Prize-winner and judge Eimear McBride.
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Eimear McBride announced as judge for the 2015 Goldsmiths Prize

McBride joins Jon McGregor, Josh Cohen and Leo Robson to judge the annual prize for innovative fiction.

Eimear McBride, whose debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing won the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize, has been announced as a judge for the 2015 prize. She is joined by Jon McGregor, the award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Unremarkable Things; Leo Robson, the New Statesman’s lead fiction reviewer; and Josh Cohen, Professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths and author of The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark, who will chair the panel.

The Goldsmiths Prize, which rewards “fiction at its most novel”, was launched by Goldsmiths, University of London, and the New Statesman in 2013. McBride – whose uncompromising, stream-of-consciousness novel was rejected by all the major UK publishers before it was eventually picked up by the independent imprint Galley Beggar Press – went on to sweep the board, winning everything from the Desmond Elliot Prize to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Last year the prize, established to “celebrate the qualities of creative daring associated with the University and to reward fiction that breaks the mould or opens up new possibilities for the novel form”, was awarded to Ali Smith for How to be Both, a book that – in the words of the chair of judges Francis Spufford – “confirms that formal innovation is completely compatible with pleasure – that it can be, in fact, a renewal of the writer's compact with the reader to delight and astonish.”

The Goldsmiths Prize is making a dent the literary landscape. At an event at the Cambridge Literary Festival last year McBride revealed that her unexpected success had prompted several editors to return to submissions that they believed had substantial literary merit, but were deemed too difficult to market and unlikely to sell. Of winning the prize, she said: “After many years in the literary wilderness, receiving the inaugural Goldsmiths Prize, with the kind of work it was established to support, felt rather like a surprise invitation home.” Ali Smith described it as “about the thing closest to your heart if you work with the novel as a form”.

The shortlist will be announced on 1 October and the winner on 11 November.

Goldsmiths University are hosting a series of free events linked to the prize:

28 January 2015: Ali Smith
25 February 2015: Adam Thirlwell
11 March 2015: Will Self

Tom Gatti is Culture Editor of the New Statesman. He previously edited the Saturday Review section of the Times, and can be found on Twitter as @tom_gatti.


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On the trail of Keith Jarrett's melodies

Lose focus for a second and you can quickly drop the thread of Jarrett's complex improvisational techniques.

“So, this is a piano,” said Keith Jarrett, sitting down at the one that had been placed centre stage for him in the Royal Festival Hall on 20 November. Blowing on his hands to warm them, he acted as if he had never encountered such an instrument before, raising a chuckle from the hundreds of fans who had turned out to see the man in the flesh. For 40 years, Jarrett has been giving concerts like this – alone with the piano, playing his improvised music to a room full of rapt devotees. Notoriously grumpy – and now as well known for his tirades against cameras and coughing audience members as for his early days playing with Miles Davis – he has an almost eerie focus onstage, relieving the tension only very occasionally with his barbed observations about the excellence of the instrument, or the shuffling in the auditorium.

Jarrett gave us a series of short pieces, each rendering separate and distinctive musical ideas. He began with an intricately woven flash of notes in both hands, criss-crossing the melodies that were by turns dark and haunting, or light and dancing. At particularly complex moments, when his arms were crossed over and the notes were flowing from his fingers faster than anyone could imagine them into existence, he leaned his ear down towards the keys, as if physical closeness could help his ideas more swiftly become sound.

A couple of folk-inflected ballads followed; heart-achingly sweet melodies picked out above rumbling, sour arpeggios. Like Glenn Gould, the Canadian pianist best known for his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Jarrett can’t help adding vocalisations as he plays, which are all the more evident in his quieter compositions. He rose and fell from his stool; we heard his guiding hum along with the melody, as well as the odd strangled shout, yelp and grunt. He might insist on absolute silence from the audience but his own noises seem completely uninhibited as the music spins around him.

Although notorious for his curmudgeonly attitude to his fans, Jarrett was mostly restrained in this outing, allowing himself just one short, sweary outburst about killing a “f***ing camera”. At the age of 70 and with the power to sell out his concerts in just a few hours, you do wonder how much of the persona is genuine and how much of it is just giving the audience what it expects. A case in point came near the end, when he yielded to clamouring and gave a surprisingly simple and straightforward rendition of “Danny Boy”, an encore that long-time fans know well.

Given that this recital was under the auspices of the London Jazz Festival, there was surprisingly little in Jarrett’s programme that could easily be identified as jazz. One piece, full of brisk rhythms and chunky chords, gradually revealed itself to be based on a modified 12-bar blues structure and another had haunting overtones surely pulled from the classic American songs of the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this musical ghosting becomes a major preoccupation when you see Jarrett live. It is too easy to distract yourself in trying to follow the auditory trail he has laid for you – was that a bit of Debussy, or Bach, or Glass just then? – and lose the thread of what he plays next. The improvisational technique might have more in common with jazz but now, 40 years on from his bestselling live recording The Köln Concert, it’s difficult to characterise Jarrett’s output as anything other than contemporary classical music.

If it needs a classification, that is. At one point, I became convinced that a particular piece was a Jarrett riff on Beethoven’s Bagatelle No 25 in A Minor – or Für Elise, as it is more commonly known. I was sure it was all there: the extended opening trill, the rising arpeggios in the left hand, the melody cascading from treble to bass and back again. Except, by the time I surfaced from my musing, there was no trace of Beethoven to be heard. A clashing, almost violent melody was dangling over a long drone in the bass. If you try too hard to pin down Jarrett’s music, it moves on without you.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State