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How Sara Baume made it on to the Guardian first book award longlist


Spill Simmer Falter Wither, the Irish novelist’s tale of one man and his dog, has been chosen from the many books suggested by Guardian readers. Here we take a look at some of the highlights from an exciting and varied list

It’s five years since we opened up a slot on the Guardian’s first book award longlist for reader nominations, and it feels like we’ve really hit our stride. Once again we’ve had a stack of excellent suggestions, running the gamut from self-published SF to mainstream memoir. Once again we’ve had mentions of exciting publishers who were totally new to me – shout out to the folks at Blackbird, Nine Arches and Brick Lane. Once again I’ve been amazed and delighted at the richness and vibrancy of our literary culture, the brave people who are boldly taking on the difficult business of making books. Thanks – once again – for all these inspiring nominations.

Sara Baume has been chosen to go through to the longlist, but we were hugely impressed by your other suggestions. Only an idiot would attempt to pick out any selection from such a sparkling list. Which makes me some kind of idiot, I suppose, because here’s Dorothy Lehane, announcing what might almost be a manifesto for her collection Ephemeris at the opening of Cosmic Rays:

hold up cosmic ray
pure niche, bombarding
in relentless droves
wallop by wallop
lousy low energy …

We find some of the ewes quickly. Coated in snow. Faces white. Their black friendly eyes seem pleased to see me, their wool insulating the snow that lands on them from the heat of their bodies. They rush to my legs and start on the hay. I count them, but it is hard because other ewes are emerging out of the blizzard from all directions. I struggle to get a decent count, but some are missing, maybe a dozen. I have a decision to make … If I stay here much longer, the quad bike will get stuck in the lane and I might get into all sorts of trouble and might not get back for the other flocks.

Day one showed homes bombed down like
dominoes, cars explode, everything destroyed
in the tank’s forward roll.

Day two showed dismembered torsos, pulps of skin and
shattered bone. Overturned cars were funeral homes,
rubble piles with lives inside became burning pyres.”

Someone must have wanted to insult them. Someone against Shalu? Someone maybe thinks she is not visiting the temple enough, that her children are running too wild. Someone always has something to say. She licks her dry lips. She can almost see a tongue lolling from the skull’s half jaw: thirsting. But the thing is silent, its tongue long gone – swallowed by what she can’t imagine. Its eyes don’t see and yet the sockets are alive; they are buzzing with life.

Related: Sara Baume is readers' nominee for Guardian first book award 2015

Your photograph is the least distinct and your face is the most grisly. I have to bend down to inspect you and as I move, the shadows shift with my bending body and blank out the glass of the jumble shop window, and I see myself instead. I see my head sticking out of your back like a bizarre excrescence. I see my own mangled face peering dolefully from the black.

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