Where are you writing from today?
I’m writing at my desk in the spare bedroom in our cottage in Somerset. Grey wet cloud in the sky, but last night’s rain has made everything an impossible bright green. Blackbird singing.
What excites you about judging the 2020 Sunday Times / University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award?
Whenever I’ve judged a competition, it’s forced me out of my comfort zone, got me reading the fiction and poetry and non-fiction I might not have picked up otherwise, seeing slices of worlds unlike mine. This should be especially true of reading new young writers.
What interests you about new writing in 2020?
Oh, just the same old thing that interests me about any writing. To find the writers who’ve got it: who’ve got a view of the world, who’ve found their way of writing that down freshly, whose stories or language come alive on the page and make me see what I’ve never seen, communicating with clarity and intelligence. That’s all!
What are you hoping for in the submissions this year, and what are you looking for in an emerging writer?
Something that feels true and inevitable, expressed in language that’s as clean and strong as possible. If it’s funny that’s wonderful, but I love very serious books too. A new writer may not have got everything about their work sorted out yet – you almost wouldn’t want them to have it all sorted out. But you want signs that they’re not tangled up in style, in showing off or displaying themselves: that instead their gaze is outward, concentrated on the world they see and want to communicate. Or inward, concentrated on the world they see and want to communicate. Just not lost in fog, or distracted by being too clever.
Why is it important that we support new voices, at this point in time in particular?
Isn’t it always important? We need young writers, just as we need young readers: for the sake of the future! Writing – fiction and non-fiction, poetry – has been so essential in forming what I am and how I think and live; it’s through reading primarily that I’ve found my place inside our British and world culture. The complexity and subtlety of the best writing helps us be our best selves collectively, pool our wisdom, be less stupid – and see ourselves. Therefore I care passionately about renewing it for each new generation, carrying its light forward into our future.
What are you reading at the moment and what do you like about it?
I’ve been reading two women novelists of the mid twentieth century, Jean Stafford and Marguerite Duras, both of whom interest me although I’m not sure I wholly love their work. But it’s so interesting to think about it, think about the difference between the French and American novel traditions, think about being a women writer in that time. I’m reviewing Jean Stafford’s novels, which are being republished in the Library of America series, but I’m reading Duras just out of interest, and because I’ve always meant to.
Tessa Hadley is a judge for the 2020 Young Writer of the Year Award. The submission period for this year’s prize closes on Monday 22 June. Enter now