EVENT REVIEW: The Gordon Burn Prize 2017

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12th October

Durham Town Hall

Review by Gabriel Brown

Well, once again I enjoyed another great evening at the Gordon Burn Prize event.

The only difference this year was that all of the writers were present, whereas previously one or two had unfortunately not been able to make it.

This made a real difference, as it was particularly great to hear all of the shortlisted writers read from their own work: their passion really came through and it was hard to pick a winner based on the passages read.

I think perhaps my personal favourite was This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan. While it was hard sometimes to understand the passages because they were read out of context, it was primarily his enthusiasm in answering questions afterward and his passion that won me over. The concept of the book also sounded highly interesting and his explanation of how he blended fiction and non-fiction was a fresh idea I’d never heard of.

As per usual though, all the books I heard sounded incredibly intriguing and made me eager to read all of them!

I was immediately drawn to This is the Place to Be by Lara Pawson, after coming away from reading my first memoir (Robert Webb’s How Not To Be A Boy) not long before. Pawson’s book sounded humorous and definitely worth a read, as she spoke about different pets, humorous situations and so on.

Kapka Kassabova, author of Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, read a passage which described a sort of trick to do with vipers. While I admit I didn’t completely understand it, the way it was written, coupled with her way of reading it, was fantastic.

I really liked the concept of Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe. I’m not overly familiar with Andrea Dunbar, but the context given (Dunbar burning virtually all her work before she died) and the fact that Stripe has imagined what Dunbar’s diaries would have said is amazing. I’m pretty certain she said that her primary means of research was Dunbar’s plays, the fact she conjured the book up from so little is truly an achievement.

And now for the winner: The Long Drop by Denise Mina. Her passage focused on three children finding an abandoned car apparently relating to a murder. She captured childhood innocence in a great way here, as they each take it in turns pretending to drive, and eat travel sweets (risky really) found in the glove box. The almost simplified atmosphere was clever and very well put together.

I wasn’t able to stay for the full duration of the music, but it was certainly something new. It was definitely something I haven’t encountered before, but I don’t think I could give my full thoughts on it because I wasn’t able to stay the whole time. David McLean’s “Crime Scene” ensemble is something I’ll be looking up now though!

As usual, the event was a lovely evening, and made me come away with an even longer reading list then the day before it.

Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit