John Lewellyn Rhys Prize for fiction

John Llewellyn Rhys died in the second world war so it is with some honour that the prize winner is also a book about war.  Though the latter is not the reason Beasts of No Nation by Uzodimla Iweala was chosen.  Veteran survivors  of the second world war are disappearing.  This year this winner of this prize gives testament to the phrase “we shall not forget”.

The two world wars were hard fought and deservedly won. An old gentlemen and veteran said to me in his kitchen while stirring his tea “the heroes never come back Lemn. They never came back”. here was a man that had led his entire post war life  haunted with that thought, the background landscape to any of his subsequent journeys, including marraige, children, building his business etc.  “The heroes never came back”.

It is, therefore, with a brittle sadness that the prizewinner was a book narrated through the voice of a Child Soldier in Africa.  I can’t recommend enough that you go out and buy the book. It is original and it is powerful and it is shocking and it is beautiful.

I went to the event with my friend and undoubtedly “star” Shobna Gulati. Shobna  is rehearsing in London for panto which will be at Birmingham Rep. We had a blast. There are  different levels  of fame. In Britain Shobna is what I call “stop on the street fanous”. There are writers whom I think are famous but they are not “stop on the street famous”. Shobna is. The event was at City Inn Westminster. Very chi chi.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Warren Smith. We worked out that it was thirteen years since we last met. Warren is the husband of the late great radio Broadcaster and comedian Linda Smith. He too is great and was once an agent up in Sheffield which is where I knew him from. Wonderful man.  He kept records (once being an agent) of Lindas work and has achieved a great book deal through his agents curtis brown, same agents as me GF. Saw John O’Farrell, he of Grumpy Old Men,   but didn’t get to say hello.

Thankfully Sinead Morriseys book of poetry was in the fiction shortlist. It is worth saying that a poet as judge  on a fiction prize is important. Poetry is  fiction too.  And it is with foresight that the booktrust pursued this idea.   Most novelists were once poets or have written poetry and if you boil any novel down you will be left with its concentrate – poetry.  Suffice to say that poetry played an important role in war and its remembrance.John Llewellyn Rhys, I can  honestly say, would have been proud.


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