Chicklit, Ladlit and Toby Litt: The Current State of British Prose and Poetry

Presented by David A. Hill

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A) PROSE

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1a)  The Elders (‘literature’)

Michael Frayn (1933) Spies (2002) [Whitbread Best Novel Prize] ; David Lodge (1935) Author, Author (2004) ; James Kelman (1946) You Have to be Careful in the Land of the Free (2004); Jim Crace (1946 ) Six (2003) ; Julian Barnes (1946) Love, etc. (2000); Ian McEwan (1948) Saturday (2005) [W H Smith Literary Award]; Martin Amis (1949) Yellow Dog (2003) ; Graham Swift (1949 ) The Light of Day (2003) ; Helen Dunmore (1952) Mourning Ruby (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Tim Parks (1954) Rapids (2005) ; Alan Hollinghurst (1954) The Line of Beauty (2004) [Booker Prize] ; Sally Vickers (1954) Mr Golightly’s Holiday (2003) ; John Burnside (1955) Living Nowhere (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Adam Thorpe (1956) No Telling (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Nick Hornby (1957) How To Be Good (2001) [W H Smith Fiction Prize] ; Tibor Fischer (1959) Journey to the End of the Room (2003)

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1b) The Youngers (‘literature’)

Gerard Woodward (1961) I’ll Go to Bed at Noon (2004) [+ Poetry] ; Jonathan Coe (1961) The Closed Circle (2004) ; Jill Dawson (1962) Wild Boy (2003) ; Philip Hensher (1965) The Fit (2004) [GR03] ; A. L. Kennedy (1965) Paradise (2004) [GR03] ; Zoe Heller (1965) Notes on a Scandal (2003) ; Nicola Barker (1966 ) Clear: A Transparent Novel (2004) [GR03] ; David Peace (1967) GB 84 (2004) [GR03]; Toby Litt (1968 ) Ghosts (2005) [GR03]; David Mitchell (1969) Cloud Atlas (2003) [GR03]; Tobias Hill (1970) The Cryptographer. (2003) [+ Poetry] ; Dan Rhodes (1972) Timoleon Vieta Come Home (2002) [GR03]; Matt Thorne (1974) Cherry (2005); Zadie Smith (1975) The Autograph Man (2002) [GR03] ; Jon McGregor (1976) If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002) [Betty Trask Prize] ; Anne Donovan (19??) Buddha Da (2003); Helen Walsh (1977) Brass (2004)

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2) Short Stories (Single author collections)

Susan Hill (1942) The Boy Who Taught the Beekeeper to Read (2003) ; A.S.Byatt (1936) Little Black Book of Stories (2003) ; Julian Barnes (1946) The Lemon Table (2004); Patricia Duncker (1951) Seven Tales of Sex and Death (2003) ; Alexei Sayle (1952) The Dog Catcher (2002) ; Helen Simpson (1959) Hey Yeah Right Get a Life (2000); Jackie Kay (1961) Why Don’t You Stop Talking? (2002) [+ Poetry] ; Ali Smith (1962) The Whole Story and Other Stories (2003) ; Philip Hensher (1965) The Bedroom of the Mister’s Wife (2000); Toby Litt (1968) Exhibitionism (2002) [GR03] ; Dan Rhodes (1972) Don’t Tell Me the Truth about Love (2000) [GR03]; Anne Donovan (19??) Hieroglyphics and Other Stories (2001)

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3a) Chicklit

Helen Fielding (1960) Bridget Jones’s Diary (1996) [Film] ; Adele Parks (1969) Still Thinking of You (2004) ; Jenny Colgan (1971) Do You Remember The First Time? (2003) ; India Knight (19??) Don’t You Want Me? (2002); Sophie Kinsella (19  ) Shopaholic and Sister (2004) ; Allison Pearson (19??) I Don’t Know How She Does It (2002) ; Marian Keyes (19??) The Other Side of the Story (2004) ; Carmen Reid (19??) Did The earth Move? (2003); Anna Maxted Being Committed (2004)

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3b) Ladlit

Tony Parsons (1954) The Family Way (2004) ; Tim Lott (1956) The Love Secrets of Don Juan (2003); Matt Dunn (1966) Best Man (2005); Mike Gayle (19??) His ‘n’ Hers (2004) ; John O’Farrell (19??) This Is Your Life (2002) ; Mark Barrowcliffe (19??) Lucky Dog (2004); Matt Whyman (19??) Columbia Road (2002)

