Edinburgh Local

How To Read a Novel

An online course offers an insight into some of the books and authors shortlisted for this year’s James Tait Black Prizes, the UK’s longest -running literary awards.

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A free online course on ‘How To Read a Novel’ is being run in conjunction with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. 

The course is to help book lovers get the most out of their reading. It is for anyone who enjoys reading and no qualifications or experience are needed. The four week course will give readers the tools to appreciate works of fiction, and examine what makes a good novel. Participants will find out how a novel is woven together, and learn more about plot, characterisation, dialogue and setting.  

The course starts on 23 July 2018. You can register in advance at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/how-to-read-a-novel/1

The James Tait Black Prizes were founded in 1919 by Janet Coats to commemorate her late husband's love of good books. The two prizes, each of £10,000, are the only awards of their kind to be presented by a university. They have an international reputation for recognising excellence in biography and fiction published during the preceding 12 months. 

2018 shortlist

The four novels competing for this year’s £10,000 fiction prize range from a contemporary ghost story through to an imagined second Civil War in America and are: 

  • American War by Omar El Akkad, (Picador)
  • White Tears by Hari Kunzru, (Hamish Hamilton)
  • First Love by Gwendoline Riley (Granta)
  • Attrib by Eley Williams (Influx Press).

The four books competing for the £10,000 biography prize include stories of the lives of HRH Princess Margaret, Muhammad Ali and Joseph Conrad, and a memoir of a tragic family holiday.  They are:

  • The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard (Harvill Secker)
  •  Ma’am Darling by Craig Brown (4th Estate)
  • Ali, A Life by Jonathan Eig (Simon & Schuster) 
  • The Dawn Watch, Joseph Conrad in a Global World by Maya Jasanoff (William Collins).

Judging the prizes

The unique scholarly judging process involves University of Edinburgh staff in what is the oldest English Literature department in the world, assisted bypostgraduate students. 

Previous recipients of the fiction prize include literary giants such as D H Lawrence, E M Forster, Muriel Spark and Graham Greene and, more recently, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith.

Biography prizes have recently included Janet Brown's account of Charles Darwin and Peter Ackroyd’s Life of Thomas More.  Their works join those of Lytton Strachey, John Buchan and Antonia Fraser as leading examples of the genre.

The prize-giving ceremony

In recent years, the prizes have been awarded at a public event chaired by broadcaster and journalist Sally Magnusson during the Edinburgh International Book Festival each August.

This year’s ceremony will take place on Saturday 18 August.  Tickets for the event, where Sally Magnusson chairs a discussion of the books in the presence of some of those shortlisted, are on sale from 26 June at https://www.edbookfest.co.uk/the-festival/whats-on/james-tait-black-memorial-prize-2018  Two associated events on ‘How To Read a Novel’ will also feature at the Book Festival.  

James Tait Black Prize for Drama

The James Tait Black Prize for Drama was introduced in 2012 by the University to complement the Prizes for Fiction and Biography.  It is awarded annually for the best original play written in English, Scots or Gaelic and first performed by a professional company in the previous year. 

The winner of the Drama Prize is announced at a public event at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre during the August festivals at which extracts of the shortlisted plays are performed as rehearsed readings.


More information

The James Tait Black Prizes

Online course: How to Read a Novel 

Edinburgh International Book Festival

School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures