Come and chat to award-winning author Jim Crace about Booker-shortlisted HARVEST and his previous novels, date tbc

(65 Posts)

Award-winning novelist Jim Crace announced last year that his latest book, HARVEST, would also be his last. And it is all about a way of life that has been lost forever. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013, HARVEST is a bewitching, semi-mythological tale set in a landscape that is never named, but appears to be rural England at the time of the Enclosures. Traditional relationships between man and nature, and the relationships within the feudal village, are coming to an end. The arrival of three strangers (and the subsequent fire at the manor house on the same night) leads to suspicion, violence and fear.

The sparse yet lyrical prose has a unique style– as Boyd Tonkin put it: 'Inimitably excellent, Jim Crace stands on his own ground among living English novelists'. Tightly structured and meticulously written, HARVEST is an outstanding finale to a truly brilliant career.

For more detail on Jim Crace’s fiction, short stories, radio plays and journalism, go to his extensive website – you’ll also find Jim’s Books of the Year 2013 recommendations.

Macmillan have 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters – to claim yours go to the book of the month page. We’ll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you’re not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that Jim will be joining us and answering questions about HARVEST, his writing career and all his previous novels and will let you know when we have confirmed a webchat date (most likely the first week in April). ??So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month, pop up any advance questions and we will see you all here in April.

TreeSticksWine Sat 05-Apr-14 21:25:06

I know I am too late to post any questions for Jim Crace but nevertheless I wouldn't have had much more to say than thank you for Quarantine and Being Dead - among my favourite books of all time. Odd, thought-provoking and haunting enough to stay with me for many years.

hackmum Thu 03-Apr-14 19:05:28

I somehow managed to miss this, but Jim Crace comes across as a really lovely person.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 01-Apr-14 22:31:22

Congratulations to frogletsmum who has won copies of the next 3 bookclub books. We'll be in touch by PM to organise distribution of your prize.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:59:30

RachelMumsnet

I think that pretty much wraps things up.

Thank you to everyone who posted their thoughts and questions and reviewed the book this month.

Jim, thank you so much for taking time out of your evening to join us and providing such thoughtful and interesting answers. We're truly delighted to hear that there is another novel in you...poverty, tourism and love - perhaps Love on the Beach part 2 ? We want to read it already! Do join us again when it's out.

In the meantime enjoy a well earned break and spending precious time with your grandson and family.

AND MAY YOUR CHILDREN FLOURISH, EVERY ONE OF THEM.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:58:25

I'm aware that I might have ignored some of your questions or missed some of your opinions. No rudeness intended. if I had an eight-year old sitting next to me at the computer I would be more efficient and confident, but taking part in these wonderful threads (though I've done it before) always make me appear more clumsy, more pious and less cheerful than I really am. The truth is I hardly ever hold literary conversations with friends or family (and never with neighbours!). My world of writing feels like a private, secretive place, so indulgent and self-serving that I should not impose it on any body else. But I'm an Englishman and like most Englishmen live in a frenzy of politeness. I'll answer any question asked, even if I find it embarrassing, because I know that people's curiosity is only evidence of their interest and kindness. So I thank you all for your interest and kindness, and for the slight boost in income that your purchase of Harvest has caused.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 01-Apr-14 21:54:23

I think that pretty much wraps things up.

Thank you to everyone who posted their thoughts and questions and reviewed the book this month.

Jim, thank you so much for taking time out of your evening to join us and providing such thoughtful and interesting answers. We're truly delighted to hear that there is another novel in you...poverty, tourism and love - perhaps Love on the Beach part 2 ? We want to read it already! Do join us again when it's out.

In the meantime enjoy a well earned break and spending precious time with your grandson and family.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:49:33

Calypso2

Hi Jim, Congratulations on the nomination for Booker Shortlist. Do awards like this mean a lot to you? I imagine it must have lead a lot more people to read your work (I was interested that you said earlier that you just have a small loyal following).

Hi Calypso. (Good Shakespearean name, that.) I won't even pretend that prizes and shortlisting don't matter to me. Harvest was shortlisted for four awards and, although I was the bridesmaid every time, all the attention benefitted sales tremendously. But winning prizes doesn't make writing the next book any easier or any harder. It just earns you bookshop space and persuades a greater number of people to splash out on your writing. How else can readers choose from such a bewildering choice of beautifully produced, well written new novels?