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4a) Themes: Man and Boy

Tony Parsons (1954) Man and Boy (1999 ) ; Nick Hornby (1957) About and Boy (1998) [Film] ; Simon Armitage (1963) Little Green Man (2001) [+ Poetry] ; John O’Farrell (19??) The Best a Man Can Get (2000) ; Mark Barrowcliffe (19??) Infidelity for First Time Fathers (2001 ) ; Dave Hill (19??) Dad’s Life (2003)

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4b) Themes: Multiracial Britain

Andrea Levy (1956) Small Island (2003) [Orange Prize/ Whitbread Prize] ; Meera Syal (1962) Life isn’t all ha ha he he (1999) ; Monica Ali (1968) Brick Lane (2003) [W H Smith People’s Choice Award] [GR03] ; Zadie Smith (1975) White Teeth (2000) [Guardian First Book Award; W H Smith Best New Talent Award] [GR03]; Nadeem Aslam (1967) Maps for Lost Lovers (2004); Francis King (19??) The Nick of Time (2003)

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4c) Themes: the Bildungsroman

Michael Frayn (1933) Spies (2003) ; Seamus Deane (1940) Reading in the Dark (1996)[+ Poetry] ;
Julia Darling (1956) The Taxi Driver’s Daughter (2003) ; Roddy Doyle (1958) Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (1993) [1993 Booker Prize] ; Andrew O’Hagan (1968) Personality (2003) [GR03] ; Toby Litt (1968) deadkidsongs (2001) [GR03]; Helen Falconer (19??) Sky High (2003)

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4d) Themes: Literary/Artistic Lives

Michael Frayn (1933) Headlong (1999) [Breughel] ; Beryl Bainbridge (1935) According to Queeney (2001) [Samuel Johnson] ; David Lodge (1935) Author, Author (2004) [Henry James] ; Emma Tennant (1937) The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted (2001) [Sylvia Plath/Ted Hughes] ; Peter Ackroyd (1949) The Lambs of London (2004) [Charles & Eliza Lamb] ; Andrew Motion (1952) The Invention of Dr. Cake (2003) [John Cake/William Tabor] [+ Poetry] ; Colm Toibin (1955) The Master (2004) [Henry James]; Tracey Chevalier (1962) Girl with a Pearl Earring (1999) (Film) [Vermeer] ; Will Self (1961) Dorian: an Imitation (2002) [Dorian Gray] ; C K Stead (19??) Mansfield: A Novel (2004)

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4e) Themes: The New Technology

Jeanette Winterson (1959) The PowerBook (2000) ; Jesica Adams (19??) Single White e-mail (1998)
Matt Beaumont (19??) e  (2000); Matt Whyman (19??) Man or Mouse (2000)

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B) POETRY

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1) The Elders

Michael Hamburger (1924) Wild and Wounded (2004) ; Elizabeth Bartlett (1924) Mrs Perkins and Oedipus (2004) ; Charles Tomlinson (1927) Skywriting (2004) ; Peter Porter (1929) Afterburner (2004) ; Anthony Thwaite (1930) A Move in the Weather (2003) ; Adrian Mitchell (1932) All Shook Up (2000) [PBS Rec] ; Geoffrey Hill (1932) The Orchards of Syon (2002) [PBS Choice] ; Anne Stevenson (1933) A Report from the Border (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Tony Harrison (1937) Laureate’s Block (2000) ; John Fuller (1937) Now and for a Time (2002) ; Gillian Clarke (1937) Making Beds for the Dead (2004);

Roger McGough (1937) Everyday Eclipses (2002) ; Seamus Heaney (1939) Electric Light (2001) [PBS Choice] ; Michael Longley (1939) Snow Water (2003) [PBS Choice] ; Douglas Dunn (1942) The Year’s Aftenoon (2000) [PBS Choice]

