Proof of Love in the Lake District

Catherine Hall (no relation to Sarah), who grew up in the Lake District, has won the 2011 Green Carnation Prize with her second novel, The Proof of Love.

Set during the long hot summer of 1976, it’s a deeply evocative and moving tale of a young Cambridge mathematician, Spencer Little, who arrives in a remote Lakeland village and takes on a job as a farm labourer.

Painfully awkward and shy, Little is viewed with suspicion by the community, and his only real friendship is with a scruffy, clever ten-year-old, Alice. When he saves Alice from a mountain fire, he begins at last to feel accepted, but as he is drawn deeper into the lives of others, he also becomes aware of their secrets – and of the difficulty in keeping his own.

As the heatwave intensifies and a web of complicity tightens around him, he realises that he will be forced to choose: between passion and logic, between loyalty and truth.

Chair of the judges Simon Savidge said: “This is one of those rare novels in which you get so lost you forget that it is fiction. The characters walk off the page and you can feel the atmosphere simmering and brooding in every sentence. It’s a book that quietly takes you by the hand, leading you gently into a false sense of security before gripping you – and it doesn’t let go until the very last moment. It is the sort of novel that storytelling and reading are all about, wonderfully written, and a book you want to pass on and recommend to everyone you know.”

The Green Carnation Prize was launched last year as an award that celebrated the best fiction and memoirs by gay men. It provoked debate, produced an intriguing shortlist, and bestowed its inaugural prize on Christopher Fowler’s Paperboy.

In 2011 the prize opened its doors to all LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) writers. It aims to engage the wider LGBT community, as well as all readers outside of it, in its search for great modern writing.

This year’s winner, Catherine Hall, was born in the Lake District in 1973 and brought up in an extended family on a remote hill farm. After reading English at Cambridge University, she moved to London in 1995, working in documentary film production and then for an international peacebuilding organisation, before becoming a freelance writer and editor for human rights and development charities. Her first novel was Days of Grace (Portobello, 2008).

The Proof of Love also featured in Fiction Uncovered’s 2011 promotion of eight titles by “writers who deserve wider recognition but have yet to receive a major literary prize or media attention, or be picked for retailer promotions.” The two videos below are from their YouTube channel.

Five other books accompanied Hall’s on the Green Carnation shortlist: The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge (Bloomsbury), by Patricia Duncker; Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road (Picador); Remembrance of Things I Forgot (Terrace Books) by Bob Smith; Ever Fallen in Love (Sandstone Press) by Zoe Strachan; and Colm Tóibín’s The Empty Family (Penguin Books).

The judges for the 2011 prize were: Nick Campbell, blogger and book addict; Stella Duffy, author, broadcaster and director; Paul Magrs, author; Michelle Pauli, deputy editor of guardian.co.uk/books; and Simon Savidge (Chair), blogger, journalist, podcast presenter and literary salon host.

The prize attracted some controversy when its longlist of thirteen omitted Alan Hollinghurst and Philip Hensher. Ali Smith’s There But For The … was in but failed to make the shortlist.

At the time, Chair of Judges Simon Savidge was adamant that “there are some very exciting authors [on our list] who are under the radar and who have written better books”.

“People make the assumption that certain authors, because they are more famous … will be a shoo-in for the prize, but that’s not always the case,” he said. “I personally was a bit disappointed that Ali Smith doesn’t feature, but there are four other judges making the decision as well. It was an amazing book, but it was just not everyone’s cup of tea. On Alan Hollinghurst – for me personally it was strikingly beautifully written but it was too long. I ended up being beautifully bored by the end of it – that to me isn’t a winning book.”

Read an interview with Catherine Hall on the Green Carnation Prize website, and an extract from the first chapter of The Proof of Love at Fiction Uncovered.