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The Rabbit Hutch wins the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize

Tess Gunty has won the inaugural £5,000 Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize for her book The Rabbit Hutch.

Gunty was named the winner at an evening ceremony at the Waterstones flagship store in London Piccadilly on 25th August.

Having grown up in a Rust Belt town, Gunty was inspired to write The Rabbit Hutch because she had never seen a city like hers represented in fiction. She said: “As I grew up, this seemed like a good reason to set my writing—unapologetically, ecstatically—in the post-industrial Midwest. Enraged by the structural mistreatment that generated so much needless violence and desperation, I began to realise that the story of my town was the story of countless towns across the Midwest, across America, across the world.”

The new Waterstones prize was launched in 2022 and is voted for by the chain’s booksellers.


Bea Carvalho, Waterstones head of fiction, said: “We are delighted to announce Tess Gunty as the inaugural winner of the Waterstones Debut Fiction Prize. The Rabbit Hutch truly has the feel of the next great American novel: it is an exquisite, triumphant book which at once recalls the very best of the contemporary canon while remaining fiercely original and innovative.

“Gunty has written an astonishingly moving, important dissection of gentrification, urbanisation and the care system, tackling serious topics with warmth and wit. Above all, it is a true page-turning delight to read, reread and recommend. Booksellers were blown away by Gunty’s playfulness, her boundless compassion and vast emotional intellect: this is boundary-pushing, daring fiction and we are hugely excited to see what this talented author does next.”

Q&A with Kathleen Glasgow, author of You’d Be Home Now

Kathleen Glasgow, bestselling author of Girl in Pieces, answers some burning questions about her new novel, You’d Be Home Now. 


  1. You’d Be Home Now is a story about the impact of addiction, but it’s told from the perspective of Emmy, the ‘good one’ in her family. Why did you choose to narrate the story from Emmy’s perspective rather than that of her addict brother Joey? Addiction affects the person struggling, but also spirals outward: to those in the family, school, neighbourhood. I’ve been on both sides of addiction: I’ve been the person struggling and I have worked to help friends and family. I wanted to focus on Emmy as the narrator to give voice to those who often feel voiceless in the face of addiction, especially a sibling, who might feel overshadowed by the emotional attention given to the person in crisis. That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t rightly focus attention on the person in crisis, but we also need to begin to understand what happens to the mental health of those in the orbit of addiction. They feel alone, invisible, as though their needs don’t matter. And then they feel guilty about that, much like Emmy does. Addiction really does a number on the mental health of those in its path; that’s collateral damage.


  2.  How did the experience of writing Emmy compare to writing Charlie in Girl in Pieces and Tiger in How to Make Friends with the Dark?Writing Emmy was, in some ways, more difficult than writing Charlie and Tiger! She’s coming from a place of extreme privilege. It’s hard to make a person of wealth sympathetic, because a reader might feel like, ‘She has all this money; her brother will be fine. The family can afford rehab and counsellors, etc.’ But in the end, that doesn’t help. Addiction doesn’t care about your postcode or your trust fund. It will consume whatever is in its path. And what’s in its path is what the book is about: the collateral damage of addiction, siblings like Emmy, overlooked, overwhelmed, exhausted, suffering and feeling guilty about that suffering. Like, who doesn’t want to help a family member struggling with addiction? You’d do anything for them, of course. But also…sometimes, at sixteen, you just want to go to a dance. Get kissed. Experience joy. But how can you allow yourself to feel even a tiny bit of happiness when your sibling’s life is literally on the line? Guilt is powerful and damaging. Writing Charlie and Tiger was easier, in a sense, because they are pure emotion. Emmy was different because she’s not even sure what her emotions should be; she’s been in the background to Joey (and Maddie) her whole life. She hasn’t really been allowed to figure out who she is, yet.


