Blind tasting, sour grapes and a small celebration: Ali Bacon compares literary prizes to wine awards.
|Natalie at Poulton Hill Vineyard
Our guide Natalie, co-manager of the vineyard, gave us a hands-on account of the challenges, not to mention the physical labour, involved in planting, training and harvesting vines in this country. The tour was of course followed by a tasting of their award-winning wines, from bottles bearing medallions from a number of wine competitions. One of our fellow tour members asked if these were earned from 'blind' tasting which Natalie assured us they were, i.e. they were competing against much bigger and longer established producers but removal of labels establishes a level playing field.
So the vineyard trip cemented my belief in 'blind tasting' for writers, but made me realise it's very different for the major book awards, headed for fiction writers by Man Booker, Costa and Women's Prize for fiction. These of course are for published works. There are competitions for unpublished novels but these are usually restricted to unpublished writers and the 'big boys' of the prize world are skewed (because of substantial entry costs) towards big publishers. But it makes you wonder if there would be any difference if these books could somehow be stripped of their covers and prelims and read in manuscript form. But hang on a minute, didn't a jaundiced novelist once submit a Jane Austen novel to a publisher in MS form and have it rejected out of hand? Possibly an extreme case of sour grapes which doesn't really prove anything - except the ignorance of one publisher's reader!
So really, there's not much to compare between novel and a wine vintage when it comes to blind tastings : we can't even decant a little bit of a novel into a tasting glass and see how it goes down - only the full bottle will do! But none of this makes 'blind reading' any less important for the situations where it does occur.
That's one of 40 from a field of over 2,000. Even if I go no farther this is worth the popping of a cork!
Ali Bacon writes historical and contemporary fiction. Learn more at https://alibacon.com