Goldsmiths Prize winner Kevin Barry: award has developed 'serious cachet'

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In a first-person piece, the Beatlebone author says the competition has changed the cultural landscape by rewarding writers who walk the literary cliff-edge.

It is an extravagantly pleasing thing that there is now a literary prize that celebrates and encourages creative daring, but of course it is very difficult to define precisely what creative daring is.

Some mornings it can seem an act of creative daring to step out of the bed. But I suppose it means that the prize seeks out the kind of work that comes freighted heavily with risk, and even with the possibility of failure – I do believe that to get at the truly good stuff, the writer needs to walk along the edge of a cliff, aware of but blithely indifferent to the void beneath. Though as Werner Herzog once pointed out, ignorance can be a surprisingly useful commodity here; he speaks of the ‘confidence of ignorance’ in creative work – it’s much easier to walk along the edge of a cliff if you have no idea you’re doing so at the time. Anyway, that a prize exists to reward those drawn to such wildly uncertain endeavours is fabulous.

Pragmatically, as a reader, the Goldsmiths is the prize that seems most attuned to my own tastes. Maybe not all of the most deserving, most risk-taking books from the last four years have made it onto the shortlists, but a hell of a lot of them have, and I think many of us have come quickly to trust the Goldsmiths as the most reliable guide available – this year’s truly exceptional (and, forgive me, pleasingly Irish) shortlist is very convincing proof of it.

I was of course thrilled to be awarded the prize last year for my novel Beatlebone. It’s a novel that’s concerned with occult properties, and I might have had access to some myself given the almost eerie perfection of the timing – the book was awarded the prize the week after it was published, and I’m sure found its way into many more hands and attracted much more interest and coverage as a result. The award has in just four years developed serious cachet – if there can be such a thing as a venerable infant, the Goldsmiths Prize is it.

The winner of the Goldsmiths Prize 2016 is announced on 9 November. The announcement will be live on the Goldsmiths Twitter account