’). I’ve personally sat as a judge on many of them—including the James Tait Black and the Man Booker. I’ve done so because I like to think that I am somehow helping make literary history. But I’ve always served with uneasiness. Novels do not, I believe, compete with each other on a level playing field, or a race track. It’s oranges and apples, chalk and cheese. It makes more sense to think of fiction as a hugely diverse tapestry which never repeats itself.
The great objection to Literary Prizes, as they are currently organised, is that they create a single winner (even the Booker now bans shared prizes) and a host of losers. This seems inherently wrong.
Fiction Uncovered is one of the best run competitions I’ve served on. It is also, I think, uniquely well conceived. It does not have one winner / many losers. It picks a whole set of novels which deserve our respect and applause. A literary menu for the curious reader one might call it.
One of the things which has made Fiction Uncovered a good experience for me has been the quality of judges. I’m present on the panel as the desiccated academic—the louse on the locks of literature. But my interests are, by nature of my profession, retrospective: old books. The three other judges deal with ‘living fiction’. Jasper Sutcliffe is a dynamic force in Foyles Bookshop, Katy Guest is Literary Editor of the Independent on Sunday, Matt Thorne a creative writer and man of letters. All of them have a finger on the pulse of fiction. I have been impressed, and humbled, by their knowledge of what is happening with ever changing, ever evolving British fiction.
I’ll end by saluting them, thanking the organisers, acknowledging the support of Arts Council England and – most importantly- congratulating our eight fiction writers.”