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2) The Middlers

Eavan Boland (1944) Code (2001) ; Carol Rumens (1944) Hex (2002) [PBS Rec] ; Wendy Cope (1945) If I Don’t Know (2001) ; Bernard O’Donoghue (1945) Outliving (2002) ; Selima Hill (1945) Lou-Lou (200) [PBS Rec] ; Peter Reading (1946) [untitled] (2001) ; George Szirtes (1948) Reel (2004) [PBS Choice] [Whitbread Prize]; Ciaran Carson (1948) Breaking News (2003);  Paul Muldoon (1951) Moy Sand and Gravel (2002) [PBS Choice] ; Andrew Motion (1952) Public Property (2003) [Poet Laureate] ; Matthew Sweeney (1952)  Sanctuary (2004) ; Carol Ann Duffy (1955) Feminine Gospels (2002) [PBS Rec] ; John Burnside (1955) The Light Trap (2001) [PBS Rec] ; Jamie McKendrick (1955) Ink Stone (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Adam Thorpe (1956) Nine Lessons from the Dark (2003) ; Benjamin Zephaniah (1958) Too Black, Too Strong (2001) ; Lavinia Greenlaw (1962 ) Minsk (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Kathleen Jamie (1962) The Tree House (2004) [PBS Choice] ; Don Patterson (1963) Landing Light (2003) [T S Eliot Prize] [PBS Choice] ; Michael Symmons Roberts (1963) Corpus (2004) [PBS Rec]; Simon Armitage (1963) The Universal Home Doctor (2003) [PBS Rec] ; Kate Clanchy (1965) Newborn (2004) [PBS Rec] ; Glyn Maxwell (1968) The Nerve (2002) [PBS Rec] ; Ruth Padel (19??) The Soho Leopard (2004) [PBS Choice] ; Alice Oswald (19??) Dart (2002) [T S Eliot Prize] [PBS Rec]

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3) The Youngers

Paul Farley (1965) The Ice Age (2002) [Second] [PBS Choice] [2002 Whitbread Poetry Prize] ; Tracey Herd (1968) Dead Redhead (2001) [Second] [PBS Rec] ; Polly Clark (1968) Kiss (2000) [Second] ; Kona Macphee (1968) Tails (2004) [First] ; Matthew Welton (1969) The Book of Matthew (2003) [First] [PBS Rec] ; Julia Copus (1969) In Defence of Adultery (2003) [Second] ; Helen Ivory (1969) The Double Life of Clocks (2002) [First] ; Jane Griffiths (1970) A Grip on Thin Air (2000) [First] ; Joanne Limburg (1970) femenismo (2000) [First] ; Colette Bryce(1970) The Full Indian Rope Trick (2004) [Second] [PBS Rec]; Matthew Hollis (1971) Ground Water (2003) [First] [PBS Rec] ; Antony Dunn (1973) Flying Fish (2002) [Second] ; Leontia Flynn (1974) These Days (2004) [First] [PBS Rec] ; Owen Shears (1974) The Blue Book (2000) [First] ; Jacob Polley (1975) The Brink (2003) [First] [PBS Choice] ; Clare Pollard (1978) Bedtime (2002)  [Second] ; Cheryl Follon (1978) All Your Talk (2004) [First] ; Henry Shukman (19??) In Dr No’s Garden (2002) [First] [+ novel]

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NOTES

  • In Prose Sections  1a), 1b) and 2) the novels/story collections given are the most recent ones published by the authors. In 2) the collections are all single author collections.
  • In the thematic Prose sections, the books listed are the relevant ones.
  • In all three Poetry sections the books listed are the latest ones.
  • In all sections the authors are arranged by year of birth (in brackets after the name) where known. The other date is the year of publication.
  • Further information is given in [square brackets] : prizes won; in the Poetry sections, where the book was a Poetry Book Society Choice or Recommendation; in Prose Section 4d the name of the real person who the book is about; in Poetry section 3, whether it is the First or Second collection published.
  • The division of the Poetry sections into Elders/Middles/Youngsters is more to do with when and how much the poets have published, rather than actual date of birth.
  • The division of  Prose section 1 into a) and b) was made at 1960.
  • [GR03] means that an author was chosen as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2003.

This is neither an exhaustive nor complete list of all the names/works which there could be, however it is a representative selection, and includes those writers I consider to be among the most important.

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Reference Books

The following books may be useful for anyone wishing to look at the period under discussion.

Connor S (1996) The English Novel in History 1950-1995.

(London: Routledge)

Draper R P (1999) An Introduction to Twentith-Century Poetry in English.

(Basingstoke: Macmillan)

Gasiorek A (1995) Post-War British Fiction: Realism and After.

