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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

From Gimpy Street & the Treaty Tree to Piccadilly & the Bodleian – Caine Prize Shortlistees Interviews

Yesterday, at the end of story tour of Woodstock, which included a pit stop at the Treaty Tree near notorious Gimpy Street, I was leaving the Greatmore Gallery when I bumped into my uncle, the artist, who I haven’t seen for months. We were both visiting the brilliant Great Walk and More art festival. ‘I heard you on the BBC, last week,’ he said. Smiling! His obvious delight surprised me more than the fact he had heard the World Service interview (I wondered who on earth would). This uncle is family legend because in his youth he looked better than a film star and was a gifted, award-winning artist, however, due to his anti-government art, he was forced to leave Apartheid SA and went to find warmth in Canada. There was little to be found there other than snow, drink, disillusion and burnt out Christmas trees (yes, as a family legend, stories of his life and fabulous eccentricities filtered down to us, and I never forgot as a child, one yuletide hearing that he, in a statement against the happy season, had decorated his cabin with a charred and starless tree). I have seldom seen him smile, but he seemed thrilled to have heard his niece on the BBC, and even commented on how he enjoyed the echo in the Cape Castle. How amazing, I thought, somebody actually heard the interview, and what’s more liked the echo. I wasn’t convinced the sounds could be effective or make a jot of difference when Nancy Richards, who did the interview for the BBC, said we should choose places with interesting sounds for this radio interview. Nancy was right, the sounds do make a difference, and that’s lovely. Radio is so cool, in its invisibleness it has some of the same magic as reading.

On Wednesday the five writers shortlisted for this years’ Caine Prize are off to London. We’re staying together in Piccadilly, and will be reading at the Travel Bookshop, the London Literature Festival and a few other places, before the award dinner in Oxford (with a pre-dinner tour of the extraordinary Bodleian Library).

BBC World Service has run a series of interviews with this year’s shortlisted writers – the interviews are all here, along with links to the shortlisted stories


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