I'm getting onto my twelfth book of the twenty now, so deeply into the Orange Prize longlist that I'm beyond the point of no return and what new and uncharted territory this is for me and how strange that I've never read this list like this before?
Why not, is the question I'm asking myself each time I pick up another longlisted book.
I love contemporary fiction and I love women's writing so why has this prize only really come onto my radar at shortlist or prize announcing stage in the past?
I haven't looked but I guess the debate's still in progress,does women's writing still need its own prize?
Surely the playing field is now level ?
I don't think I even want to pronounce on that one beyond saying it's very handy and quite a treat to be pointed helpfully towards a stack of books by women writers all in one place, so I'll leave that debate to rage around the ivory towers and Woman's Hour.
So to Their Finest Hour and a Half by Lissa Evans cracking good read and I'll be a girl and say gorgeous cover too, because it is isn't it?
There has been a broad span of fiction on this list and plenty of evidence that us girls know how to smile and not take ourselves too seriously as well because I've been doing a lot of laughing.
Lissa Evans was or maybe still is the BBC producer/director responsible for making us laugh at the screen too with Room 101, Father Ted and The Kumars at Number 42 in the can and now turning her hand to writing has come up with the goods on the page.
Offspringette did a traineeship with the BBC and worked for them too and so I know a little bit about life behind the scenes with Auntie and perhaps Lissa Evans has done that classic thing, locate it all back in history and then safely tell it like it might be now, who can know.
Their Finest Hour and a Half and it's 1940, the war's not going to plan (ie we haven't won yet) and the country's morale needs a boost, enter the film makers who must come up with a good ripping wartime yarn that will salvage national pride and make Dunkirk look like some sort of pyrrhic victory. So whilst cinematic deceit becomes the mother of necessity this will also provide employment for those languishing in the media world who have been left behind with their flat feet or myopia diagnoses, implicitly not the A Team, and with this remit Lissa Evans creates a wonderful cast of characters.
The vain has-been actor Ambrose Hilliard who is competing with the likes of Jack Hawkins and Marius Goring, all
'mood, spleen, sullenness, seething introspection...the fine frank gaze had had its hour; nowadays it was de rigueur to look as if one were just about to cosh an old lady.'
The surly, sarcastically world-weary copy-writers greeting the fresh faced young recruit with wry you'll-soon-find-out smirks, Edith the ex-seamstress from Madame Tussaud's working on the costumes, Arthur the Special Military Advisor recently evacuated from the hell of the Dunkirk beaches who in peacetime is a catering manager. As they all come together to film this masterpiece it is here readers benefit from Lissa Evans's production experience as she takes up a vantage point behind the scenes to tell it like it really is. Time to find out about the 'rudderless-ship school of direction'.
There are ongoing and continual moments of hilarity, here when Ambrose is cast again with Cecy Clyde-Cameron one of his former leading ladies.
'How dreadfully she'd aged! She'd always looked like a horse, but in fifteen years she'd slid from racing stable to brewer's dray, everything wider, heavier, lower than before. Extraordinary to think that they'd exchanged a twelve-second screen kiss in The Door to Her Heart in 1925, and that he'd actually suggested a second take because he'd enjoyed it so much.'
But rumbling along in the background of course is the Blitz and the nightly bombing raids which are decimating not only London but much of the country, shattering nerve and bone, cutting a swath of death and destruction through that old green and pleasant land and Lissa Evans somehow blends the seriousness of that into a predominantly funny book without making light of it.
When Madame Tussaud's takes a direct hit and Edith's illicit torch beam reveals to her horror
'a royal massacre, a waxen Ekaterinburg...Mary Queen of Scots blown into the ranks of the Plantagenets..Queen Anne, half stripped and decapitated'
just before the warden shouts 'turn that bloody torch off', and you know that this is all affecting everyone far more deeply than words can quite convey.
Little moments of quiet poignancy like this throughout the book act as a reminder that in fact it was all quite serious at the time and redeeming features slowly flesh out this cast of quirky oddities with notes of compassion.
But the vein of humour runs through this book nonetheless and your turn for another good laugh along with me because there are three copies of Their Finest Hour and a Half ready and waiting for three lucky winners worldwide, so names in comments and Blitzcat himself will stir from his let's-play-dead slumbers and choose.