My library of reading is made up mostly of what I know: outdoors, travel, adventure, exploration. Those genres, for 15 years, formed the bulk of my reading. I remember spending a year engrossed in every book detailing the 1997 Everest disaster, then another 12 months or so dedicated to the polar exploration of the early 20th century (Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton etc). Those books were immensely inspiring; I thrived on stories of heroic death and epic survival.
Fiction never did it for me. I had read the sort of books that one who considers themselves reasonably literate should have read: Great Expectations, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, Wuthering Heights, 1984 and Crime and Punishment. Yet, something in 2011 has changed. Perhaps it is my re-birth as an English teacher, forcing me to embrace children’s fiction? Perhaps it is turning 30, a maturing of tastes? Fiction suddenly has vast, untapped potential. I read Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, liking it so much I read Huckleberry Finn immediately after. How had I not read these books? I mused.
Over six recent days in Spain I read obsessively – Romeo and Juliet (I’m teaching it in September), The Woman in Black, One Week in December and The Accidental (an at times enthralling and yet too-clever-by-half book, which I kept thinking should really be called The Incidental). Once home I heard that fiction author Jane Rogers had been named in the Man Booker Prize longlist of 13. Why is that significant? Her nominated book, The Testament of Jessie Lamb, is published by Sandstone Press. We share a publisher.
To be honest, the news shocked me. I was proud for Jane – a woman as old as my mother, a university lecturer who I have never met or spoken to. I was pleased for Sandstone Press, ‘a publisher operating out of a bedroom in a flat in the Scottish Highlands’, according to the Independent. I was also, ashamedly, envious. No, more than envious. I felt a bitter, hard pang of green jealousy. Jane shifted 2000 books in a single day following the announcement. Jane herself said: ‘Until yesterday’s longlist announcement, I thought it was likely to sink without trace, since it had only three reviews, and was barely visible in bookshops.’
I responded like I’m sure many other authors responded. Why not me? Not that it could be me. Booker Prize = fiction. Jealousy was sharp but momentary. It passed, fortunately. My feelings subsided into something else. I was inspired. Inspired by Jane, a woman linked to me only by the name of our ‘small fry’ publisher. And I decided, if Jane can do it, I can do it. Write fiction that is.
So, when I got home, rather than turning on the TV, I wrote down my thoughts for my novel – thoughts that have been clattering around my cluttered brain for more than a year, ideas inspired by the islands of western Scotland. It will almost certainly not win a Booker Prize; it will almost certainly never by longlisted. That is if it ever gets written, let alone published. But if Jane Rogers has achieved one thing in her nomination it is inspiring me (and, surely, hundreds of others) that it is possible to dream.