Ned Beauman: Granta Best of Young British Novelists
We sat down with Ned Beauman, the youngest author on Granta's once-a-decade Best of Young British Novelists list and chatted about inclusion, his work and the international appeal of 'coke rap'
On 15 April last month hordes of writers, journalists, publishers and agents squeezed into the British Council building in anticipation of an announcement. Once a decade, beginning in 1983, Grantas reveal its list of the 20 best British novelists under the age of 40. The list is known for its prescience in identifying writers who will dominate the British literary landscape in years to come. As evidence, see the past inclusion of Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iain Banks, Monica Ali... the list goes on.
This year the list was immediately noteworthy for featuring a majority of female writers and for the international breadth of the selection, pushing against any sort of narrow definition of Britishness. The youngest author, at 28 years old, was Ned Beauman, author of last year’s roundly celebrated The Teleportation Accident. We caught up with him mere days after the announcement, although my own excitement was tempered by the fact he had known for ages: “I found out on the 9th of January – long, long ago.”
"A gay Burmese drug chemist being a huge coke rap fan is no more ridiculous than a public school-educated British novelist being a huge coke rap fan" – Ned Beauman
Asked about the mania that has surely engulfed him since the announcement, Beauman says: “Yes, between Granta and the hardback publications of The Teleportation Accident in the US and Germany, I have 14 readings in a month-long period. Then again, there are 20 of us on the list, so there's not too much pressure on any individual author.” At the moment it does seem like this new wave of young authors are a collective, moving as one and in smaller factions over the next few months, giving readings and discussing the work that has gotten them included.
Alongside the list, Granta also produces an accompanying book. Best of Young British Novelists 4 features a short new piece of writing from all the authors involved. In Beauman’s case, the story entitled Glow is an extract from a forthcoming novel of the same name. He tells me, “the story is in fact a flashback explaining the background of one of the characters from Glow, which is otherwise set mostly in London. The advantage of giving Granta a flashback, rather than an excerpt from the main plot, was that it has a beginning, middle and end, like a short story. I suppose out of its context it functions as a story about a doomed love triangle, but in the novel it's there to explain a few things that we've been wondering about earlier in the book. Also, there's a fun sense in which, when a flashback is first published earlier than the rest of the book, it's almost as if it really did happen chronologically earlier.”
In tone Glow seems more serious than past work, which Beauman is candid about, describing it as “a more sincere book than either of my first two.” Upon reading, this feels completely natural, like Beauman is exercising different aspects of the same voice readers have enjoyed already. The story’s protagonist, Win, is instantly likeable as a Burmese drug chemist involved with his seedy boss and new American lover and occasionally throwing out lines of gangsta rap. There are shades of Everything Is Illuminated's Alex in this, except his character does not misappropriate the culture for comic effect; he gets the lines from Ghostface Killah just right. “Well, a gay Burmese drug chemist being a huge coke rap fan is no more ridiculous than a public school-educated British novelist being a huge coke rap fan. In fact, it's considerably less ridiculous, because, as Win muses in the story, he pretty much leads the life those rappers are describing, except in a tropical climate.” Indeed.
Read Ryan's other article: Interview - Granta Best Young British Novelist Jenni Fagan.