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Newbury indie publisher reaches Booker Prize longlist

On this year's Booker Prize longlist is a book published by an independent publisher based in Newbury - An Island, by South African author Karen Jennings (Holland House Books).

Robert Peett is the founder and senior editor of Holland House Books, specialising in literary fiction and non-fiction, crime, and historical fiction. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and regularly gives talks and teaches masterclasses at Reading University; these have led to paid internships in Holland House's Novella Project aimed at increasing diversity in writers and publishing professionals, supported by the Arts Council.

The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK and Ireland. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.

An Island (50448656)
An Island (50448656)

The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors. Both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a global readership plus a dramatic increase in book sales.

Robert admits to being “essentially, surprised” when he heard An Island had been shortlisted. “Publishers are allowed to enter their best books for the prize," he said. "And then five judges read them all – and this is a very strong panel of judges. You only have to look at some of those not selected to see how tough it is. Entering An Island was in part a statement of belief in the book.”

He said that publishing Karen’s book was never in doubt. “It is a beautifully constructed, profound novel with global relevance written in, as the judges said ‘Majestic, extraordinary prose.’”

Karen Jennings Picture Carol Coelho
Karen Jennings Picture Carol Coelho

As for her chances of getting to the shortlist, he feels it is impossible to tell and they weren’t getting their hopes up. “The others are very powerful and so it is simply how the judges feel when they read them again and begin discussing. We are assuming it won’t be shortlisted, not through any lack of confidence in the book, but because it is safer.”

Holland House Books has been established nine years, but it is an achievement for an independent publisher like Holland House to be listed. As Robert explained: “Independent is a misleading term - it just means not part of a huge group. But Faber is an independent and they are a very big firm with plenty of power. We are a small press, and very few get longlisted – we are the only ones this year.”

Reaching the longlist has already brought benefits. “We have become better known, and sold rights all over the world, from the USA to Russia. Now we have to build on it. We might even get our books reviewed now – not a single major newspaper or magazine reviewed An Island.”

The shortlist will be revealed on September 14.

The 2021 Booker Prize longlist is:

A Passage North, Anuk Arudpragasam (Granta Books, Granta Publications)

Second Place, Rachel Cusk, (Faber)

The Promise, Damon Galgut, (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)

The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris (Tinder Press, Headline, Hachette Book Group)

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber)

An Island, Karen Jennings (Holland House Books)

A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)

No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)

The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed (Viking, Penguin General, PRH)

Bewilderment, Richard Powers (Hutchinson Heinemann, PRH)

China Room, Sunjeev Sahota (Harvill Secker, Vintage, PRH)

Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead (Doubleday, Transworld Publishers, PRH)

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford (Faber)

An Island

Samuel has lived alone for a long time; one morning he finds the sea has brought someone to offer companionship and to threaten his solitude…

A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper. Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer under colonisers, then fight for independence, only to fall under the rule of a cruel dictator; and he recalls his own part in its history. In this new man’s presence he begins to consider, as he did in his youth, what is meant by land and to whom it should belong. To what lengths will a person go in order to ensure that what is theirs will not be taken from them?

A novel about guilt and fear, friendship and rejection; about the meaning of home.

About the Author

Karen Jennings is a South African author. Her debut novel, Finding Soutbek, was shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for African Fiction. Her memoir, Travels with my Father, was published in 2016, and in 2018 she released her debut poetry collection, Space Inhabited by Echoes. Currently living in Brazil, last year Karen completed post-doctoral research at the Federal University of Goiás on the historical relationship between science and literature, with a focus on eusocial insects. Karen works with the mentorship programmes run by Writivism and Short Story Day Africa, both of which promote writing in Africa. Her interests lie in colonialism, historically and in the lasting impact that it has had on the continent of Africa and beyond.



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