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Saboteur Awards 2013: Fiction

In Saboteur Awards on June 5, 2013 at 11:10 am

-In which Richard T. Watson sums up the Fiction side of the Saboteur 2013 Awards

A Sabotuer rosette, from @jsamlarose's Twitter

A Sabotuer rosette, from @jsamlarose’s Twitter

The first of the Fiction stable’s awards was for the Best Short Story Collection by a single author. Four out of five nominees were traditionally-printed books, while one (Superbard’s The Flood) was designed specifically for the iPad and featured a range of interactive multimedia elements. Our voters listed its advantages as: ‘Imagination, lyricism and originality – merging classic storytelling and classic stories with a modern, nerdy scientist twist and a wicked sense of humour.’ and ‘Because it’s simply brilliant, adored the story telling and the little sea shanty, singer had a great voice. Loved it and want more please.’

The titles alone in this category deserve some awards. From The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes to Tania Hershman’s My Mother was an Upright Piano and the winner, All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams, all were quirky but somehow appropriate. Meanwhile, Fog and Other Stories featured (as described by anonymous voters) a ‘Fascinating collection of stories and images of “fog” in all its forms. Ms. Egan has a great way of expressing the personalities of the characters’ in a collection that is ‘metaphorically alluring and humanistic’.

Our voters thought Syllabus deserved to win because ‘[Stokes is] a proper, bastard, full bore writer. These are stories that are true to themselves whilst showing a wide, deep range of influence and level of expressive dexterity. They’re an antidote to all the lame, colourless half formed stories[…]

Voter comments for My Mother… focused on the originality of Hershman’s writing, her ‘stunning prose’, ‘fresh, new voice’ and her stories as ‘little nuggets of solid gold, always witty, wise and warm’, with one saying: ‘Flash fiction can never get better than this. Tania is an exceptionally talented writer – someone to watch out for.’

But the winner was Tony Williams, for some of the following reasons:
‘Because the stories are rich with surprises and they are silly and clever and fun and disturbing. They take you in unexpected directions and you want to go on reading – that’s why it should win.’
‘Tony Williams is really an extremely cool dude. As well as being a super original and funny writer he’s also a really engaging performer. I’m really excited his short fiction’s being published… and by Salt, too!’

saboteur awards - short story collection

The nominees for our Best Magazine Award ranged from the long-running Rising, to the very new, like Lummox and the Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Art, or Alliterati with its focus on young writers, via last year’s Saboteur Award winners Armchair/Shotgun, with their third issue. All of them feature a range of short fiction, poetry and often visual artwork, sometimes with non-fiction in the form of interviews or reviews.

Lummox and Lakeview both had their first issues nominated, with voter comments highlighting Lummox’s quality of entries. Lakeview, the category’s runner-up, was described as ‘A diverse blend of traditional and experimental arts. Beautifully illustrated. Excellent work by new and established writers.’ and our review indicated it had promise to go on to even better things, echoing the anonymous comment that Lakeview was ‘A breath of fresh air, no clichés and obvious choices. Here to stay.’

The tenth issue of Alliterati was described as ‘A beautiful magazine created by passionate people, with pretty much no funding. Shows a true passion for the arts’ and praised for bringing ‘art and creative writing together in an innovative way and inspires people across the globe! A great use of the new digital marketplace!’ Comments also stressed the varied nature of the magazine’s content and readership.

The follow-up to last year’s winner, Armchair/Shotgun #2, was the third edition of the Brooklyn-based magazine, described as having ‘A continued dedication to both a fantastic product and the kind of writing that makes you feel publishing isn’t dead.’ Other praise declared: ‘They have a strong vision, strong writing and art, and their interview feature is especially strong.’

Maybe longevity gave the edge to winner (by just four votes), Rising, with many voter comments stressing a consistency and a willingness to take risks. One longer comment runs: ‘Rising has always unfailingly supported new and emerging writers alongside more established ones. Rising is brave and doesn’t shy away from bold subject matter or experimental forms. Every issue feels new, not just on the pulse, but Rising feels as if it were the pulse itself.’