  3. You’d Be Home Now is a reimagining of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. What inspired you to do this and how did you go about it?Our Town is one of my very favourite plays, ever. The possibility of reimagining it was broached to me by my editor, and I said yes, enthusiastically. The one thing I knew going into the project was that I didn’t want Emmy to die, because in the play, Emily Webb dies.  The first thing I did was really think about the town of Grover’s Corners from the play. What would that town be like today? How would it have changed or not changed? I imagined it as a place somewhat frozen in time, still adhering to old ideals and unable to accept what’s tearing apart its fabric. And that would be the opioid crisis, which has devastated communities across the US. For me, the play has always been about what it means to be alive on this earth. Our connections, our hopes, our dreams. I like to think of this book not as a retelling of the play, or even a reimagining, but a repositioning, if that makes sense. I can’t top Thornton Wilder! But I do believe, absolutely, that if he were alive today and writing the play, the opioid crisis would be in Grover’s Corners. How could it not be? But it’s hard to write when Thornton Wilder is in the room, so at a certain point, I had to set myself free so that Emmy and Joey and Mill Haven could grow on their own. When writing this book, I thought about the ideas of the play as the framework for the story I want to tell about this girl, and this town. You’d Be Home Now is like a painting and Our Town is the frame in which it hangs.
  4. The book tackles the opioid crisis in the US, but its subject is also of personal significance to you. Why did you feel now was the right time to tell this story? And do you think your own experiences of addiction and recovery have influenced the narrative?As TikTok tells me, I write sad books! This is true. But I don’t write them just to write ‘sad books.’ I write books that are sad because the things in them are true. They happen beyond the pages of my books, to a hell of a lot of people. They have happened to me. They’ve happened to someone you know. They’ve happened to a lot of people you know. Addiction, recovery, depression and self-harm are parts of my life. They are the skin I live in. I own them as me. I write about these things because people should know about them and books can be a safe place to explore what you cannot express in real life, or don’t know how to. My own experiences will always influence the narratives I choose to construct because, well, I live with them on a daily basis. My characters are distinct from me in that their stories belong to them, but little bits of me make their way inside. For instance, in Girl in Pieces, Charlie has my scars, but her story isn’t mine. In You’d Be Home Now, I gave Joey my thoughts about addiction, but again, his story is his own.


  5. The words of Mis Educated give voice and power not just to Liza and Emmy but to the student body as a whole. Why did you feel this was important?I have to say that writing Mis_Educated’s Instagram posts were absolutely a balm to me when writing this book, as sad as they are. If you read the play Our Town, you’re familiar with the character of The Stage Manager, who knows everything about Grover’s Corners and the people in it, and often speaks directly to the reader/audience. I had to figure out how to reimagine that character for this book and that character ended up being Mis_Educated and their Instagram posts. One thing that I love about social media in particular is that it is absolutely used as an immediate public diary for people, especially teens. I used to have a diary with a little lock on it in which I wrote all the things I was too frightened to talk about. Now, social media posts act as a kind of instant diary, viewable immediately. Mis_Educated is anonymous and talks about the hypocrisy of Mill Haven, Heywood High School, the mental health of fellow students, all of it. And this was a great way for me to get other voices in the book, like the teens who respond to her posts with their own pain, their own stories. Those posts are their world, a place they can unload their pain without fear of reprisal from their family. They can be themselves.


  6. Emmy’s poetry reading gives her, quite literally, a moment in the spotlight. Do you see this as the moment she finds her voice? Was it important for you that she had this moment?It’s funny because Emmy’s poem was partly written by Liza, because Emmy had trouble articulating what she wanted to say. She’s never really been asked to speak up about her feelings before. She’s a big reader, she loves words and narrative and getting lost in someone else’s story but being asked to tell her own is terrifying. I did want her to have a moment, though, where she absolutely had to be in front of people and speaking her truth, standing up for herself. One of the central ideas in the book is that adults rarely see teens as they are; instead, they prefer to see them as they what they hope they’ll be: successful, happy, etc. But you know what? The kid in front of you, right now, this moment, is in pain and needs to you to acknowledge that. And accept it. And love them, in all their pain, without judgement. Emmy’s moment, I hope, elucidates that.


