Judges for the 15th Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction announced

Lord Martin Rees to chair the Prize.

The judges for the 15th annual Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction have been announced. Chaired by Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal, the panel includes Director of Liberty Shami Chakrabarti, Professor of Classics Mary Beard, author and editor James McConnachie and Professor of Contemporary British History and former journalist Peter Hennessy.

Rees who calls this his “dream team” has said: “I'm delighted and honoured to be chairing such a distinguished panel in the year of the fifteenth anniversary of the UK’s premier non-fiction prize.”

The panel will produce a shortlist in October and announce the winner of the £20,000 award on 4th November.

Won by Into the Silence by Wade Davis last year, the prize has previously been awarded to among others Stalingrad by Antony Beevor, 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro and Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick.

Deadline for the competition is 28 June 2013. Publishers may submit up to three books with publication dates between 10 November 2012 and 31 December 2013. More information can be found here.

Dr Johnson. Photo by Rischgitz/Getty Images.
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Radio as shelter: Grenfell Tower was too frightening to look at

No song seemed to fit the mood on Hayes FM.

“Amidst all this horror, I hope to bring you some light relief. Here’s James Taylor.” Two days after the Grenfell Tower fire, a popular community station a little west of the incident was uncertain what note to strike.

The repeated ads for alarms detecting carbon-monoxide leaks (“this silent killer”) and tips on how to prevent house fires (“Don’t overwhelm your sockets and cause a spark”) sounded perhaps a little overassertive, but then the one for a day-long course focusing on resisting gender stereotyping (“Change the narrative”) felt somewhat out of place. And no song seemed to fit. James Taylor’s “Shower the People” turned out OK, but the Cranberries’ “The Icicle Melts” was unceremoniously faded out mid-flow.

This does often happen on Hayes FM, though. There are times when the playlist is patently restless, embodying that hopeless sensation when you can’t settle and are going through tracks like an unplugged bath – Kate Bush too cringey, T-Rex too camp – everything reminding you of some terrible holiday a couple of years ago. Instead, more ads. Watch your salt intake. Giving up smoking might be a good idea. Further fire safety. (“Attach too many appliances and it could cause an overload and that could cause a fire. Fire kills.”)

Then a weather report during which nobody could quite bring themselves to state the obvious: that the sky was glorious. A bell of blue glass. The morning of the fire – the building still ablaze – I had found three 15-year-old boys, pupils at a Latimer Road school that stayed closed that day because of the chaos, sitting in their uniforms on a bench on the mooring where I live, along the towpath from the tower.

They were listening to the perpetual soft jangle of talk radio as it reported on the situation. “Why the radio?” I asked them, the sight of young people not focused on visuals clearly unusual. “It’s too frightening to look at!” they reasoned.

Radio as shelter. As they listened, one of them turned over in his hand a fragment of the tower’s cladding that he must have picked up in the street on the way over – a sticky-charcoaled hack of sponge, which clung like an insect to his fingers whenever he tried to drop it. 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

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