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The Goldsmiths Prize 2015 shortlist

A debut novel invoking Ted Hughes’s Crow joins an all-male shortlist for the influential award for innovative fiction.

A slim debut novel about a bereaved Ted Hughes scholar visited by Hughes’s poetic creation Crow has been shortlisted for the 2015 Goldsmiths Prize for “fiction at its most novel”. Grief is the Thing with Feathers, described by Eimear McBride as a beautifully rendered and deeply moving meditation on bereavement, love and life in its aftermath, is the first book by Max Porter, an editor at Granta who previously worked as a bookseller. (Erica Wagner's review for the New Statesman is here.)

It is joined on the list by five other novels (listed below), including Tom McCarthy's Satin Island, also shortlisted for this years Man Booker Prize, and the forthcoming Beatlebone by the IMPAC-winning Irish writer Kevin Barry. In marked contrast to previous years (both previous prizes were won by women), this years shortlist is all-male.

The Goldsmiths Prize was founded by Goldsmiths University with the New Statesman in 2013 to to reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel for. The first prize was won by Eimear McBride for her novel A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, which had taken a decade to find a publisher. McBride went on to win the Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction and has a second novel coming out with Faber and Faber next year. Ali Smith, who won the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize for How to be Both, recently told the Bookseller that the award had changed the industry

The change it’s made is that publishers, who never take risks in anything, are taking risks on works which are much more experimental than they would’ve two years ago. That to me, is like a miracle. And that’s the Goldsmiths Prize. The prize has already its two years running changed the industry. That’s what it took, for Goldsmiths to launch a prize which was novel about the novel and understood the novel form.

The judges for the 2015 prize are Eimear McBride; Jon McGregor, the award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Unremarkable ThingsLeo 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 is chairing the panel.

The winner of the £10,000 award will be announced at a ceremony on 11 November 2015 at Foyles Bookshop in Charing Cross Road, London. The winner will appear at the Cambridge Literary Festival, in association with the New Statesman, on 29 November.

The Goldsmiths Prize 2015 shortlist

Beatlebone by Kevin Barry
In the second novel from the Irish author of the IMPAC-winning City of Bohane, John Lennon wants to visit his island off the west coast of Ireland – but events conspire against him. The judges described it as “stylistically adventurous and utterly inimitable”.

Acts of the Assassins by Richard Beard
Beard’s sixth novel leads the reader on a hunt for the body of Jesus, telescoping time so that smartphones and shepherds collide. “This novel,” the judges said, “takes a circular saw to received ideas about belief, fate, will and storytelling.”

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The author of Remainder and the Booker-shortlisted C returns with a novel that comprises the uneasy reflections of U, a corporate anthropologist. It “draws humour from the driest material” and “manages to be beautiful”, too.

The Field of the Cloth of Gold by Magnus Mills
The eighth novel from the author of The Restraint of Beasts is a fable, written with “brutally deadpan humour” and set in a camp in a great field. Mills “appears to be no less than a prophet of our own history”.

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter
This slim debut is set in a quiet flat in London, where two little boys are left motherless, and their Ted Hughes scholar father bereft. Then Hughes’s creation, Crow, arrives. It is “that rarest of birds, the truly poetic novel”.

Lurid and Cute by Adam Thirlwell
Thirlwell has twice been named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. His third novel, featuring a dead body and a spree of armed robberies, is “a brilliantly sustained stylistic tour de force” and “horrifyingly funny”.

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.