Best Magazine Rising

Our category for Best Fiction Anthology catered for multiple-authored collections of short fiction, sometimes organised around a theme by an editor or publisher, but always representing the best of a wide range of submissions.

We had the world’s first ‘post-experimental’ collection from Bartleby Snopes, Post-Experimentalism, with its stated aim of providing literary satisfaction while transcending storytelling genres. Voters emphasised its innovation, with one saying: ‘Not only is this an innovative and entertaining anthology, but Post-Experimentalism seeks to bring forth a new movement in the literary world.’

The Dalkey Archive anthology, Best European Fiction 2013, is the latest in an annual series by the American publisher, showcasing what they consider to be the best foreign-language fiction in English translation. Voters called it diverse, refreshing and an ‘incredibly important anthology of fiction in translation, refreshing the staid Anglo scene. High production values (as ever) from Dalkey, bringing a diversity of voices and styles that expand the mind and bookshelf.’

The young, Scarborough-based Valley Press put forward an anthology featuring young writers under the age of twenty-five writing about their take on modern society. Front Lines was praised for the vitality of its young writers, with our own review expressing relief that the short story was in good hands with a new generation. One voter commented that: ‘The quality of work in both the writing and the editing in Front Lines by Valley Press is testament to how well small publishers can do in this new age of publishing.’

The category’s runner-up was Unthology #3, the third anthology from Unthank Books, and the third to be well-received by a Sabotage reviewer. Voters praised the variety and experimental nature of stories, as well as the overall quality and cohesiveness of the anthology as a whole. One described it as: ‘A variety of fresh new British writing talent is given vital oxygen by this consistently high quality volume’. Another said ‘the third collection picks up where the second left off and goes further still. Wonderful and eclectic. Can’t wait for the fourth.’

The theme for the winner was clear. Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud falls very much within the oral/aural storytelling mould, with stories deliberately designed for reading out loud – whether in the reader’s head or literally out loud – and short enough to appear in front of an audience without them getting restless. Editor Jonathan Taylor’s introduction places the collection in a tradition stretching back at least as far as Dickens’ public performances of his novels, and probably as far as primitive camp fire storytellers. Voters commented on the range and breadth of stories and of writers, as well as the collection’s more-ish nature. One said: ‘This collection deserves to win because, quite simply, the quality of the writing is very high throughout, as opposed to in part, which is so often the case with fiction anthologies. Credit must go to Salt Publishing. They have quickly become synonymous with unearthing new talent and this collection builds on that reputation.’

Best Fiction Anthology: Overheard

The Best Novella category also featured a young field, including Sally Ashton, Luke Kennard, Alan Cunningham, Jason Rolfe and Django Wylie.

Sally Ashton’s Controller told the story of a young English woman paying her way as an artistic life model in Spain. It never shies away from the visceral, and is a graphic tale of eroticism and exploitation. One voter said: ‘This is one of the most unique and disturbing stories I have read in a very long time. Clever, erotic, and disturbing.’

Django Wylie’s The Middle strikes a chord with disappointed commuters everywhere, with our reviewer calling it a ‘stunning novella, sometimes heartbreaking, but always funny’. One voter said: ‘Such wonderful language and and an extremely enjoyable read. Left me wanting more!’, with another calling it a ‘great intelligent piece of writing’.

Runner-up Alan Cunningham’s Count from Zero to One Hundred is an intimate exploration of the life of a disabled male narrator, praised by voters for its honesty and insight. Its autobiographical feel extends to memoir-like passages and almost travel-writing sections as the narrator encounters the cities of London, Dublin, Budapest and Berlin. One voter said ‘The subject matter is at times painfully honest and the writing style captivating and entertaining’, and another that the novella was ‘thought-provoking and poetic. Something truly special which stays with you’.

In his first foray into prose writing, Holophin, Luke Kennard creates a believable sci-fi future-world where nations have been superseded by corporations and everyone carries a personal, semi-autonomous computer behind their ear. Voters praised the originality, wit and humour of Holophin. One voter described it thus: ‘It’s a small but terrifying satire, an ingenious idea, with all kinds of philosophical consequence, and it rips along joyfully and oddly, with some brilliant handbrake turns (the Proppian folktale for god’s sake!). It’s just ingenious, cleverly playful and masterfully unsung about itself.’