But, to be honest, you can't think about these things all the time. That way madness. You simply have to enjoy the company of your book while you're writing it and then leave the rest to chance.

Calypso2 Tue 01-Apr-14 21:39:18

Hi Jim, Congratulations on the nomination for Booker Shortlist. Do awards like this mean a lot to you? I imagine it must have lead a lot more people to read your work (I was interested that you said earlier that you just have a small loyal following).

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:38:30

sparkysparkysparky

Question for Jim: I was struck by the absence of the Church (capital C). Did your research reassure you that you could keep its direct influence on land and people out of the narrative? Did you consider having clerical power in the story ?

I don't want to come over all preachy again, Sparky Thrice, but my village is intended to be pre-Capitalist, so that when the less benign agents of the ruling class, represented by Edmund Jordan, seize the land, they do so with the Church amongst their cohorts. Just like in History!

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:32:47

hackmum

Another question.

At times the book feels like a dark moral fable, but it also deals with a real historical event - the enclosures. It really conveys the extent to which ordinary people were at the mercy of the whims of individual landowners. I wondered what had drawn you to that subject, what historical reading you'd done and whether there are any books you'd recommend to others?

What drew me to that subject matter, hackmum, was the many walks I have taken in the West Midlands through fields that are etched with the ancient ridge and furrow of pre-enclosure ploughing. On the one hand those landscapes are beautiful, on the other they are records of a cruel dispossession. That kind of conflict was fascinating for me and rich grounds for a novel.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:28:33

Justwokenup

Hi Jim, I'm new to Mumsnet bookclub but was lucky enough to win a copy of your book this month. Like others I hadn't read any of your previous books and wasn't sure what to expect but I was transfixed. The vivid descriptions have stayed with me for a long time. Like many others I was interested in the ambiguity of the setting and particularly the era and language which feels antiquated yet modern at the same time. I'm interested to hear you suggest shakespearean times as I'd envisaged the setting to be later -maybe because of references to the plague. Do you consider yourself to be a historical writer? And do you read much historical fiction/non-fiction? What are your thoughts on Hilary Mantel?

Hi justwokenup.
I love Hilary Mantel and have been a fan since her early novels. She sets the Gold Standard in literary historical novels. But I do not try to emulate her or to match the depth of her historical knowledge. She holds up a mirror to a real place in a real time, I just make stuff up. My skills, such as they are, are more traditional and more in the oral tradition. I'm a fabulist rather than a realist.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:24:40

Babelange

This is the first book by Jim Crace I have read; what a tremendous read it is! But perhaps I missed this book because of the lurid book cover and the Stephen King-esque title.

Unfortunately, many of the reviews here or elsewhere will contain plot spoilers and I would recommend that anyone reads it without finding out too much about the story - you need to read it in all its appalling ?real-time? tragedy. It is not an easy read at all ? another reviewer commented on the similarities in tension between Crace?s book and Cormac Mccarthy?s book ?The Road? which I felt too.

What struck me too was the pervasive sense of loss ? Walter is widowed and the absence of the master?s wife, Lucy Kent (who is also dead long before the novel takes place), is palpable. Her death, although relatively distant in time, becomes a catalyst for the events which unfold. So rather than being a novel with the central motif of abundance and bounty as the title would suggest; it is really about loss, barrenness and a terrible crime (or strictly speaking a series of crimes).

My questions for Jim are;
If you could be truly objective about your work, which one of your novels pleased you the most and if readers enjoyed this book, which would you recommend they read next? (I fancy ?Quarantine?).

Did you set out to debunk ?romantic? notions of the countryside or was it the social injustice during this period which interested you the most?

Finally; are you a town or country mouse?

Am I a town or a country mouse? Good question, Babelange. I was bought up in North London, mostly in Enfield, where our ground floor flat on the Pilgrim estate was pretty much the last building of the city before the Green Belt started. I loved living in that hinterland, neither quite belonging to one or the other. Now, after forty years of living near the centre of Birmingham my wife and I have moved into a semi-rural cottage; the Midland conurbation starts across the lane from us, but behind us, beyond the garden, is mile upon mile of open countryside. It feels like my childhood once again.

What should you read next? Well, I am always reluctant to recommend my own books. Can I suggest you take pot-luck in your local bookstore? See which cover grabs you. But don't confuse me with John Crace or Robert Crais.