(London: Arnold)

Jack I (Ed)  (2003) Best Of Young British Novelists 2003

(London: Granta)

Head D (2002) The Cambridge Introduction to Modern British Fiction, 1950-2000.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)

Herbert W N/ Hollis M (Eds) (2000) Strong Words: modern poets on modern poetry.

(Tarset: Bloodaxe Books)

Kennedy D (1996) New Relations: the refashioning of British poetry 1980-94.

(Bridgend: Seren)

Lane R et al (Eds) (2003) Contemporary British Fiction.

(Cambridge: Polity Press)

O’Brien S (1998) The Deregulated Muse: esaays on contemporary British and Irish poetry.

(Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books)

Padel R (2002) 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem.

(London: Chatto & Windus)

Tew P (2004) The Contemporary British Novel.

(London: Continuum)

Thorne M/Blincoe N (Eds) All Hail The new Puritans.

(London: 4th Estate)

Thwaite A ((1985) Poetry Today: A Critical Guide to British Poetry 1960-84.

(Harlow: Longman)

Verdonk P (Ed) (1993) Twentieth –Century Poetry: from text to context.

(London: Routledge)

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QUOTES

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What is Chicklit?

In the late 1990s, when Bridget Jones’s Diary and a plethora of other novels about female insecurity were emerging, women’s lack of confidence was beginniing to seem like a global epidemic. I thought that it had a lot to do with with the explosion of images of perfection in movies and advertising.

A hundred years ago, a woman in a rural community might have had one or two attractive local beauties to compare herself to. But in the latter half of the 20th century, women were bombarded with images of perfection, and not real perfection either; painstakingly lighted, airbrushed, computer-enhanced moments that never existed in the first place.

(Helen Fielding: Never mind your bottom in  The Daily Telegraph 04.09.04)

The term “chicklit”, with its post-feminist use of the word “chick” and its sing-song almost-rhyme, originated as a way of describing young women’s fiction of any sort. Now its specifically means a “fun”, pastel-covered novel with a young, female, city-based protagonist, who has a kooky best friend, and evil boss, romantic troubles and a desire to find The One – the apparently unavailable man who is good-looking, can cook and is both passionate and considerate in bed.

(Scarlett Thomas: The great chick lit conspiracy in The Independent on Sunday 04.08.02)

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What is Ladlit?

….the essentials of Ladlit have always been constant. You need one or all of the following: sport, music, friendship, children, work, where you fit in society, what being a man means. And, of course, you need women. How to get ’em, how to shed ’em, how to deal with ’em generally, them being creatures from another planet and all. The problems in Ladlit always come women-shaped…the solutions to this lady trouble are not always pleasant.

Still, men treating women badly is no news, really. What’s more interesting is the way these men, these characters, deal with it. Certain writers – like Hornby and Welsh – have a strong feminist streak. Their heroes might dish the dirty, but their female counterparts chuck it right back at them: their women characters are often stronger, more honest, better at dealing with things than the useless men thatsurround them. …the women in Ladlit books..might not be politically correct, but at least they give as good as they get, and aren’t always moaning about ‘finding the right man’.

……there is romance in these novels. It’s just that it’s a male sort of romance. A sliding scale that has wanting to be a shag-happy popstar at one end, and wanting to be a husband and father at the other. A rock ‘n’ roll romance. Recently this sliding scale has tipped more towards the role than the rock. Nick Hornby, Tony Parsons, John O’Farrell all deal with man as father….

The best thing about Ladlit is this: it may not be perfect, but ut does try to find truth, to be honest and unpretentious. I think this is why we all think of it as almost-fiction; why we assume each author is writing about himself, as opposed to creating his characters. We think it’s effortless, like jotting down a diary. The fact that these books use everyday language adds to this impression, as does the recognisable places in which they’re set.

(Miranda Sawyer: How to Understand Men in Waterstone’s Books Quarterly, 2003)

David A. Hill has had the following poetry and prose published:

Poetry:                   The Eagles and the Sun (1986: Prosveta, Niš)

The Judas Tree (1993: Collina Press, Milan)

Singing to Seals (1999: The Collective Press, Abergavenny)

Short Stories:         A Matter of Chance (1999: Cambridge University Press)

How I Met Myself (2001: Cambridge University Press)

The Boy (2004 in Pulverness A/Moses A (Eds) The Outsider. ELI, Recanati)

Why Didn’t You Tell Me (2004: WorldWide Readers at www.ebooksworld.de)

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