Both the runner-up and the winner were published by Penned in the Margins, who went on to collect the award for Most Innovative Publisher. Unthank Books were also nominated in three different categories.

Best Novella Holophin

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Saboteur Awards 2013: The Winners!

In All of the Above, Saboteur Awards on May 30, 2013 at 1:24 pm

A more in-depth post will come soon, with comments from voters, logos for each winner, pictures and links to videos from the night (if you have any, do email them to us!), but we thought some of you might like to know as soon as possible who won in each category. You can find links to reviews of the shortlisted works here. We’re also featured in the Guardian today here, while Dan Holloway reviewed the event here! There is also a storify here of the event.

photo-10

The Results!

Best one-off 

Winner: Shake the dust
Runners up (joint-place): Penning Perfumes and Poetry Parnassus

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

Shake the Dust represented by Sam-La Rose, Kareem Parkins-Brown and Charlotte Higgins (photo Dan Holloway)

From @jsamlarose's twitter after Shake The Dust's win

From @jsamlarose’s twitter after Shake The Dust’s win

Best short story collection

Winner: Tony Williams, All the bananas I’ve never eaten
Runner up: Tania Hershman, My Mother was an Upright Piano

Best magazine:

Winner: Rising.
Runner up: Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts.

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Rising Editor Tim Wells

Best poetry pamphlet:

Winner: Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman
Runner up: Lune by Sarah Hymas

Best spoken word performer:

Winner: Vanessa Kisuule
Runner Up: Dan Cockrill

Best regular spoken word night:

Winner: Bang said the Gun
Runner Up: Jibba Jabba

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards!

The Bang Said the Gun team at the awards! Photo from @bangsaidthegun twitter feed

'They don't shake themselves' (Bang said the gun)

‘They don’t shake themselves’ (Bang said the gun)

Best spoken word show:

Winner: ‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
Runner Up: ‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best poetry anthology:

Winner: Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot
Runner-Up: Adventures with Form

Best fiction anthology:

Overheard: Stories to be read aloud
Runner Up: Unthology volume 3.

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Overheard editor and contributor Jonathan Taylor

Best mixed anthology:

Winner: Estuary: a Confluence of Art and Poetry
Runner Up: Still (Negative Press).

Best novella:

Winner: ‘Holophin’ by Luke Kennard
Runner-Up: ‘Count from Zero to One Hundred’ by Alan Cunningham

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Tom Chivers, editor of Penned in the Margins

Most innovative publisher:

Winner: Penned in the Margins
Runner-up: Unthank Books

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

A birthday card for Sabotage from the Sidekick Book team!

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien

Runner up for best poetry show Lucy Ayrton, event organizer Thea Buen, poetry editor Claire Trévien (photo by Tim Wells)

Saboteur Awards 2013: The Shortlist

In All of the Above, Saboteur Awards on April 1, 2013 at 12:09 am

Your Pick of this Year’s Best Indie Lit!

VOTING IS NOW CLOSED!

Once a year, to mark our birthday, we at Sabotage like to give out some awards to the publications we’ve most enjoyed during the year. This year, we want YOU to vote for the winners in twelve different categories.

After over 2000 votes, voting is now closed! Winners will be announced on 29th May at the Book Club, London. It’s going to be a big celebration of indie lit in all its glory and we’d love it if you could attend. There’ll also be performances, a mini-book fair, music from LiTTLe MACHINe and our very own critique booth.

Here’s what happens next:

  1. Voting is now closed!
  2. Buy a ticket to the awards ceremony/birthday bash.

Please find the shortlist below, which consists of the top 5 nominations in each of the 12 categories, with links to their reviews in Sabotage.*

*Reviewing or featuring all of these works (through interviews for instance) is a work-in-progress which we hope to achieve by the time of the event. Obviously, it is quite a monumental task in a short time, so we appreciate any help from past, present and future reviewers in achieving this, as well as the cooperation of nominees!

Many congratulations to all those who made the shortlist!

In no particular order:

Best Novella

Synthetic Saints by Jason Rolfe (Vagabondage Press)
Holophin by Luke Kennard (Penned in the Margins)
Count from Zero to One Hundred by Alan Cunningham (Penned in the Margins)
The Middle by Django Wylie (Twentysomethingpress.com)
Controller by Sally Ashton (Dead Ink)

Best spoken word performer

Raymond Antrobus
Dan Cockrill
Emma Jones
Vanessa Kisuule
Fay Roberts

Most innovative publisher

Burning Eye
Unthank Books
Sidekick Books
Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press
Penned in the Margins

Best short story collection

 The Syllabus of Errors by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books)
My Mother Was An Upright Piano by Tania Hershman (Tangent Books)
Fog and Other Stories by Laury A. Egan (Stone Garden)
All the Bananas I’ve Never Eaten by Tony Williams (Salt Publishing)
The Flood by Superbard (Tea Fuelled)

Best poetry pamphlet

Selected Poems by Charlotte Newman (Annexe Magazine)
Body Voices by Kevin Reid (Crisis Chronicles Press)
Lune by Sarah Hymas (self-published)
Songs of Steelyard Sue by J.S.Watts (Lapwing Publications)
Lowlifes, Fast Times & Occasionally Love by Lawrence Gladeview (Erbacce Press)

Best ‘one-off’

Penning Perfumes
Shake the Dust
Binders full of Women
Poetry Polaroid (Inky Fingers Collective)
Poetry Parnassus

Best Spoken Word show

‘Whistle’ by Martin Figura
‘Dirty Great Love Story’ by Katie Bonna and Richard Marsh
Wandering Word Stage
Emergency Poet
‘Lullabies to Make your Children Cry’ by Lucy Ayrton

Best magazine

Alliterati
Lummox
Lakeview International Journal of Literature and Arts
Rising
Armchair/Shotgun

Best regular Spoken Word night
Bang said the Gun (London)
Hammer and Tongue (Oxford)
Jibba Jabba (Newcastle)
Inky Fingers (Edinburgh)
Come Rhyme with Me (London)

Best poetry anthology

The Centrifugal Eye’s 5th Anniversary Anthology (ed. E.A. Hanninen)
Rhyming Thunder – the Alternative Book of Young Poets (Burning Eye)
Sculpted: Poetry of the North West (ed. L. Holland and A. Topping)
Catechism: Poems for Pussy Riot (English PEN)
Adventures in Form (Penned in the Margins)

Best fiction anthology
Unthology, volume 3 (Unthank Books)
Post-Experimentalism (Bartleby Snopes)
Best European Fiction 2013 (Dalkey Archive)
Front lines (Valley Press)
Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud (Salt Publishing)

Best mixed anthology

Estuary: a Confluence of Art & Poetry (Moon and Mountain)
Pressed by Unseen Feet (Stairwell Books)
Still (Negative Press)
Silver Anthology (Silver Birch Press)
Second Lives (Cargo Press)

‘Count from Zero to One Hundred’ by Alan Cunningham

In Novella on February 18, 2013 at 1:40 pm

-Reviewed by Nick Sweeney

In Count from Zero to One Hundred, Alan Cunningham opens windows into a life in transit, into a mind that is only at times happy with the distortions and indecisions it produces. It is an interrupted life, with repetitions doomed not to reach any fruition, though there is sometimes a sense of conclusions that may, or may not, have occurred. An un-named, male narrator moves around in a seemingly purposeless world of events or non-events. There are liaisons with sketchily-drawn women, evenings out, meetings with friends that are shadowy in form, and, adding to the fluidity, trips to different countries. He seems to get a low-key sense of satisfaction from this life: as the narrator rarely commits to this, it is sometimes difficult for the reader to do so. However, life is like that, so there is a real sense of true realism – not novelistic ‘realism’.

penned in the margins - count from zero1

The narrator is physically disabled, but this is not a ‘disability issues’ book. He is not a ranter, which makes this aspect of his sketches intriguing and readable; his disability is not denied or ignored, but it is a part of him that he adapts to everyday life – as he must, and as his friends must, if they are to be part of his life. If there is a message about disability, it is that disabled people are like non-disabled people in most respects, and whereas it would be trite to spell this out directly, it is still, unfortunately, a message that many of us need to be reminded of. 

