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Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses 2021 longlist announced

The Republic of Consciousness prize has revealed its 2021 longlist, including four small presses appearing on the longlist for the first time. The list features ten books from ten small presses across the U.K. and Ireland. For the first time, all books on the longlist will receive funding from the prize, with each publisher receiving £1,000. A further £10,000 will be split between the shortlisted books, which will be announced in late March, before the winner is named in May. UniReadingLists will be contributing a portion of all sales of our special discounted mix-and-match bundle of the longlist books towards the prize fund.

The four publishers appearing for the first time on a Republic of Consciousness longlist are Ignota Books, Jacaranda Books, Peninsula Press and Scotland Street Press. Two presses on the list have won the prize before, Fitzcarraldo Editions and Galley Beggar Press. Only one author has been previously listed: Alex Pheby for his epic novel Mordew (Galley Beggar Press), who won the prize in 2019 for Lucia, also published by Galley Beggar.

Many congratulations to all the publishers, authors and translators on the longlist.

The full longlist is below, ordered alphabetically by publisher:

A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti, tr. Fionn Petch (Charco Press)
The Appointment by Katharina Volckmer (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
Mordew by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar Press)
Mr. Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press)
Unknown Language by Huw Lemmey and Hildegard von Bingen (Ignota Books)
Lote by Shola von Reinhold (Jacaranda Books)
The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press)
Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman (Peninsula Press)
Alindarka’s Children by Alhierd Bacharevic, tr. Jim Dingley & Petra Reid (Scotland Street Press)
A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press)

You can buy the longlist at a special discounted price here, and a proportion of all sales will go to the Republic of Consciousness prize fund.

The 2021 judging panel consists of Eley Williams, Guy Gunaratne and John Mitchinson. The judging process is 2021 is being studied and supported by students from the MA in Publishing at the University of East Anglia.

Judge John Mitchinson had the following to say about this year’s longlist, and his experience judging the prize:


“I’ve always considered myself pretty well-informed about the independent publishing scene in the UK and Ireland: after all, I’ve worked in the industry in some capacity or other for 33 years, including the last decade as an independent publisher. Judging the Republic of Consciousness Prize has shown me just how superficial my knowledge was. In the eight months of reading, I’ve got through 54 books, from at least as many independent publishers (before I started, I might have been able to name half that number). The quality of the works published has been astonishingly high – as I think the longlist shows – but also the care and skill demonstrated by the books themselves in terms of design, typography, paper quality and binding. It feels very good to be bringing this vibrant subculture to a broader audience. I’d also like to thank my fellow judges, Eley Williams and Guy Gunaratne. It’s a rare pleasure discussing books with such careful and exacting readers: they sent me back to several of the books we discussed with a clearer mind and a deeper understanding. The final list of books is something we all feel very proud to endorse. Should anyone ask about the health of the independent sector in this most difficult of years, that pile of ten very different books offers a complete and definitive answer.”


About the prize
The Republic of Consciousness Prize was founded in 2017 by the novelist Neil Griffiths. Since then it has awarded nearly £50,000 to small presses and their authors. The prize rewards outstanding literary fiction published by small presses based in the UK and Ireland with no more than 5 full-time employees. The prize is open to both novels and single-author short story collections in English, either originally or in translation, as long as it is the first time it has been published in the UK and Ireland.

The majority of the prize fund comes from two sources: the Prize’s partners and sponsors at the University of East Anglia, through the UEA Publishing Project, and new in 2021, an award from The Granta Trust. The rest of the prize money is raised via donations and through an RoC small press book club. The prize also receives the support of Arts Council England.

Previous winners:
2017: Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene
2018: Influx Press for Attrib. and Other Stories by Eley Williams
2019: CB Editions for Murmur by Will Eaves/Galley Beggar Press for Lucia by Alex Pheby
2020: Fitzcarraldo Editions for Animalia by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo, tr. Frank Wynne

THE 2021 LONGLIST IN SHORT

A Musical Offering by Luis Sagasti, tr. Fionn Petch (Charco Press)

This rich and complex book is the second by the Argentinian writer Luis Sagasti to have been published in translation by Charco Press. Like the first, Fireflies, it is unclassifiable in the best possible way, braiding together memoir, history, science, fable, musical criticism, and anthropology in a way that summons the ghosts of both Sebald and Borges but with a poise and originality that is all Sagasti’s own.

The Appointment by Katharina Volckmer (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Subtitled ‘The Story of the Cock’, this is a bravura monologue delivered by a young German woman undergoing an intimate examination in the office of Dr Seligman in London. A savagely funny and audacious novel (think Thomas Bernhard re-written by Patricia Lockwood) in which the kamikaze honesty and the humour eventually build towards something profound and moving.

