Where are you writing from today?
Utrecht in the Netherlands.
What excites you about judging the 2021 Sunday Times Charlotte Aitken Trust Young Writer of the Year Award?
As a reviewer, not every book I read is a masterpiece; the job necessarily involves pointing out what doesn’t work, what disappoints. As a judge, I get to hang up my bommy-knocker and celebrate the year’s greatest successes.
The enormous reading pile is daunting but exciting, like walking into a roomful of strangers: that thrilling feeling that the next person I meet, the next book I pick up, could be a writer I’ll be reading for the rest of my life.
What interests you about new writing in 2021?
The same thing that always interests me: good writing.
More specifically? Right now I’m curious to see what effect the recent explosion of autofiction is having on style – for better and/or worse.
What are you hoping for in the submissions this year, and what are you looking for in an emerging writer?
Compelling subject matter. A good ear. Writing that goes beyond what it’s supposed to think and feel to the messier realities of lived experience.
Why is it important that we support new voices, at this point in time in particular?
It goes without saying that new voices need support right now: books pages shrinking, the lure of Netflix etc. But we should take care not to become unhelpfully shrill in our advocacy.
Hyperbolic raving about every new author fatally devalues the currency of criticism. It can also heap pressure on those emerging voices, especially when we over-focus on a writer’s life and personality.
The stringent discernment baked into an award like this – where a single book is selected after careful consideration of hundreds – feels like a really powerful, constructive way to showcase new talent.
What are you reading at the moment and what do you like about it?
Middlemarch by George Eliot. Her virtuosic command of the omniscient voice is a glorious reminder of those effects that are completely unique to the page (as opposed to the stage or screen): accessing the thoughts of two or more people in the same scene, swooping forwards and backwards in time in the space of a single sentence… It’s magic.
Claire Lowdon reviews fiction for the Sunday Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the Spectator and others. Her first novel, Left of the Bang, was published by Fourth Estate in 2015. She is working on another book.