Justwokenup Tue 01-Apr-14 21:23:04

Hi Jim, I'm new to Mumsnet bookclub but was lucky enough to win a copy of your book this month. Like others I hadn't read any of your previous books and wasn't sure what to expect but I was transfixed. The vivid descriptions have stayed with me for a long time. Like many others I was interested in the ambiguity of the setting and particularly the era and language which feels antiquated yet modern at the same time. I'm interested to hear you suggest shakespearean times as I'd envisaged the setting to be later -maybe because of references to the plague. Do you consider yourself to be a historical writer? And do you read much historical fiction/non-fiction? What are your thoughts on Hilary Mantel?

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:15:36

katiebasey

I really enjoyed the book, not normally my type of read..just goes to show... My question to you is how do you get your ideas for writing each book.. do they suddenly come to you in a flash.. Would love to write a book about my husbands grandparents... they led such a good life, his grandad being one of 18 children , most of the boys being miners ,living in Cumbria... photo enclosed...

Go for it, Katie. If you think you have a novel in you, don't be one of those people who never start writing it, or start writing it but fail to finish it, or finish it but fail to send it off. And don't worry about where your ideas will come from. Narrative is ancient and it is wise and it is generous. Just sit down and start writing and you will be surprised what starts to appear on your page, almost as if your imagination has been hijacked by an outsider. It's a thrilling experience. Having that black and white photograph in your hands will also prove to be a rich source of inspiration. Look at the inconsequential detail in the photograph as well as the faces and see what springs to mind.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 21:08:25

RachelMumsnet

Great to see Jim has joined us already! Welcome Jim - and congratulations on recently becoming a grandpa and how wonderful to hear you take your grandfatherly duties so seriously - If you're forced to nip off on babysitting duties at any time during the hour we do understand.

Congratulations also on a wonderful novel. So many mumsnetters have said that it isn't a novel they would normally have picked up but were startled by the beautiful prose and haunting, gripping storyline. We couldn't be more pleased to hear this may not be your last novel after all.

Can I put to you our two standard questions we ask all bookclub authors:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

I'll leave you know to continue answering the questions.

Thanks for the invitation to join you all this evening. I'm loving being a grandpa, of course, though I'm surprised how tiring a day of child care can be. Was it is this tiring when I had toddlers of my own? Part of our especial problem is that our cottage has a well, a cellar, low beams and many many steps within the house. It's a home more designed for classic British horror movies than child care.

The childhood book that most inspired me was Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. I still love it, especially those parts where Robinson swims back to the wreck to salvage tools and provisions for his years of isolation.

My advice to fiction writers? Three things. Be ambitious (Readers prefer blemished work that takes risks to perfect works that set their sights low); be incautious at first and prepared to write badly (then you can make corrections and improvements at your leisure); don't imagine that reading makes you an interesting writer - what you need is a big subject matter not a huge library. Oh yes, and keep your manuscript to yourself until it's finished. Your friends, your husbands and your cousins will lie to you, and their opinions don't count anyway.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 20:57:42

hackmum

I really loved this book. I hadn't read any Jim Crace before so I didn't know what to expect. I thought it was beautifully written and incredibly powerful.

I'm sure Jim won't answer this, but I'd love to know roughly when it's supposed to be set - the critics were all at sea on this!

I was also very interested in (and horrified by) the description of the pillory. From the description in the book it sounded more as if the men were being crucified than put in a pillory. Is that right, or have I misunderstood?

I will answer your question, hackmum, though the answer will be a bit vague and pretentious. If I was cornered and threatened with a beating unless I revealed when and where Harvest was set, I'd say Shakespeare's Forest of Arden in the late Tudor period. You may remember that the forest shows up in many of Shakespeare's plays. It was familiar to his Warwickshire boyhood (just down the road from where I now live) but WS lets it stand for ancient Rome and Greece and the fantastic world of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's a real place, real enough to appear on maps, but it's also a dreamscape.

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 01-Apr-14 20:51:02

Great to see Jim has joined us already! Welcome Jim - and congratulations on recently becoming a grandpa and how wonderful to hear you take your grandfatherly duties so seriously - If you're forced to nip off on babysitting duties at any time during the hour we do understand.

Congratulations also on a wonderful novel. So many mumsnetters have said that it isn't a novel they would normally have picked up but were startled by the beautiful prose and haunting, gripping storyline. We couldn't be more pleased to hear this may not be your last novel after all.