Mordew by Alex Pheby (Galley Beggar Press)

Mordew reveals a sprawling, mordant vision of a world built on the corpse of God. The novel’s worldbuilding is intricate and superbly rendered – not for nothing has its ambition and rich flair drawn comparison with the work of Mervyn Peake. Pheby’s grim and provocative epic is packed with imagery that startles, sticks, and sinks its teeth into you.

Mr. Beethoven by Paul Griffiths (Henningham Family Press)

A bold conceit written with energy and intellect, Mr. Beethoven considers an icon’s life, and the ways in, which judgement, performance and genius might be played out if fate – or some other engine – had different designs. Griffiths’ novel troubles the notions of historical fact and historical fictions, and is a book about faith as much as power, and about silence as much as music.

Unknown Language by Huw Lemmey and Hildegard von Bingen (Ignota Books)

Unknown Language is a highly textured and intense work of collaboration and vitality. While in part a meditation upon the work of twelfth-century mystic Hildegaard von Bingen, it is also a bold retreatment of her visions through poetic fragment, narrative and hybrid writing. It is difficult to describe, and quite right too – a revelation on revelation.

Lote by Shola von Reinhold (Jacaranda Books)

Shola von Reinhold’s rapturous queer attempt to reaffirm pleasure as the heart of the novel is rich with intrigue and suspense, and possessed of a superbly arch narrative voice. It is also an indictment and a powerful decolonial response to historical and contemporary attempts to curate art and art history within the calcified mould of European conservatism.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey (Peepal Tree Press)

In 1976, off the tiny Carribean island of Black Conch, two American big game fisherman haul a mermaid from the ocean, her huge tail, thick and pulsing, encrusted with shells and seaweed, beautiful but terrifying. The story that unfolds is an exhilarating high-wire act, a masterclass in how ancient myth can be dramatically repurposed.

Men and Apparitions by Lynne Tillman (Peninsula Press)

A wry, searching commentary on our contemporary world scattered across a 38-year-old’s exposition of his own masculinity. Through a series of short essay-like episodes, Tillman turns Zeke’s philosophical musings into genuinely fascinating and funny extended studies on feminism, family history, American pop culture, personal betrayal and heartbreak.

Alindarka’s Children by Alhierd Bacharevic, tr. Jim Dingley & Petra Reid (Scotland
Street Press)

This work of sublime storytelling follows two children, Alicia and Avi, as they attempt to escape an internment camp. A remarkable, boundless tale is reflected in a captivating translation from the Russian into English Received Pronunciation and Belarusian into Scots by Petra Reid and Jim Dingley. An unique, powerfully original work that demands to be read to be believed.

A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann Ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press)

The twin tale of a young 21st century mother and an 18th century Irish noblewoman, Eibhlínn Dubh Ní Chonnaill, who mourned the murder of her husband by drinking his blood and composing the Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire, one of the greatest poems in the Irish language, A Ghost in the Throat moves between past and present with hallucinogenic intensity as the narrator uncovers the details of the dead poet’s life, each revelation deepening her own sense of herself as a writer and a woman.

You can buy titles from the longlist at a special discounted price here. A proportion of all sales will go to the Republic of Consciousness Prize.

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Lucy Nichol’s top 6 (+1) recommended music reads

Thank you to Lucy Nichol for writing this blog post for us! Lucy’s fantastic debut novel The Twenty Seven Club is out now – order from us to receive a copy with a signed bookplate at no extra cost!

She is also the author of A Series of Unfortunate Stereotypes : Naming and Shaming Mental Health Stigmas.

In her blog Lucy discusses some of her favourite music books. We have put together a discounted bundle of her recommended reads, so if you like the sound of them you can mix-and-match and get them at a special discounted price!

Lucy has also put together a playlist of songs to accompany her book choices – perfect listening while you read her blog post.

By Lucy Nichol 

I’ve read quite a few music books over the years – from biographies, memoirs and diaries to music-themed fiction. There’s something magical about getting behind-the-scenes access by your favourite stars from your teenage years. A peak into a world you could previously only dream about. We all have access to our favourite musicians on Twitter and Instagram these days, but nothing captures the nostalgia and the depth of feeling quite like a book. Some are uplifting, some raw and tragic and, some, fictional journeys into similar worlds where anything might happen. 

So, I’ve shared my favourites below in no particular order. I hope you spot something you might like. 