  7. You’d Be Home Now does a brilliant job of narrating complex and contradictory characters. Do you feel by the end of the novel that Emmy and Joey have a sense of who they are?I think that Emmy might have a better sense than Joey, at the end. I think she’s realised she needs to figure out boundaries. As Liza tells her, you can’t help someone unless you’re right with yourself first. This means knowing what you can and can’t do; what you will and won’t do, in order to keep yourself safe. Joey is in a kind of stasis at the end: back in rehab, unsure of what will happen. Unsure if he can live in the world. Joey has basically been addicted to drugs since he was twelve. He has no idea how to live without them. Who is he if he isn’t high? I love Joey with all my heart. He has a long road to walk. But he’s taking steps.


  8. In the process of researching your novel, were there any statistics or stories that made a particular impact on you or on the direction of the novel? I listened to a lot of podcasts about addiction and mental health and read blogs and stories by people in active recovery. I researched statistics about drug use and suicide rates. One thing that stuck out to me was the fact that chronic drug users often have their first experience very early, by age twelve. That helped me with Joey’s character quite a bit.
  9.  Who are the writers you most admire? And who has most influenced your writing? I know this book gets a lot of flak, and rightly so, because it’s very much a product of its time, but the first book I ever read where I saw myself was The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. My mother had kept her old copy and I read it when I was thirteen and I nearly disintegrated with a weird, sad joy. Here was a story about a kid who was suicidal, depressed, alone, feeling all the things I felt but didn’t know how to articulate. There’s always a book, especially when you’re young, that kind of blows you apart because it’s the first book in which you’ve seen a version of yourself, and thus, you absolutely know that what you feel is not weird or wrong. You just feel, for lack of a better word, validated. I will always love that book for what it gave me. I admire so many writers and have been influenced by the stories they tell and the way they tell them, like Laurie Halse Anderson. I started my writing life thinking I’d be a poet, so there are a lot of poets that influenced me stylistically and narratively, like Anne Sexton and Ai. I have a lot of go-to writers that I’ll absolutely read anything by, like Liane Moriarty, Gillian Flynn, Kara Thomas, Tiffany D. Jackson, Courtney Summers and Karen McManus.


  10.  What would be your greatest piece of advice to any Emmys or Joeys?I’m hesitant to give any advice because I, too, am a work in progress and that feels like the way it should be! But I think that I would say: you are you, brilliant and messy and beautiful and hurt and confused and a work in progress. Love yourself for that.


You’d Be Home Now is out now in paperback!

image of You'd Be Home Now paperback and quote ‘Kathleen Glasgow expands our hearts and invites in a little more humanity.’ Val Emmich, author of Dear Evan Hansen

Rock the Boat imprint signs new Anthony McGowan Middle Grade Novel

Rock the Boat has landed a “thrilling and heart-wrenching” new middle-grade novel from 2020 Carnegie award-winner Anthony McGowan.

Senior commissioning editor Katie Jennings bought world English-language rights, including audio, from Charlie Campbell at Charlie Campbell Literary Agents. Dogs of the Deadlands will publish as a superlead in hardback next September. The book will be followed by a further middle-grade standalone.


“Both an animal adventure and a human tale of love, tragedy and redemption, inspired by true events, Dogs of the Deadlands takes place in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and tells the story of the dogs left behind when the humans fled. Gradually, nature begins to return to the woods surrounding the nuclear power plant, but the re-wilded forest, with its lynx and bears and wolves, is no place for dogs. What will Zoya, and her pups Misha and Bratan, need to do to survive the deadlands?”

Jennings said: “As soon as I read Dogs of the Deadlands, it felt like an instant classic: a book to capture the imagination of children in much the same way as Watership Down and The Call of the Wild. The book has everything you could want from a wilderness adventure—danger and excitement, tragedy and bloodshed, and a vividly detailed, near apocalyptic setting. But alongside the drama runs a powerful undercurrent of humour, heart and hope.”

McGowan, who won the CILIP Carnegie Medal in 2020 with Lark (Barrington Stoke), added: “Dogs of the Deadlands is the book I’ve been waiting all my life to write. As a young reader I was obsessed with animal adventure stories, from The Call of the Wild to Tarka the Otter and Watership Down, and this is my attempt to live up to those classics. It’s a book that I’ve striven to fill with excitement, danger, sadness and joy, but also one that tries to tell the truth about the natural world. I’m thrilled to be publishing it with Rock the Boat.”


