Bill Keeth, a retired teacher and writer based in Manchester, contacted me last year to talk about a review I'd published of Sebastian Faulks Birdsong on Amazon.com. I hadn't liked it, neither had he (though the rest of the world seems to love it).
This lead to lots of pleasurable talk via email of other things book ... particularly about the publishing situation in the UK and Malaysia, and how difficult it is for first time writers to get their foot in the door. (I was feeling just the teensiest bit smug because I had had some fiction in print!) After a soul-destroying attempt to find a publisher, Bill told me how he'd decided to take matters into his own hands and self publish his first novel Every Street in Manchester:
A latter day Manchester man relates his life story in a Mancunian vernacular with editorial assistance from a friend. The result of their joint endeavour is a tragicomic novel spanning the second half of the twentieth century in a northern suburb of the city from where the Third World is temporarily accessed via the Pennine Way.And how great it is that he didn't just give up.
Because he's just been shortlisted for the £3,000 Portico Prize for Literature 2006. This is awarded biennially for a book "of general interest and literary merit and set wholly or mainly in the North West of England", previous winners have included Anthony Burgess and Bill Naughton.
This year here are only two other novels on the shortlist, and you might just have heard of them. One is Kalooki Nights by Dan Jacobson (longlisted for this year's Booker), and the other popular crime writer Val McDermid’s The Grave Tattoo. As the blurb says:
This year's prize sees one of the leading figures of the London literary world challenged by an unknown from a Manchester suburb.There is also a non-fiction shortlist which includes Anthony Biswell's biography of Anthony Burgess. (The full list is here.)
The award ceremony is tonight and I have my fingers crossed for Bill.
Incidentally, Bill's second self-published novel Manchester Kiss came out a couple of days ago and you can read about both novels and enjoy extracts at Bill's website.