British Indian author Preti Taneja has said that ‘Aftermath’ is the hardest book she hopes she would ever write after the work set in the wake of the 2019 London Bridge terror attack in the UK won her the Gordon Burn Prize 2022.
The Prize, which celebrates the year’s most dazzlingly bold and forward-thinking fiction and non-fiction written in English, is now in its tenth year. Taneja’s book was selected by a panel of judges made up of sportswriter and columnist Jonathan Liew, author Denise Mina (chair), broadcaster Stuart Maconie, artist and poet Heather Phillipson and Scotland-based writer Chitra Ramaswamy.
Taneja said: "As a writer of fiction and nonfiction, Gordon Burn never shied away from the most difficult subjects. He was dedicated to finding the best form for his work, experimenting not only to achieve affect, but to explore the ethics of writing about those subjects through the writing itself.
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“‘Aftermath’ is the hardest book I hope I’ll ever write. For some, it’s a controversial book. For others, it’s simply about the obvious harms of the endemic racism of a UK education system that does not teach colonial history properly; the biases in the school-to-prison pipeline and in the criminal justice system; and the corresponding narratives of policing, safety, and educational saviourism we cling to, but which fail to keep anyone safe.”
Taneja is a professor of World Literature and Creative Writing at Newcastle University and her first novel, ‘We That Are Young’, a translation of ‘King Lear’ set in contemporary India, won the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018.
With ‘Aftermath’ she strives to make sense of the London Bridge terror attack in 2019, when five people were stabbed – two of whom died of their injuries. Usman Khan was a convicted terrorist who spent eight years in prison and went on to kill two people, Saskia Jones and Jack Merritt, at an event marking the anniversary of a prison programme he had participated in.
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Taneja had taught Khan in prison and Jack Merritt was her colleague and ‘Aftermath’ is described as a profound attempt to regain trust after violence and rebuild faith in human compassion: a powerful recommitment to activism and radical hope.
The Gordon Burn Prize, announced last week, comes with a winner's cheque of £5,000 and the opportunity to undertake a writing retreat of up to three months at Gordon Burn’s cottage in Berwickshire in the Scottish Borders.
The Prize is run in partnership by the Gordon Burn Trust, New Writing North, Faber & Faber and Durham Book Festival, a Durham County Council event.