Wed 01 Jan, 2018

Listen to Man Booker-shortlisted author Jim Crace on National Prison Radio

Man Booker-shortlisted author Jim Crace has been telling National Prison Radio about how his book Harvest is about how we can grow to resent people who are different.

It’s being featured on January’s edition of Books Unlocked – a unique partnership which brings great literature into prison.

People can listen to book readings on the televisions in the cells at 11pm every day of the week. A different title is featured each month. Copies are sent to every listener who writes in and asks for one.

The project is supported by the National Literacy Trust and the Booker Prize Foundation.

Harvest tells the story of the arrival of a group of strangers in a remote English village. It’s set at a time when common land was being seized and claimed as property by wealthy landowners.

Jim Crace spoke to NPR’s Peter on the magazine show, Prime Time, about how the story came about.

“I’d walk the dog along a place called the River Cole near the centre of Birmingham. There were some fields at the side, and in those fields were beautiful ridges and furrows, which had been there for centuries, ever since they were last ploughed.

“But the only reason they were there because someone had seized that land to raise sheep on it, and so the plough marks had stayed because it had never been ploughed again. And I thought: ‘Well, that’s beautiful to look at, but actually it gives an ugly image of what happens in history – that those people had been turned off their land.’ And this stealing of land by the rich from the poor – it goes on today.

“But as I wrote the book, another theme started bubbling through, and that was how everyone fears newcomers. That when things are going well, you don’t mind people from outside your own village coming to your village, but as soon as things start going badly, you start resenting them. And of course, living in Birmingham, a multi-cultural place, that’s a theme I’ve always been interested in.

Jim admitted to NPR, that despite being a Booker Prize-shortlisted author, he’s far from being a bookworm.

“I’m not a big reader. And I’m not one of these people who say unless you read, you’re a lost soul.

“But what I do know from what I’ve read during my life is that a book can be a fantastic companion. It doesn’t have to be a work of fiction – it could be something like an atlas.

“You can sit on your own, in a room, and you can look at that atlas and see a map of Brazil, or India or some small island in the South Seas, and because we’re human beings, our imaginations can take us there, and we can lose our solitude for a while.

“And I think the same is true of when you read a novel. You can’t go back to the year 1600, you can’t go back to the age of Shakespeare, but the novel can, and the novel can take you there.

“I think the important thing is that if you do want companionship, then read a book.”