And I Don’t Want To Live This Life by Deborah Spungen 

This is a book by Nancy Spungen’s mother, Deborah, delving into Nancy’s challenging life pre and post Sid Vicious. For those too young to know, when Nancy Spungen died in 1978, there was a huge amount of controversy surrounding her death – namely whether or not she was murdered by her troubled boyfriend, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols. Sadly, her tragic death at such a young age didn’t stop the press headlines tearing her apart – ‘Nancy is a witch’ one famously led with. This book shows the human being – the young girl – behind the media headlines and, even if Deborah might be sharing it with the unconditional love of a mother, we need to strike a balance between the public persona the media feeds us and the life behind it. 

Dead Rock Stars by Guy Mankowski

A wonderful coming-of-age novel that uses a really interesting format to tell the life of the teenage Jeff, as he comes to terms with losing his sister, Emma, a musician who died too young. We hear Jeff’s voice and his musings on life and the family he grew up with, while at the same time delving into the diaries kept by his sister, Emma, before her untimely death. Just as I was trying to do with The Twenty Seven Club, this book takes the ‘another dead rockstar’ headline and takes you behind the narrative to the vulnerability, pain and humanity.   

I Live Inside by Michelle Leon 

As a Babes in Toyland fan this book was really interesting. It was like going on tour with the band and witnessing the squabbles and challenges and car crashes (literally) that they faced. Michelle comes across as the quieter member of the band – the early bass player from 1987–1992 – and you see real vulnerability which, as a young fan I wouldn’t have imagined existed. It’s so refreshing to find that vulnerability in a music memoir and to also get a peek at Michelle’s life before, and after, the band.  

Sonic Youth Slept on My Floor by Dave Haslam 

Dave Haslam has DJ’d at the Hacienda over 450 times, founded record labels and written for many a music title – including his own fanzine, Debris, which he launched back in the mid 80s. Basically, if you want the lowdown on the UK music scene – with a particular focus on Manchester – these pages are where it’s at. The honesty and self-deprecation in this book, is, in my mind, what makes it a really endearing memoir. A great read and one that taught me more about the growth of the music industry than any other book.  

Sing Backwards and Weep by Mark Lanegan 

Raw and uncompromising, this is the memoir of Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees fame and it makes no apologies. You could say addiction is the core theme, or you could start with the pain and trauma – ultimately, it all leads to the same thing. And, given the depths of despair that he manages to escape from, it is a truly hopeful journey for anyone who might be struggling with the relentless and devastating disease of addiction. I have to admit, there were times in this book that I really didn’t like Lanegan, but then you give him those times because you get why he’s had to fight so hard. What this book guarantees is a really interesting read that’s hard to put down.  

Journals by Kurt Cobain

You can pick this book up and keep coming back to it. Packed with pages of Kurt’s lyrics, art, letters, t-shirt designs, diary entries and reflections on fame. In some ways it’s probably the closest we’ll ever get to the man himself, yet another way to look at it is….well, how did you write your diary? Was it who you really were, was it dressed up, played down? Either way, it’s come directly from the pen of Kurt Cobain. It’s fascinating and tragic and poetic and naive and ugly and beautiful all at once. Well worth buying a copy and keeping it – because you’ll always find something new when you dive back in.

and…

My Mad Fat Teenage Diary – Rae Earl

OK, not strictly a music book – but one that brings back heaps of 80s nostalgia for readers old enough to remember. Jason Donovan is on the cover for God’s sake! It’s Rae’s actual, real life diary charting her struggles with mental health, body image and boys – and it’s really, really funny.


Lucy is a writer, mental health campaigner and PR consultant whose work has appeared in The Independent, The I Paper, NME, Red Magazine, Den of Geek, Huff Post and many more. She is also a former columnist with Sarah Millican’s Standard Issue magazine and often interviews guests for the Standard Issue podcast. She is passionate about challenging mental health and particularly addiction stigma, has worked with the media in PR and marketing for over 18 years and has experienced anxiety for even longer.

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Highlights from a Period of Reading Only Women – selected by Stu Hennigan

Many thanks to Stu Hennigan for this list of five excellent books from the past couple of years. There’s a strong mix on the list of fiction and non-fiction, with strong representation of independent publishers – so often the publishers taking the most interesting risks. A flexible, discounted bundle is available of the books recommended in this blog post.

About five years ago, I was going through some of the many books in my house and I realised something was wrong.  Aside from the Brontes and a handful of modern novels by people like Lisa Moore, Amelie Nothomb, Pat Barker and A M Homes, there were very few books by women writers.  It struck me as odd that this should be the case for someone who reads as much as I do, so I made a conscious decision to do something about it and for a couple of years at least I read women writers exclusively, discovering some wonderful books in the process.  These days my reading is more of an even split, but the majority of my favourite writers are women.  With that in mind, here are some of the best books by women writers that I’ve read over the last couple of years.

