‘There are bad men outside who want to come in, and Mammy has said not to answer the door. From behind the big chair, Tomos waits, trying to make himself small and quiet. He doesn’t think it’s Santa Claus this time.‘
Today writer Sara Gethin joins me with a very open and honest post about her fantastic achievement of reaching the shortlist for the Not The Booker Prize
Sara’s novel Not Thomas is a book about a young five year old boy called Tomos. Described as “Heart-wrenching, captivating and beautiful” by Irish best-selling author Caroline Busher, Sara now awaits to see what a certain ‘major reviewer’ will think.
Read on to find out more…
Not Thomas & Not the Booker:
How do you force a major reviewer to read your novel?
by Sara Gethin
It’s a question every writer ponders at least once in their career. And the answer is: you can’t – unless…
This is my story about that ‘unless’.
It begins with a surprise. At the end of July and out of the blue a lovely book blogger, Anne Williams, nominated my novel, ‘Not Thomas’, for the Guardian’s Not the Booker prize. The British national newspaper has been running this competition for nine years, alongside the actual Man Booker prize. Books have to meet the same criteria for both awards, but there’s one major difference – winning the Booker is worth £50,000, while winning the Not the Booker gets you a Guardian mug.
Still the guaranteed publicity is reward in itself, so I was delighted by the opportunity.
The longlist consisted of a variety of authors – from major-prize-winners to unknowns like me.
‘Not Thomas’ is my first novel for adults. It’s about child neglect and hope. The central character is Tomos, who’s constantly referred to as ‘Thomas’ by his English social worker. He’s been sent to live with Mammy, his neglectful teenage mother, but he longs to return to his beloved foster parents, Nanno and Dat.
One reviewer said it should be written on plastic paper so the reader’s tears wouldn’t spoil the print.
But it’s also been called ‘ultimately uplifting’. And it has an odd quirk – it’s written from Tomos’s five-year-old point of view, from start to finish.
Some reviewers have been kind enough to compare it with Emma Donoghue’s wonderful ‘Room’.
When ‘Not Thomas’ was published in June, my tiny women-only Welsh publisher, Honno, decided to employ a free-lance PR, Liz, to promote it for a few months. She tried to interest the London newspapers and felt the Guardian reviewer would like it – if only he’d read it.
A novel about child neglect set in Wales, though, is a hard sell. Time and time again, Liz apologised to me for failing to get ‘Not Thomas’ through the English barricades. I told her: “If they don’t want to read it, we can’t make them.”
But being on the longlist for the Not the Booker gave me a chance to force Sam Jordison, of the Guardian book club, to read it.
If ‘Not Thomas’ made it through to the next round, he’d have no choice in the matter – all I had to do was get Not T onto the shortlist of five. Easy!
But easy it most certainly was not.
The shortlist was decided by public vote. To ensure it’s a fair process, voters had to choose two books from different publishers, out of the 192 titles on the long longlist, and write a hundred-word review about one of their chosen books.
There was one week only to rally votes, so I began as soon my name appeared on the longlist. I knew I could rely on five Honno authors for their support. Their votes, along with those of the small Honno committee, would give me ten in the bag. By my reckoning, I’d need at least another fifty.
So I put out a message on Facebook and Twitter asking people who’d read ‘Not Thomas’ and liked it if they’d please consider voting for it. I asked if they’d share my posts too, and help me get Tomos across the Severn Bridge and beyond.
The response was overwhelming – in every way.
Immediately people began promising votes. Two local book clubs that had read Not T voted, then encouraged others to read it and vote too if they liked it. Some book bloggers who’d been part of a ‘Not Thomas’ blog tour did the same. A group of teachers from a school where lots of the staff had read it encouraged their colleagues to vote. And, most touching of all, people from my small town of Kidwelly rallied round making sure that everyone who’d read the book knew I needed their vote.
Put into the mix my friends and family, and we had a formidable army. The common cause of getting Tomos out of Wales and beyond had really struck a chord. I was thoroughly exhausted as the deadline for voting approached. The very last vote for ‘Not Thomas’ came from my lovely niece, Freya, at 23.58. At midnight, I went to bed and crashed.
At lunchtime the next day, I was still asleep when my neighbour rang – we had done it. ‘Not Thomas’ had not only made it onto the shortlist, but had topped the table with 87 votes.
Our massive team effort had paid off. Tomos had actually crossed that Severn Bridge and was just starting his big new adventure.
