Granta's decennial young British writers list set for 2013 Edinburgh Book Festival events

This article is from 2013

Granta best of young British writers

Hannah McGill finds Granta's ones-to-watch line-up much-influenced by their predecessors

For the last 30 years literary journal and leading champion of new writing, Granta, has published a list of writers to watch, with such literary giants as Salman Rushdie, Monica Aliand Martin Amis making the cut. With the latest line-up recently revealed – and special events at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival on the horizon – Hannah McGill finds this year’s elect much-influenced by their predecessors.

Each decade since 1983 literary magazine, Granta, has published a list of the twenty British novelists under the age of 40 who they believe will do great things in the future. This year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival will celebrate the great and good of these lists, examining the legacies left behind.

While Granta’s line-ups are undoubtedly subjective, and swayed by prevailing fashions, the list does have an impressive hit rate for identifying names for the ages. Indeed since the first list in 1983, the addition of the likes of Salman Rushdie, Monica Ali and Ian McEwan, suggests that the writers picked for 2013 are surely ones to watch, with the talents of this year’s line-up, such as Sunjeev Sahota, Adam Thirlwell, Joanna Kavenna, Steven Hall, Tahmima Anam, Jenni Fagan, and Helen Oyeyemi, already causing a stir far beyond the page.

Sunjeev Sahota one of this year’s elect, has revealed that previous Granta listee Rushdie has been a massive influence on his work: Midnight’s Children was the first novel that Sahota, an eighteen-year-old maths student ever read. ‘It’s a very complex, ebulliently written book,’ Sahota has said. ‘What kept me turning the pages was the sense of a world of stories – of being immersed into someone’s mind.’

Elsewhere Steven Hall, another writer featured on the 2013 list, has been just as influenced by Rushdie, albeit for different reasons – a fact perhaps not so obvious to fans of his sharp, tricksy, consummately modern 2007 debut The Raw Shark Texts, published by Edinburgh’s Canongate. A work of redoubtable and unapologetic scale, Midnight’s Children has become important to Hall, partly for structural reasons, as he works on a second book he fondly describes as ‘a monster’. ‘Reading Midnight’s Children has been a breath of fresh air for me,’ explains Hall, ‘not least because there seems to be a preoccupation with short, tidy, fast storytelling out there at the moment. I’ve fallen in love with epics – glorious sweeping stories that roam far and wide with unpredictable episodes, mid-novel character introductions and deaths, and multi-chapter side-wanderings.

Hall continues, ‘Midnight’s Children takes its huge, magical, magnificent time, with no desire to pull itself so tight between plot points that you can see its machinery poking through. It’s a wonderful book. It makes me feel like I can breathe – and like the novel isn’t going to collapse into a 140 character singularity anytime soon.'

Others from the class of 2013 have specific relationships with previous Granta listees. Joanna Kavenna, whose most recent novel is 2012’s Come to the Edge, has cited 2003 inclusion David Mitchell, not just for his own direct influence, but – appropriately for a novelist known for his intricate multi-strand plots – for the literary web of which he forms part of his narrative. Elsewhere.

Helen Oyeyemi, who has Nigerian parentage, finds a kindred spirit in Lancashire’s Jeanette Winterson, from 1993’s list; both draw on and reframe fairytale and myth.

For Jenni Fagan, Livingston-born author of the highly-praised 2012 debut The Panopticon, three Scottish writers – Iain Banks, listed in 1993; Alan Warner from 2003; and A.L. Kennedy, on the list both years and a judge in 2013 – have particular significance. ‘I saw A.L. Kennedy read when I was about nineteen and thought she was formidably talented. I’ve followed her work ever since and it has never let me down; she is hilarious, sharp and uncomfortably intelligent,’ says Fagan.

She adds: ‘Alan Warner read at the Tabernacle in West London when I lived there, and he recommended I send some poems to [Scottish journal] Gutter. His generosity as a writer isn’t just in his books – but you find that spirit in them, each and every one.' As for the late and much-mourned Banks, Fagan just finished his final novel, The Quarry, and praises it as 'clear, compelling and easy to read while encompassing every element that makes extraordinary writing. I am glad he left such a huge body of work to enjoy and study for many years to come.’

All Granta events will be held at Charlotte Square Gardens, 0845 3735888, Sun 10–Thu 15 Aug. See side panel for details.