York bookshop worker makes the Booker Prize shortlist – for novel she wrote on her phone

13 Sep 2017 @ 8.19 pm
| Entertainment

She wrote much of her novel on her phone, and sells her own book in the York shop where she works.

Now Fiona Mozley is rubbing shoulders with the likes of Paul Auster and Ali Smith on the shortlist for one of the world’s greatest book awards – the Man Booker Prize.

Fiona, 29, began writing her debut novel on her phone on the train from York to London, when she was living in the capital and working as an intern for a literary agent.

It began because she realised she “missed the landscape of home.”

That book became Elmet, described by Booker judges as “timeless in its epic mixture of violence and love”.

‘Delighted, overwhelmed, shocked, happy’

Fiona with her book in the Little Apple Bookshop

Fiona was not allowed to tell anyone that she had made the shortlist for the £50,000 prize, after finding out last week.

Booker shortlist

Paul Auster, 4321

Emily Fridlund, History Of Wolves

Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

Fiona Mozley, Elmet

George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo

Ali Smith, Autumn

The novel tells the story of a father and his two children who build a home for themselves in a copse in South Yorkshire.

The family are living on margins of society – with the father a bare-knuckle boxer – who builds the house and then comes into conflict with the landowners.

Now she is selling signed copies of the book during her part-time job at the Little Apple Bookshop on High Petergate.

“I’m absolutely delighted, overwhelmed, shocked, happy,” Fiona told BBC Radio 5 Live today. The first people she told were her partner Megan and her mum and dad.

Elmet is positioned on the Little Apple counter, “like when supermarkets put chocolate right next to the till,” she said.

“Unfortunately I’m still not very good at pointing it out to people.”

Nevertheless, “the book has been doing very well for the shop. We had a lot of publicity because of the longlist – it’s gone straight to the top of the Little Apple bestsellers chart!”

‘Completely new’

‘Timeless in its epic mixture of violence and love’ – Elmet

Since the longlist was announced, Elmet’s publisher, JM Originals, printed 13,000 copies but with the shortlist announcement it decided to make an additional 15,000.

Normally, titles on the JM Originals list have a print run of just 1,500.

Although too shy to push the book herself she said her colleagues at the shop had been singing its praises.

Fiona, who is also studying for a PhD in medieval studies at the University of York, said she wasn’t about to hand in her notice to the Little Apple.

“I’m going to stay working here. I really like my job. I work here one or two days a week.

“I think it’s important for writers to do other things. You need to meet people and experience life, so I have no plans to quit.”

One of the 2017 Man Booker judges, Lila Azam Zanganeh, told Radio 5 Live that innovation was a crucial criteria. “It was remarkable that she managed to write something completely new about displacement, about marginalisation, about the world as it is today.”

Massive relief

Kept her writing secret… Fiona. Photograph: John Murray

Tim Curtis and Phillipa Morris are co-owners of the Little Apple Bookshop.

“I knew that Fiona had written a book and that it was to be published in November by John Murray,” Tim told YorkMix. I had no idea what it was about: she kept her cards quite close to her chest on that one.”

He said both he and Phillipa read proof copies pre-publication.

“My first reaction was one of massive relief: it is always a bit dangerous reading anything written by someone you know in case you don’t like it.

“With Fiona’s book, both of us were captivated right from the start. The book was very assured: it certainly didn’t read like a first novel. It was also a bit of an unexpected page-turner and we both consumed it very quickly.

“Our main hope was that we could somehow get a few other people to read it too. Obviously, this hasn’t turned out to be a problem!”

He said they were thrilled with the Booker news. “I’d hoped that maybe the book might get nominated for a First Author award, so the Booker news was way beyond our wildest expectations, but also thoroughly deserved.

“I’d thought it was odd when, out of the blue, she asked if she could do a photo-shoot with The Daily Mail in our shop. That’s not normal staff behaviour. Even then, I still hadn’t quite grasped the enormity of the situation.”