And best of all, Sam from the Guardian had no choice now but to read ‘Not Thomas’.
Biography – Sara Gethin
Sara Gethin is the pen name of Wendy White. She grew up in Llanelli, an industrial town in west Wales, and studied theology and philosophy at Lampeter, the most bijoux of universities.
Her working life has revolved around children – she’s been a childminder, an assistant in a children’s library and a primary school teacher. She also writes children’s books as Wendy White, and the first of these, ‘Welsh Cakes and Custard’, won the Tir nan-Og Award in 2014.
Her own children are grown up now, and while home is still west Wales, she has swapped industrial living for a small town with a large castle. She and her husband enjoy travelling to Ireland, and spend much of their free time in Dublin.
‘Not Thomas’ is her first novel for adults.
For more information:
Website & Blog: www.saragethin.com
Amazon author page: www.amazon.co.uk/Sara-Gethin/e/B01N80LC5M
Purchase Links :
Not Thomas (Amazon)
Not Thomas (Honno Press)
What a lovely guest post. I have this book to read after seeing so many great reviews.
It’s a novel that slipped under the radar for me Nicola. Thank you so much. I agree..it’s lovely to read about the behind-the-scenes work involved in getting the votes…
Thank you, Nicola!
Lovely guest post from Sara – I had no idea what I was starting when I made that initial nomination, but I’m just delighted that Not Thomas is getting the recognition it richly deserves…
Well done Anne…you made something very special happen. Xx
Thank you so much for nominating Not Thomas, Anne – you are proof of what a huge difference book bloggers can make to a writer’s life!
As with last year, I am reading the Not the Booker shortlist. Last year I was a tad underwhelmed by the books that made it through. I’ve just finished Not Thomas and if it is indicative of this year’s standard I am going to enjoy the next few weeks. Sara writes with empathy and compassion but also practicality. It brought to mind Kit de Waal’s My Name Is Leon, but hits even harder. Good to read such an honest post about the Not the Booker process.
I have only read one book on this years list Jackie. I have read & loved My Name is Leon previously, so I do hope to read Not Thomas, but I just could not get there for this week!! Thank you so much for you feedback for Sara’s book. Best of luck with finishing the five nominees. xx
I’m going to sneak in here, Jackie, and say thank you so much for your lovely comments. To compare my Not Thomas with the fantastic My Name is Leon is wonderful!
I’m sure you’ll enjoy the rest of the books on the shortlist too – I’m reading both The Threat Level Remains Severe & Dark Chapter at the moment. They’re very good.
Enjoy following the competition!
Thank you so much, Mairead, for featuring Not Thomas & me on your guest post today – a real honour!
All the best with your wonderful blog.
Sara thank you. Xxx
llongyfarchiadau! I hope that’s right and not a swear word (blame Google)!! So delighted for your success and how cool is it that Anne nominated you?! Blogger power! Maybe we don’t need big name publishers or major reviewers to get noticed after all 😉
Are you cursing on my site Missy Gaughan Thank you much for your fab feedback…I loove blogger power
Diolch yn fawr, Evie (a big thank you!) and you got the Welsh for congrats spot on! Anne is just amazing – I’m so grateful to her, as I’m sure are a lot of other writers.
And Mairead is doing a wonderful job in Ireland and beyond too – I can’t get over the number of shares this post has had on twitter! I’m so delighted that Swirl & Thread featured Not Thomas today.
Hope all’s going well with you, Evie (I love following your blog too!)
*blushing* Thanks Sara. Xx
I think Sara might be giving the wrong impression about why many of us voted for Not Thomas. I am delighted that our joint efforts got it through to the short list, but we voted for it because it’s an absolutely brilliant book and it ought to win any prizes going.
How fabulous!! Such wonderful words for any author to hear…
Thank you, Thorne. It was very touching to hear from people who said they’d really taken little Tomos to their heart. And the reviews readers posted on the Not the Booker page were so lovely. They certainly did what Sam of the Guardian asked – they showed they cared.
As a fellow Honno author who voted for Not Tomas (and would again for any other award) I voted because this is a brilliant book. I also think it should go on to be a TV drama… or better still a film. Should have won!!
Judith thank you so much for taking the time to comment. Not Thomas is clearly an incredible read with all the wonderful feedback it receives. I really appreciate your words..
No problem. It is indeed an incredible read.
Thank you so much, Judith! xx
Well, you know what I think, Sara. Shouting from the rooftops!! x