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Shortlisted author Alison Light on publicity and prizes

Shortlisted author Alison Light on publicity and prizes

Alison Light
Samuel Johnson Prize 2014
non-fiction

I’ve been thinking about publicity and about prizes. On the wall of my study is the photo of my grandmother, Evelyn Light, in her uniform from World War One which I used in Common People.  I never knew her but her face is now as familiar to me as a close friend’s. This week she has also half-smiled at me from the pages of the national press, reproduced in the reviews of my book. How strange. Like photography, publicity has made her more present but also more unreal. Is this what it does to everyone who comes too close? ‘Celebrities’ become a species of ghosts; they come to haunt their own lives. 

I’m finding it hard to settle to any writing. So I’m reading: Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, the first essay on lightness, on the writer’s need to take off, and Louise Doughty’s taut tale of desire and violence, Apple Tree Yard. Both have been boltholes of sorts.

In one of Stephen Grosz’s pieces in The Examined Life, he says that winning always means losing something. According to another psycho-analyst, D.W. Winnicott, writers are torn between the urge to communicate and the still more urgent need ‘not to be found’. So while I am grateful to be reviewed and I’m basking in whatever praise I get, I’m trying to find a graceful distance. Limelight is lovely, but it is not, Virginia Woolf wrote, a good light to work by. Publicity is a creature of the present while the life of any book is always in the future. Will it still be read in five, ten, let alone twenty years’ time? Will it be re-read?

 

Alison Light is author of Common People  (Fig Tree)

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