Anna Woltz on Researching for Talking to Alaska

Anna Woltz gives an insight into how she researched assistance dogs for her book Talking to Alaska, a powerful story of two unlikely friends brought together by the love of a dog.

Talking to Alaska is a story about fear, but it’s also very much about courage. There are so many things in the world that might frighten you. So what do you do when you know things could go wrong any moment? Do you just stay in bed, or do you face the world? I always hope there are lots of wonderful things mixed up with the scary bits!

My main characters Sven and Parker are trying to answer the very same question: how to cope with a world that can be scary and uncertain? Parker’s summer has been terrible and she just wants to be invisible, while Sven is desperate to make a big impression on his first day at school. He’s really scared the others will just think of him as ‘that kid with epilepsy’ – and he’s so much more…

So let me tell you how I researched Talking to Alaska. There were many things I could invent, or take from my own life, or imagine, but assistance dog Alaska had to be exactly right, based on facts. And of course, so did Sven’s epilepsy.

It all began with dogs. I happen to love dogs. I am not just rather fond of them, I love them to bits. They don’t even have to make an effort: a wagging tail, a tilted head, a soft coat – and I’m smitten. But then I heard about assistance dogs. These dogs are not just sweet, they change their owner’s life entirely. Assistance dogs are not just indispensable because they dream with four paws up in the air, they really, truly help their owner in all kinds of fantastic ways.

I knew about Seeing Eye Dogs, but I discovered there are many more assistance dogs. Dogs helping children with autism, and people in wheelchairs, and veterans with PTSD. And then I came across assistance dogs for people with epilepsy. The skills of these dogs are truly exceptional, so I decided to write a book about such an extraordinary dog. But before I began writing, I had to find out much more about assistance dogs.

My research began with the Dutch Association for Assistance Dogs; I was shown around their big training centre in Noord-Brabant. All assistance-dogs-to-be are allowed to grow up in a foster home while they’re puppies. Once they’re one year old, they move to this special ‘doggy school’ for a training that takes several months.

I watched an enormous poodle being taught how to open a drawer, close the door and help a lady take off her boots. Thirty-five fantastic dogs were in training when I visited, but I wasn’t allowed to pet a single one of them! Total agony for a dog lover, but it’s really crucial: you’re never allowed to distract an assistance dog that is doing its job. The dog must be able to focus entirely on its owner and its important work. And even petting is a distraction…

My next visit was to Corrie and Cisko. Corrie has suffered epileptic seizures for twenty years. Before she had assistance dog Cisko, Corrie was constantly scared she would get hurt during a seizure. Because these seizures are so unpredictable, Connie was injured many times. She lost count of the times she was rushed to hospital in an ambulance… But now Cisko is there. He not only sets off an alarm with his muzzle when Corrie falls, he can do the best thing ever: he has learned to predict her seizures. It is truly miraculous – doctors and devices have no idea whether an epileptic fit is on the way, but some dogs sense it coming. We have no clue how these dogs do it – whether they smell something, or hear or see or feel it… But nowadays, Corrie is never injured. Cisco warns her in time, so she can safely lie down before the seizure begins. Cisco is totally indispensable and Corrie never leaves home without him.

Iris and Bieke showed me what life with an assistance dog means for a child. Iris is wheelchair-bound and she trained golden retriever Bieke herself, helped by the Association Child & Assistance Dog. At home, Bieke fetches and carries stuff for Iris, she pulls off Iris’s socks and can load the washing machine. Bieke also comes along to the shops, where she hands Iris the things she points out on the shelves. People who used to stare at Iris because she sits in a wheelchair now come up to her for a chat; they want to know all about Bieke. Iris hates it when people just stare at her, but she loves telling all about her wonderful dog!

Seventeen year old Manoah explained to me what it is like to have epilepsy in high school. She told me how it began for her, she talked about the way her classmates react when she is ‘gone’ for a moment and she shared her worries about the future with me. Before my book was published, Manoah read the manuscript. I asked her whether the feelings and thoughts of my character Sven rang true – and luckily she loved the story.

Finally I met Melanie and her beautiful assistance dog Snow. He is a white shepherd, just like the dog my parents used to own: Jefta. I still occasionally dream about Jefta, so I was speechless when I saw Snow: it felt like time travelling to a world where Jefta was still alive… Melanie trained Snow together with the Association Bultersmekke and gave me wonderful details about the whole process. She also described what ‘waking up’ from an epileptic seizure feels like.

