Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction Judges Q&A: Grace Dent

Posted on 25th March 2015 by Rob Chilver
We continue our interviews with the Baileys Prize for Women's Fiction judges. Today Grace Dent discusses how reading for the prize has reduced her stress levels and the responsibility she feels towards female authors.

How have you found the experience of reading women’s fiction back to back for the past few months?

When I said yes to judging the Baileys prize, I envisioned spending Winter lying on a sofa reading at leisure. The reality of the schedule was a little more hardcore.  I began to feel a massive responsibility to all these brilliant women authors. Rejecting hundreds of brilliant but not potentially ‘winning’ novels has been tough. 

What’s it been like having to read so many books in such a short space of time? 

I’m grateful for the Baileys prize for making me put reading back as a life priority. I’ve started opening my eyes at 6am and reaching for a novel first rather than my iPhone. And reading instead of watching TV on an evening, and reading on the Tube instead of checking Twitter. It’s cut my stress levels, definitely. 

Have there been any surprises in the books that you’ve read? OR Have there been any surprises along the way?

I found one book that I believed to be the winner, after about 1 week of reading. Obviously that’s just my opinion and we’ve got a long way to go. But I was shocked how confident and passionate about its success I felt.

Have you noticed any particular themes coming through in the books that you’ve read?

Dystopian amazonian futures, awful mothers, dementia and the horror of war. Not a lot of laughs, now I come to think of it. 

Have you always loved reading?

Yes. Ever since the days of The Magic Faraway Tree and My Naughty Little Sister

Was there one particular book that gave you the reading bug?

I remember getting hold of a very tattered copy of that rather sexy, feminist rite de passage Kinflicks by Lisa Alther when I was about 11. I think at this point I realised that women's fiction could be rather eye-opening. 

What’s the best book you’ve ever been given, and who gave it to you?

My friend Tom recently sourced me a copy of Paula Yates book from the 1980’s Rockstars in Their Underpants. He gives the best gifts. 

Do you have a favourite book by a female author that you’ve given to friends and family as a gift?

You can’t go wrong with The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford. It’s accessible and beautifully pithy from the get go. 


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