The Sound Mirror by Heidi James: where better to begin than with the outstanding novel of 2020?  Heidi James is a stratospherically gifted writer and this books is jaw-dropping.  It’s a coruscating look at class, womanhood and belonging, told through the stories of three women from the same family, spanning multiple continents and generations.  It’s visceral, raw, uncompromising stuff, the multiple voices swinging from glacial detachment to desolate, howling rage, and it’s devastatingly sad in places too.  There are some seriously smart ideas about genetics, trauma and lost futures underpinning the narratives as well, once you start to untwist the strands.  As with all her work, there’s much more going on than first appears on the surface, layers and layers of extra details to be found and hidden meanings to be deciphered upon close reading of the text. The prose is typically crisp and clean; she has a wonderful economy of style that doesn’t allow for a single word to be wasted – she makes every one count – and there are some dazzling images to be found throughout.  A brave, brutal and brilliant book from one of the very best writers around – so good I read it twice.

Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe: this is a fabulous novel about the short and tragic life of Bradford playwright Andrea Dunbar, who was most famous for the legendary Rita, Sue and Bob Too.  She tells the story with real warmth, painting a vivid picture of the grinding poverty of life in the grim, working class North of the 70s and 80s.  There are some proper laughs to offset the tears, especially the culture-clash bits when she’s in London with Kay Mellor, and the whole thing is shot through with first-class dialogue and hilarious northern profanity.  It’s little wonder it translated so well to the stage in Lisa Holdsworth’s brilliant adaptation last year.  Ultimately it’s a sad story but it’s beautifully told, and it’s one of the best British novels of recent times for me.

Notes Made While Falling by Jenn Ashworth: Jenn Ashworth has long-since been one of the most talented novelists on the block, but this non-fiction work is the best thing she’s done, for me.  It’s a searingly honest, self-lacerating look at trauma and creativity, explored through a series of dense, interconnected essays.  It’s a tough, challenging, confronting read, beautifully constructed and brilliantly written.  It’s a hugely erudite book too; there’s an awful lot to think about here, and both times I’ve read it I’ve been left pondering it for days.  I came out of it the first time with a follow-up reading list as long as my arm as well, and that’s what only the very best non-fiction does for me. 

Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen: sometimes you can judge a book by its cover.  One look at the effortlessly cool Pop Art cover (reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s classic record Goo) and the casually nihilistic title had me sold on this before I’d read a word of it.  It’s basically a magic realist road-trip of a novel about a girl on the run, coming across as something akin to Hunter S Thompson channelling Carlos Castaneda, or True Romance on acid.  It’s full of sex, drugs and violence in a knowing schlocky and deliberately OTT way but it’s playfully arcane and knowingly esoteric at the same time, with some extremely trippy interludes to boot.  With a banging rave soundtrack ever-present in the background this is one of the freshest things I’ve read for ages and was a real highlight of 2019.

The Years by Annie Ernaux: ostensibly a memoir, this wonderful book – in a fantastic translation by Alison L. Strayer – is in actuality a socio-political history of Europe in the second half of the twentieth century.  What makes this one so special is the experiment with form – the author reimagines the autobiography as a kind of collective memory and the effect is almost miraculous. Over the course of a few books, she elevated memoir writing into a literary art form; her works have been recognised as classics in her native France, and deservedly so.  A must read for anyone with a serious interest in contemporary literature.


Stu Hennigan is a writer, poet and musician living and working in the north of England.  His work has appeared in Lune Journal, Visual Verse and in the anthology The Middle of a Sentence, published by The Common Breath.  He is currently working on a non-fiction book about the shocking levels of poverty and deprivation he encountered in Leeds whilst delivering food parcels during the pandemic.

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Campus Novels I Love by BIPOC Writers – by R. F. Kuang

I am very excited that Rebecca F. Kuang, author of the groundbreaking Poppy War series, has written this post to launch our blog. A bundle is available to buy the books she recommends, at a discount. Thanks for writing our first blog post, Rebecca! – Jimi Cullen, unireadinglists.com.