So. My research was done. I had a notebook full of information and a head full of awe-inspiring stories – and then I had to sort of forget it all and create my own story. And my own characters: thirteen year old Sven. Twelve year old Parker. And Alaska, a snow white golden retriever.


Talking to Alaska is out now in paperback. 


Caoilinn Hughes wins the RSL Encore Award 2021 with The Wild Laughter

Caoilinn Hughes has won the £10,000 RSL Encore Award for her “grand feat of comic ingenuity”, The Wild Laughter.

The prize is given annually to the best second novel of the year, and was judged this time around by Sian Cain, Nikita Lalwani and Paul Muldoon.

Accepting her prize, Hughes said: “The trail between the first and second novel is rough terrain. We all have bruises or IOUs to point at! But the readership a writer finds through her second novel is the more enduring readership. The Encore Award is a crucial recognition of its stakes. This award helped to bring Irish writer heroes like Dermot Healy, Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín to the fore, not to mention Sally Rooney and Lisa McInerney more recently. Other UK writers I so admire like Ali Smith and A L Kennedy were also championed early on by this award. To be following this lineage is strange and glorious.”

The Wild Laughter was also longlisted for the 2021 Dylan Thomas Prize and shortlisted for the Dalkey Literary Awards. It was also chosen as a Book of the Year 2020 by the Irish Sunday Times, Irish Independent, Rick O’Shea, and Sebastian Barry.

The judges said The Wild Laughter was “a grand feat of comic ingenuity, mischievous and insightful, and full of resonance for the way we live now”, adding: “The voice of Caoilinn’s doomed narrator, Doharty ‘Hart’ Black, is so original and vibrant, with a very particular poetic vernacular. This is a story of modern Ireland, set in the crash post Celtic Tiger, but it also feels timeless in many ways, with Biblical myth simmering under the surface. The Wild Laughter is a real page-turner, in spite of its literary heart, and a joy to read. We all look forward to reading more from Caoilinn Hughes in the years to come.”


Black River by Will Dean Longlisted for the Theakston Crime Novel of the Year

Black River by Will Dean has been longlisted for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2021.

The award celebrates excellence, originality and the very best in crime fiction from UK and Irish authors. Awarded annually as part of Harrogate International Festivals’ Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, the winner receives £3000, and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from Theakston Brewery.

Black River is an electrifying return for relentless reporter Tuva Moodyson, from the author of Dark Pines and Red Snow. Tuva’s been living clean in southern Sweden for four months when she receives horrifying news. Her best friend Tammy Yamnim is missing. Racing back to Gavrik at the height of Midsommar, Tuva fears for Tammy’s life. Who has taken her, and why? And who is sabotaging the small-town search efforts?

Watch Will Dean’s author video with Theakston here to find out more about Black River.

You can cast your vote for your favourite book on the longlist here


Jing-Jing Lee – Why I Wrote How We Disappeared

Jing-Jing Lee explains what inspired her to write her Women’s Prize longlisted novel How We Disappeared, and how her own family’s story during the Japanese occupation of Singapore came to mirror the lives of her characters.

I started writing How We Disappeared because the main character refused to leave me alone. I had just finished my first book, a short story collection, in which I had written about a woman called ‘Cardboard Lady’. She was someone with a traumatic past, I knew, but bits and pieces of her history kept coming to me even after the collection had been published, and long after I was done with all the other characters in that book. She snuck into my dreams, and when I began to see her as the young woman she’d been before the Japanese Occupation, I realised I had to write about her, that there might be an entire book in her. I named her after my mother, who is also illiterate and whose name, ‘Chiow Tee,’ means ‘to take care of a brother’.