Can I put to you our two standard questions we ask all bookclub authors:

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

I'll leave you know to continue answering the questions.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 20:49:52

No, you're not in the minority, cavylover. Most people don't like my odd novels. Many readers find them too unembarrassedly serious, too rhythmic in style, too preacherly and moralistic, and not short enough. I understand. I don't mind. We all have different appetites and tastes. I have a small pool of fans - but I have been fortunate in having a small pool of fans in many countries, especially the States. So my career has only been a success because I have a loyal group of niche readers who want to buy and read anything I write. If I wanted a huge readership and a large fortune, I'd write different books with a wider appeal.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 20:43:11

I'm popping down to the end of the thread to try and answer some of the earlier comments.

I was interested that alialiath found the cover design and colour a bit rich, along with several other readers and her cat! But I have to say the cover has worked in my favour in the bookshops. readers who go into a store or visit Amazon with a particular title already in mind don't really care about the cover. But the impulse buyers do. What you want is a cover design that makes the casual browser pick the book up and turn the first few pages. It may be more dignified to have discreet, understated covers but they don't "shift units", to use the trade jargon. A good come-on title helps, too. One of the foreign editions of my baldy titled novel Being Dead retitled the book (quite accurately) Love on the Beach. It sold bucket-loads. (That's all anyone needs to know about the publishing industry.)

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 20:36:09

Frogletsmum is being very kind. And she seems to be suggesting a sequel to Harvest. I must say the thought has crossed my mind. But then all my novels seem to end on an open note, requiring the reader to wonder what happens next. I don't like to tie all the knots. I like the narrative to open out rather than close. It's my way of giving the books an afterlife - and giving the readers a part to play too.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 20:31:44

I'm back, full of coffee - and I've sneaked in half of the episode which we recorded of last night's final Silk. I'm a Martha Costello fan. Her attraction is her cleverness and her courage and her fighting spirit, not just her looks. Good looks help, of course, but don't count for much after five minutes. That's why my female characters are usually overweight or underweight or shaven bald or unusually hefty. I want them to be judged by standards other than those dished up by Hollywood. They make good companions, too. for me in my study when I am writing the novels.

There are some regular soapbox themes running through my work, Madam BatShit. I think that's the political puritan in me. Writing books without a message would feel like a selfish indulgence, so I can't stop myself coming over all preacherly. Basically I'm a Bleeding-Heart Socialist with an optimistic view of humankind but I don't much value the kind of optimism found in trouble-free lives. The optimism that counts is the sort that has been through the mill, the has been dragged through the darkest of places, yet still feels bright about the world.

frogletsmum Tue 01-Apr-14 20:22:28

Jim, this is the first of your books that I've read, and I absolutely loved it for the atmosphere and the sheer beauty of the writing, as well your portrayal of a community and a way of life that's so different to ours today. But I really wanted to ask you about the ending, which feels very open. Most of the characters survive and move on and I had so many questions about them - does Walter find Kitty Gosse again, what happens to the villagers, is Master Kent really colluding with Master Jordan, and so on! Do you prefer to leave the endings of your novels open so that your readers can make up their own conclusions, and would you ever be tempted to go back and write about these characters again?
Thank you for a wonderful novel, and I hope that idea keeps nagging at you until you write a new one!

MadamBatShit Tue 01-Apr-14 19:55:48

Ah, you are here already! Glad to see that you may not have retired after all as I would be interested in reading more. We'll see..

I am pleased to read your first answers.. I was wondering about the time of Harvest but saw it as a parabel for modern times as much as something historical, like about the clearances.

The same sort of thinking applies to the Pesthouse? Would you call these soapbox thought running themes in your work?

I am looking forward to reading Quarantaine, haven't done that yet.
How does the life of Christ fit in these thoughts about poverty and destiny? What would be the right word.. not destiny.. fate?

ProfYaffle Tue 01-Apr-14 19:52:29

I loved the fact that it wasn't tied to a particular place or year. As you say, it makes it more about the issues rather than the accuracy.

JimCrace Tue 01-Apr-14 19:38:51

I'm not sure that I'm adding to this thread in quite the right way or employing the proper protocols. But I'm going to try to answer every question before my time is up. However, I'm now nipping downstairs for my last coffee of the day. My answers will become caffeine-fuelled.

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