Many years ago, the forces of nature who are Anne Perry and Jared Shurin created a prize called the Kitschies. You can read about it here. It is an award for speculative fiction (and what even is ‘speculative’? What is genre?!) that looks to celebrate the most entertaining, progressive and intelligent writing it can find.
In these very carefully chosen criteria, the Kitschies does a number of wonderful things. Firstly, the broad scope of its remit allows it to run the full gamut of genre from Ann Leckie to Yoko Ogawa; to have a shortlist contain books of poetry, such as Anne Carson’s Red Doc to zombie-YA such as Grasshopper Jungle. It pushes as the boundaries of things we think we like, and genres we think we know, to try its very best to blow our minds, celebrating the sheer scale of books out there to love.
It’s also got this word – progressive. What is progressive? Is it a way of writing, a style, an idea, a mode of storytelling? Is it challenging your expectations, doing something you’ve never seen before, or honestly telling a tale whose core is looking to a future, to a new way of thinking about culture or identity? I’ve been a judge three times and I still don’t even know – in my experience, when you look at a Kitschies shortlist, it’s been all of the above and everything more.
Each winner is awarded a tentacle, hand-made by Anne. The Gold Tentacle for debut fiction; the Red for books by already published authors. The Inky Tentacle goes to fantastic cover art, and the Black Tentacle is awarded, sometimes, at the discretion of Anne and Jared for something they felt deserved recognition, but didn’t necessarily fit the remit of the Kitschies award.
In 2020, the Gold Tentacle was awarded to Jelly by Clare Rees, a fantastic YA about life lived, of course, on top of an enormous jellyfish. Part adventure story, part coming of age, it was one of the most entertaining, unexpected books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, and I’m never going to look at the ocean the same way ever again.
The Red Tentacle was awarded to The Fire Starters, by Jan Carson, a phenomenally skilled book that managed to weave the fantastical and the mundane into a tapestry of life, capturing parenthood, sectarianism and magic all in the same breath.
Every book on the shortlist could have won – it was an absolute pisser picking out a winner. I’ll put the shortlists below, and I heartily recommend you go read them!
However, this blog post is not just about the Kitschies, but also about the Glentacle. It stands, I hope, in place of the speech I wasn’t able to give when we had the virtual award ceremony on April 6th.
A few years ago, Glen Mehn and Leila Abu El Hawa started running the Kitschies. I first met Glen at the Kitschies award proper, where he wore a wizard cape and adopted the attitude that anything could be done, because you just did it. When not reading, writing and being a general book-wizard, he spent a large part of his time thinking about technology and the future, writing reports for the U.N., telling very bad puns and informing people that their self-doubt was idiotic and they needed to get over that and deal with being the awesome people they clearly were. His greatest superpower was informing people that they were now going to do a thing – and that thing then happening. I’ve tried this trick on others and haven’t quite got the knack of it, but it was one of the many reasons I wound up a Kitschies judge again in 2019-20.
In 2018 he was diagnosed with a rare cancer. He was very sensibly of the attitude that running away from reality was dumb, that death was boring and living was great, so he demanded that the world carry on as normal. We played obscure games, ate noodles and ranted about lights, on which topic he had innumerable opinions, being an ex-LD – and mixed electrical standards. In spring 2019 he died, having spent significant time telling people that if they had a bad word to say about the NHS, they’d have to get through his wrath first.
To honour him and all he did, the Black Tentacle was renamed the Glentacle – bad puns being the theme of the symposium. It is awarded at Jared and Anne’s discretion, and in 2020 it was given to me, Nazia Khatun and Leila Abu El Hawa. All of us have been involved in the Kitschies for years, and through it have had the privilege of knowing Glen, and being part of his universe. None of us knew we were considered for the Glentacle, which is probably why at least two of us were far too busy crying floods of tears to actually say anything coherent on the night. Sorry about that.
We spend our lives living, and only a tiny, tiny fraction of them dying. Life is awesome. There was dinner and inappropriately healthy ‘cake’, (he didn’t understand icing) and games and books and arguments about what colour to paint a kitchen and building shelves and bickering about lights and strange concoctions produced from Tupperware. People leave themselves in your lives in a thousand different ways – not just in memory, but in how your brain is wired and who you are. Glen would be, I think, insufferably smug to know the difference he made to my life, and pleased, I hope, to live on not in pictures or words – but in a great big tentacle.
Which is to say, in every way and for every part: thank you.
The Kitschies Shortlists 2020 – go read them all!
The Gold Tentacle (for debut):
Jelly by Clare Rees (Chicken House Books)
My Name Is Monster by Katie Hale (Canongate)
She Would Be King by Wayétu Moore (Pushkin Press)
The Ten Thousand Doors Of January by Alix E. Harrow (Orbit)
Wilder Girls by Rory Power (Pan Macmillan)
The Red Tentacle:
Always North by Vicki Jarrett (Unsung Stories)
From The Wreck by Jane Rawson (Picador)
The Fire Starters by Jan Carson (Doubleday)
The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (Vintage)
This is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El Mohtar & Max Gladstone (Jo Fletcher Books)
The Inky Tentacle (for cover design):
Across The Void, Cover by Ceara Elliot
The Heavens, Cover by Leo Nickolls
Zed, Cover by Peter Adlington
This Is How You Lose The Time War, Cover by Greg Stadnyk
The Memory Police, Cover by Tyler Comrie