As with most Singaporeans, I learned what civilians went through during the Japanese Occupation as I was growing up, some of it from stories that my relatives told in hushed, yet bitter voices, some of it from programmes, fictional and otherwise, on TV. The “accepted narrative” is openly discussed in textbooks and in the national newspaper. Every year, there is a day of remembrance for people who died during the occupation, especially for those who were captured and tortured for being part of the resistance. These were heroes and victims of a sort that people recognised and could contend with. Yet it remains largely unspoken that the Japanese raped local women and abducted them during the occupation – this has to do with the dreadful stigma attached to sexual violence in most of Asia, even today. The fact that Singapore is a tiny country only magnifies this. Everyone on the island is connected in one way or another, with one or two degrees of separation. In the 40s and 50s, to let anyone know that you’re a rape victim was to expose yourself to shame and condemnation for the rest of your life. For research, I trawled through hours of audio interviews; whenever rape or abduction was mentioned, the interviewee always made a point to emphasise that it happened to someone else, someone outside of the immediate family – a neighbour, the friend of a sister-in-law, a stranger.

Most people are unaware of the occupation’s death toll. The conservative estimate lies around 40,000 (not a small number as the total population was around 800,000 in 1942). The dead were mostly made up of Chinese men who were executed during the Sook Ching (or ‘purge,’ a targeted ethnic cleansing).

While I was ruminating on the idea of writing the book, I spoke to a few (non-Singaporean) friends about it. All of them are well-read, intelligent writers, but they had only heard vaguely about comfort women, and certainly nothing about the genocide that had occurred on the island. It bothered me that a people’s history could be left so easily to slip away in the wind. I’d never thought of myself as a historical novelist, nor someone who would spend years doing research, but there I was, inflamed by my anger about how little we seemed to matter to the rest of the world and my need to write about Wang Di. And then, of course, there was the personal: my grandparents had lived through the war. Safe to say, none of them held any happy memories about life during the occupation. My parents had passed down the usual stories of them having had to forage or steal in order to keep from starving, but I wasn’t aware of just how much the war had touched my family until I’d already finished the novel.

It was during a visit back to Singapore during Chinese New Year that I found out about my family’s war story. My parents came home from temple one afternoon and said that they had spotted a woman who looked the spitting image of my grandmother. (My father’s mother had passed away more than a decade ago.) Then he continued to say that he had wanted to go up to the woman and find out if she was his aunt. This was when I became really confused, because my father’s aunt was also dead. I had to ask my father what he meant. He went on to explain the following:

During the invasion of Singapore, Japan was temporarily beaten back by resistance fighters on a hill close to where my great-grandfather lived with his family. As revenge, the army set upon a nearby village – the village where my great-grandfather lived with his wife and their children – two sons and a young daughter of about three years old. (His two older daughters had been married off just before the invasion and were residing elsewhere on the island.) The troops massacred most of the people living in the village. My great-grandfather suffered a stab wound and the cries of his youngest child were the last sounds he heard before he passed out. When he regained consciousness, he discovered that his wife and sons were dead, and his daughter missing. He never found her and never recovered a body either. For years, they thought that someone might have taken her away but it was hard to look for missing people, especially children, during the war, of course.

While I listened to him, I was struck by how much it resembled the story of the Old One (Wang Di’s husband). The only explanation I can give is that my father must have told me about this part of my family’s history when I was too little to understand the significance of it, and subconsciously filed it away in my mind, only to have it resurface much later, when I was writing the book.

The woman my father saw, I realised, might have been my grandmother’s youngest sister, whom his family had long presumed dead. He’d a feeling it was her, he said. This admission, more than anything, was a surprise to me as he rarely talks about the personal. He ended the conversation by saying, “The past is the past.” No good could come from raking up the past, no good could come of talking. And it is also this familiar phrase, among all the other reasons (giving witness to the victims of trauma and not wanting a history to be erased), that made me want to write How We Disappeared. I want to give lie to the idea that we should not think about what’s painful, what hurt. I want to bring what is, or what is believed to be, dank and ugly out into the light.

Jing-Jing Lee

Originally published on the Times Distribution Singapore website.

Find out more about How We Disappeared here


Silver Sparrow Q&A with Tayari Jones

Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage, talks all about sisters, Atlanta in the 1980’s, and her new book, Silver Sparrow.


What was your inspiration for Silver Sparrow?

