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Razia Iqbal on the judging experience

Razia Iqbal on the judging experience

The Baillie Gifford Prize 2017

We don’t know about you but it’s been a busy summer so far for us, and in particular our judges, who we’re sure have seen little sun over the past couple of months as they make their way through the many books submitted for this year’s Baillie Gifford Prize. One member of our panel, journalist and broadcaster Razia Iqbal, shares her thoughts on the judging experience so far...
Being asked to judge the Baillie Gifford prize is a huge honour. And a lot of hard, albeit, enjoyable work.

Really? Reading some of the finest non-fiction of the year: hard work? Yes. First, it is the sheer volume of words to get through. Admittedly, I do a lot of reading in my day job as a BBC News and current affairs broadcaster. But given the nature of news, it is, quite often, a specific kind of reading: to absorb and distil quickly, for clarity and designed to arm oneself for holding those in power to account, often on a vast array of subjects.
This distillation can easily be discarded from the brain over a period of time, not least because space has to be made for the next big story, from the next hot spot! Of course, a sediment of knowledge begins to build. 

But it is a different kind of reading when it comes to judging a prize of this kind. The ability to assess and distil, are of course, a prerequisite. But there is a distinct responsibility too. My world is structured around words and ideas; I cannot imagine a life without those things. And I have a deep seated respect for those who choose to dedicate themselves to writing books. They can be penned quickly, but the best can take a long time to write. Often, this category of book, non fiction, memoir, biography, can be a life’s work. And so, the reading requires a different mindset. A special responsibility to take care with the words. Of course, I look for compelling writing, new angles on a well trodden subject, freshness of perspective. Overall, I am thinking all the time: is this the one book I will tell friends and strangers alike, that they must read this? That is the joy of judging, being a part of a process which I hope is the ultimate accolade for a writer, that their work will be shared.


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