I’ve been addicted to novels about school life–campus novels, dark academia, whatever you want to call them–for as long as I can remember. I love The Secret History, with all of its characters’ dreary, ominous, narcissistic and myopic self-indulgence. I think David Lodge’s Changing Places, though dated, is hilarious. I devoured Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House before it even came out. I’ve never quite gotten into the “dark academia” aesthetic, however, because it’s always come off as so insufferably white. So too is the campus novel “canon.” A Lithub list of the “20 Best Campus Novels, Ranked,” for example, includes only one book by a writer of color–My Education by Susan Choi. But surely there’s more worth reading about than the white, middle-class college experience. Surely romantic, academic aesthetic does not begin and end with white English majors waxing bad poetry under the moonlight.

Here then is a list of campus novels by BIPOC writers I’ve enjoyed over the past year–some are horror novels, some are ‘dark academia’, some are slice-of-life stories, and some are coming of age tales. They’re all wonderful.

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi

I picked up Transcendent Kingdom last week on the recommendation of a friend working on her master’s in experimental psychology. (It’s great, she texted. I love how she describes working with mice.) It’s excellent on the details of the main character’s research, which strikes me as particularly impressive given that Yaa Gyasi studied English, not neuroscience (her acknowledgments refer to lengthy conversations with a friend in the field), but the novel is more importantly about family, grief, addiction, and depression. It doesn’t romanticize life as a doctoral student, nor does it make it out to be as bleak and hopeless as one might expect. Instead, it’s an honest, truthful, and ultimately optimistic story about our work and the impact it might have on others.

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

The New Yorker called Real Life a “new kind of campus novel,” and it’s precisely the kind of campus novel I would love to see more of. Wallace–a gay, black biochemistry doctoral student–is navigating the trials of graduate life, including a racist and homophobic colleague trying to frame him for misogyny–on the heels of the death of his father. His experiments are failing. His friend group might mor might not be racist. His romantic life is complicated to the extreme. It’s both a unique and universally relatable story; it’s not about a fantasy constructed within the academy, or an imagined beast threatening the naïve lives sheltered within; it is, quite simply, about real life.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

The Tenth Muse is a novel about a lot of things–mathematics, the legacies and traumas of war, family secrets, complicated relationships, and the coming of age tale of a mixed-race protagonist. Large chunks of the novel deal with the main character, mathematically gifted Katherine, as she grows up in the 1950s and enters the world of academia, which was of course even more rife with sexism and racism than it is today. Scenes from Katherine’s time at college and graduate school, mostly dealing with her white, male colleagues, had me on the edge of my seat, anxiety levels spiking on her behalf. Chung’s prose is gorgeous, and the plot is gripping from start to finish; The Tenth Muse manages somehow to be both a deeply compelling story of a single protagonist and a love letter to all of the forgotten or overshadowed women in science and mathematics across history. I loved it.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas

I admit the big sell of Catherine House for me was that it was a dark academia written by a Yalie, and as a Yalie-to-be I can’t get enough of stories about my future home. I hoped for something that might fuel my daydreams of Yale’s Gothic buildings, but Catherine House was something else entirely–it’s dark, foreboding, and it’s never precisely clear what’s going on. That’s intentional. The speculative elements of Catherine House–the experiments, the secrets, and something called plasm–are both fascinating and elusive, but it’s not important that you pin down exactly what they represent. Rather, they evoke a tension all too familiar for anyone who’s been to university likely remembers–do you buy into the campus ideal of insular, happy, well-adjusted, placidity? Are you better off forgetting the outside world? Why would it be so bad to just put a smile on your face and pretend everything is alright?

The Collective by Don Lee

I first encountered Don Lee’s work in an undergraduate class on Asian American literature. We were assigned to read his short story collection Yellow, and I remember being astonished to find, for the first time, literary fiction that addressed many of the same difficult questions that I was constantly mulling over. What does it mean to be Asian American? Does that even make sense as a political category? What are the sexual politics of being Asian American–must we date within our own race, and are we race traitors if we do not? What are our obligations as Asian American creatives, and at what point does our work go from celebrating our heritage to deliberately emphasizing our otherness? When and how do we become caricatures of ourselves? The Collective follows three Asian American artists who meet in college–Eric Cho, Jessica Tsai, and Joshua Yoon–and their creative and personal endeavors thereafter. It’s an insightful, heart-breaking, funny, and for me, resonant examination of figuring out what it means not only to be an Asian in America, but an artist at that.


Rebecca F. Kuang is a Marshall Scholar, Chinese-English translator, and the Astounding Award-winning and Nebula, Locus, and World Fantasy Award nominated author of the Poppy War trilogy. Her work has won the Crawford Award and the Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel. She has an MPhil in Chinese Studies from Cambridge and an MSc in Contemporary Chinese Studies from Oxford; she is now pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures at Yale.