I have always been intrigued by the idea of “half” sisters. I have two sisters with whom I share a father, but we each have different mothers. They were born before my father met my mother, and they grew up in another state and led completely separate lives from me and from each other. When I was a little girl, with only brothers, I used to fantasize about having two big sisters far away who would love me, dress me up, listen to me talk, et cetera. The link between my own personal obsession and this fictional story was inspired quite accidentally. While enjoying a night out with a bunch of friends, we were discussing one of the many cases you hear about—a man dies and the other grieving widow shows up with her stair-step kids. One of my girlfriends looked up from her margarita and said, “You know, he had to have some help from the inside. You cannot get local bigamy off the ground unless one of the women is willing to work with you.” It was all I could do to keep from running out of the bar to get home and start writing. The first line, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist,” jumped into my head, as clearly as though someone had spoken into my ear.

When you use the expression half sister, why do you put the word half in quotation marks?

I was giving a reading, and during the Q&A I mentioned my “half sisters.” My nephew in the audience said, “Don’t say ‘half,’ Auntie. That’s an ugly word. There are no half people.” I always thought of it as just a description, and I didn’t think it was offensive, because it’s reflexive. But it hurt him to hear me describe his mother in that way. So now I use the word very self-consciously, if at all. I should probably say “my sister with whom I share a father.” It’s a mouthful, but I would rather say that than hurt him again.

What roles do social class and privilege play in the novel?

Social class has always been an issue that interests me. I think Silver Sparrow complicates the question a little bit. Dana has many bourgeois affectations, but she and her mother are not as financially secure as Chaurisse and her mother. So much of class is about performance. Dana and her mother have upwardly mobile aspirations and do everything they can to transcend social class, but, of course, money limits their options. Chaurisse enjoys great privilege, but she doesn’t know it, and I think this is often the case. People don’t go around thinking how lucky they are that their dad claims them. She thinks of herself as just average. She has no idea that the life she enjoys is on someone else’s back. Her moral litmus test is what she will do once she discovers the truth.

How did you come to the title Silver Sparrow?

This was really an eleventh-hour title. This book went through half a dozen titles before I settled on Silver Sparrow. The reference is to the gospel classic “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” When I was a girl, I took great comfort in the idea that God is taking care of everything and everyone, even a tiny sparrow. (This was especially important because I grew up in Atlanta during a very dangerous time.) The characters refer to the song, and it occurred to me that although Chaurisse thinks of Dana as her “silver girl,” in many ways Dana is the tiniest sparrow in the story. She is flawed, of course, and sometimes she acts out, but she is also “the least of these.”

Like your previous two books, Silver Sparrow is set in Atlanta in the 1980s. Why did you pick Atlanta for the setting, and what role does landscape play in shaping your narrative?

Sometimes I wonder if my imagination just lives in Atlanta. When the story comes to me, the characters tend to be hanging out in all my old stomping grounds. Atlanta has been such a gift to my work. The “new” and urban South is ever changing, but we still wear our history on our sleeves. This is what makes Southern literature so rich, so ultraspecific and universal at the same time.

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones is out in hardback on the 19th March. Find out more about the book here


Silver Sparrow book image 'do not miss this can't-actually-stop-reading-it novel' Stylist

Foyles names The Sellout as Book of the Year 2016

Booker-winning novel picked for special pre-Christmas promotional push

Foyles will have displays of The Sellout, carrying a gold and white Foyles Book of the Year sticker, at till points and front of house across all branches in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Chelmsford. The book will be highlighted on in-store screens, windows, homepage and social media channels.

Simon Heafield, Head of Marketing and Brand at Foyles said: “Paul Beatty’s novel is important, timely and original. From publication day the book has enjoyed a phenomenal reception at Foyles from our booksellers and customers alike, leading us to name it as our Book of the Year for 2016. We fully expect the huge demand we’ve seen at Foyles for this book to continue right up to Christmas, and beyond.”

Heather Baker, senior buyer at Foyles, said: “To say this is a daring, multi-layered, iconoclastic, laugh-out-loud masterpiece is to understate how much I loved it. It made me cry, it made me snort with laughter, and it still makes me furious. Beatty shines a fierce light into places that many would rather remain hidden, and does so with such sharpness, anger and erudition, underpinned with so much love and humour. It is in the truest sense a great American novel.”

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