Books interview: Katy Shaw

The author of Crunch Lit on Enid Blyton, the miners' strike, 'Marmite' books and her Pisa Pile of books waiting to be read

January 7, 2016
Katy Shaw, Leeds Beckett University

What books did you love most as a child?
My favourite books growing up were by Enid Blyton, The Faraway Tree in particular, and anything by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Their book Heard It in the Playground was my first and best introduction to poetry.

Are any of the works you consider in your new book ‘Crunch Lit’ a worthy successor to Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Way We Live Now’?
I don’t consider any work “better” than any other per se; they are all very different – the product of different times, contexts and cultures – and respond to the changed circumstances of readers at the point of their publication. I personally prefer the 21st-century “crunch lit” novels because their tensions (and, for some, their shortcomings) reveal a lot about our society as well as about the state-of-the-nation novel in the early teens of the new century. The fact that we keep tackling the state of the nation primarily through the novel form is of more interest to me.

Which non-fiction titles on the economic crisis have you found most interesting?
Paul Mason’s Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future is ostensibly not about the crash, but it uses 2008 as a starting point to think about the many tensions within and failures of capitalism, as well as potential pathways forward. Published seven years after the credit crunch, it offers timely reflections on lessons we should draw from the financial crisis, but also asks us to rethink it as an alarm bell signalling the end of the evolution of capitalism today.

You have written about cultural representations of the 1984-85 miners’ strike. Have you a favourite work of fiction on that subject?
I love David Peace’s GB84 because it’s a real Marmite book – I know people who have read and re-read it many times, and others who struggled with it so much they threw it at the wall. It succeeds for me in offering a many-voiced fictional account of the conflict, one informed by meticulous research and present across a variety of forms within the novel.

What is the last book you gave as a gift?
The last two books I gave as gifts were NW by Zadie Smith, because I’ve been chasing down anyone who is yet to read it and making them engage with such an important novel, and The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, because it’s been the season. If you haven’t read it yet, then you’ve missed out on a gorgeous classic.

What books are you currently reading – or are on your desk waiting to be read?
I always have what I call my Pisa Pile – a towering column of books on my bedside table that will one day topple on me. At the moment it contains the latest Robert Galbraith novel, Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways (which I have read many times already), Andrew Rawnsley’s Servants of the People: The Inside Story of New Labour, and Boldface, a poetry collection by my Leeds Beckett colleague Nasser Hussain. I need to do either some major restructuring work – or some reading!

Katy Shaw is principal lecturer in contemporary literature, Leeds Beckett University, and author of Crunch Lit (Bloomsbury).

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