The Judges said:
This marvel of a book has found a form for all of us.
A portrait of contemporary Britain told through the testimonies of its inhabitants.
Between October 2018 and March 2021, Will Ashon collected voices – people talking about their lives, needs, dreams, loves, hopes and fears. He used a range of methods including letters sent to random addresses, hitchhiking, referrals from strangers and so on. The resulting testimonies tell the collective story of what it feels like to be alive in a particular time and place – here and now.
Published by Faber & Faber
Will Ashon is the author of two novels and two works of non-fiction, Strange Labyrinth and Chamber Music: About the Wu-Tang (in 36 Pieces). Ashon also founded the independent record label Big Dada, which he ran for over 15 years. He lives in London.
A Brief Q&A with Will Ashon
At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?
I think I became interested in writing in my late teens, but I’m not sure I was ever interested in becoming “a writer” – I’m still embarrassed to say it now. I like the writing part more than the identity/career part, to be honest.
What was your favourite childhood book?
The Pirates’ Tale by Janet Aitchison and Jill McDonald. Aitchison was five and a half when she wrote the text and sent it to Puffin Post. The great Jill McDonald came across it and decided to illustrate it. It has the most bracingly matter-of-fact death scenes in the whole of English literature. (Not that I’ve read the whole of English literature…).
Which is your favourite book of recent years?
The single most impressive thing I’ve read in the last few years was Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson. At the other end of the scale in terms of length, I also loved Olga Ravn’s The Employees, which is probably the book I’ve bought for the most people over the last few years.
What three books would you take to your Desert Island?
Argh, I know this is only a theoretical question but the anxiety of choice is real. I’d definitely take Georges Perec, Life: A User’s Manual, but after that I’d have to spend the weeks and months leading up to my marooning agonising over the rest of the selection. And I’d be so busy doing that, I’d forget to pack a penknife or matches.
What is your ‘if you don’t like this, you can’t be my friend’ book?
I don’t think you should fall out with people over books, only politics, so I’ll reverse the polarity and say if you do like the books of Ayn Rand then you can’t be my friend. Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
Who or what have been your most important influences?
I’m not sure I’m self-aware enough to answer this question. In terms of writing, I was very influenced by Georges Perec’s lifelong attempt to try to create as many different forms of text as possible. And hip hop culture has probably done as much to shape my outlook and attitude towards art, broadly conceived, as anything else.
Which of the other Rathbones Folio Prize shortlisted titles are you most excited to read?
There’s so much good stuff here. Obviously Margo Jefferson is a must, I’m really looking forward to Darren McGarvey’s book, Yomi Ṣode’s Manorism looks right up my street, I have Zaffar Kunial and Daisy Hildyard in a pile somewhere, and I’ve been wanting to read Pure Colour by Sheila Heti since it came out. The conceit of Scary Monsters sounds like my sort of thing, as well. That’s about half of the list already… shame I’m such a terribly slow reader.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be doing?
I used to run a record label, so maybe I’d still be doing something in the music business. I’d like to think I might even have found time to be doing something socially useful, but nothing in my history suggests that would be the case…