21 April 2015

James Hannah longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2015

James Hannah (centre), with his editor Jane Lawson and agent Sue ArmstrongJames Hannah (centre), with his editor Jane Lawson and agent Sue Armstrong
by Wei Ming Kam

A former student on our creative writing courses, James Hannah has been causing quite a fuss lately. Even before his debut novel’s release, he and The A-Z of You and Me were gathering a lot of press excitement, with both the Observer and The Huffington Post highlighting him and Autumn 2011 Novel-Writing Course classmate Kate Hamer on their lists of debut fiction to watch for in 2015.

The A-Z of You and Me is about Ivo, a man who is gradually dying in a hospice, and who’s playing a mental game suggested by his nurse Sheila to take his mind off things. For every letter in the alphabet, he has to name a part of his body and think of a story about it, and from this game Ivo remembers his life and how it led to his current situation.

Since its launch over a month ago, there’s been a blog tour and a shower of glowing reviews, with the latest cherry on top being the longlisting of The A-Z of You and Me for the prestigious Desmond Elliott Prize for the best first novel. (Fellow ex-CBC student Jessie Burton is also listed for her debut The Miniaturist.) The inaugural prize was in fact won by one of Curtis Brown Creative’s tutors, Nikita Lalwani, for her novel Gifted, so you could say we have a history with the prize. The judges called The A-Z of You and Me ‘a novel of universal resonance’, something that a lot of reviewers have agreed with enthusiastically.

Patricia Nicol said it was ‘a life-enhancing missive from death’s door’ in The Sunday Times, and raved that Hannah’s book was ‘an accomplished, deeply affecting debut, deserving of its Desmond Elliott prize longlisting and comparisons with Chris Cleave and David Nicholls. Like them, Hannah writes with emotional acuity.’

The Guardian’s Ian Sansom observed that it was ‘clearly about those hoary old perennials love and death, in the same mode as, say, David NichollsOne Day.’ Not too shabby a book to be compared to, and, like One Day, which left a trail of sobbing readers in its wake, it seems many people have cried while reading The A-Z of You and Me.

‘Absolutely bloody heartrending… Hannah’s eccentric style is never mawkish and often wonderfully funny,’ said The Times, while one of the Stylist team reflected that ‘as The A-Z of You and Me drew to a close (with me sobbing), I thought about how kind people can be. How hard, beautiful and frustrating life can be. And how we should make the effort to engage with it fully.’ If we list every single review that says something similar, we’ll end up sounding like an advert for Kleenex, so we’ll just leave it with Grazia, who told its readers to ‘expect tears.’ You’ve been warned.

In the lead up to being longlisted for the Desmond Elliot prize, Stylist magazine pitted James’s debut against another first novel – Jesse Armstrong’s Love, Sex and Other Foreign Policy Goals – in their regular Book Wars feature. Armstrong’s long TV writing career – including shows such as Peep Show, The Thick of It and Fresh Meat – made this an interesting contest. James’s book came out swinging, however, and the Stylist team crowned The A-Z of You and Me the winner, saying ‘the Book Wars desk was feeling reflective – ready to contemplate life and love… Hannah’s debut was the perfect prescription.’ We knew James Hannah was a champion.

James Hannah’s The A-Z of You and Me is out now.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our selective three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.

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