The book description cites ‘traces of Beckett and Joyce’, and I did indeed catch the occasional sense of cheerful despair associated with Beckett. The sketches reminded me more of the very short stories of Kafka, which appear to fizzle out without the little jolt of epiphany (of which too much is sometimes made) in Joyce’s short stories. Robert Walser’s Berlin stories also come to mind. The form of the book, in which some chapters are only a paragraph, a few lines or, finally, a single short sentence, made me think of Richard Brautigan. However, I wasn’t always convinced that such a form was necessary – there is a bit of ‘art for art’s sake’ in the layout. 

I think, in describing the book as a novella, the publishers or author are setting up expectations that may be disappointed. Cunningham states in his introduction:

I decided to start writing every day about myself and my body in a contemporary and much more instantaneous and instinctive style. 

So is it a novella, or life writing? The two are distinct forms. I don’t mind the crossover of forms and, therefore, the aim and motives of the work. The disclaimer deals with this wittily, talking of a ‘resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead’ being ‘perhaps entirely coincidental, but then again, perhaps… not’. Cunningham uses opposites in this way throughout the text. Some acts are ‘seen, unseen, imagined, unimagined’; he feels strong, and at the same time weak; we are given an intro to ‘the story of another’, described later on the page as ‘not the story of another’. This creates a dissonance that is unsettling, sometimes, but Cunningham puts these awkward feelings very eloquently.

At one point, as if sensing the reader’s unease, he writes:

I’m thinking of a proper story for you now, I realise you are tiring, you need to be entertained, something will occur to me, patience, patience.

He keeps this promise with some short third-person narratives out of the blue, featuring celebs like Zadie Smith and Charlie Sheen and what they might be thinking as they go about the mundanities in their lives – the Charlie Sheen one is a treat. Despite the promise, they are incongruous, but I’m glad they are there. 

I thought the prose was at its best when the inward-thinking passages were abandoned for more direct scenes of people occupied, such as the scene in Berlin’s former Hungarian embassy, now a bar, and a vignette on the U-Bahn, in which a friend discovers that ‘one could easily utilise the windows of the train as a mirror’ – beautiful! – or the photographic exhibition organised, on a whim, by the narrator.

He often uses the second-person tense. In the wrong hands, it makes everything mawkish. Cunningham turns it on its head, however, and the second-person ‘you’ stands for the ‘I’ of first-person: 

As you begin to feel that you are sleeping, you think: in that strong land your mind is seen as a deformity, but your mind is clear, you are not lying and your body can never be untruthful.

This device brings out a natural way of thinking and talking, and therefore puts over the ideas more gently, less self-consciously. It can also be ambiguous. The ‘you still hate yourself’ passage late in the book could be about the narrator, but it could also be about any reader who identifies with it.

Characters and events are introduced without unnecessary fanfare, thus we suddenly hear about ‘Martin’ and ‘the birthday party’. I prefer this to ‘a friend…’ or ‘a man called…’, etc, and we don’t really need to know details about the party. Great economy.

The cities featured in the description are, like many of the characters, rendered sketchily. While I hate reading fiction that is disguised travelogue, I think, if the back cover is going to make so much of it, there should be more of a flavour present. I didn’t get much sense of London, Dublin or Budapest in the book – all cities I know well. Strangely enough, the one I saw most clearly was Berlin, and I’ve only ever been there twice, for short periods – yet I can say that Cunningham shows it with great accuracy.

He invites us all into these experiences, reminding us of times when we have been in exactly the same situations. You don’t need to be disabled – and it probably doesn’t help with this book – to go through the doubts, fears and stop-start frustrations of everyday life, and it’s not essential to be ‘able-bodied’ to take part in life’s little triumphs.