IN the same month that Jenny Valentine learned that her second novel, Broken Soup, is one of four books on the shortlist for the Costa Book Awards children’s book category, her husband Alex released his fourth album, A Short Album About Love.
“I’m really, really pleased,” Jenny says of Broken Soup being shortlisted for the Costa award. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Award shortly after publication earlier this year.
“I was worried about Broken Soup being any good, so it’s lovely to have it shortlisted.
“Publishers don’t tell you they’re submitting you so I didn’t know – and wouldn’t have wanted to know.”
Jenny confesses that she’s treating the news of being on the shortlist as the exciting bit. “I don’t hold any expectation at all of it winning.”
Having found inspiration in physical objects for her first two novels – an urn of ashes in a minicab office in Finding Violet Park, which won the Guardian Prize for Children’s Fiction, and a photograph in Broken Soup – what has sparked her imagination for her third, The Ant Colony, due for publication in March, was the sight of a girl in a doorway in London.
“There was a slower germination period with this one,” she says.
“It’s set partly in London and partly here, which is something I wanted to do as I’ve been here a while now and it’s been creeping into my imagination.”
When she’s not writing, Jenny runs Hay Wholefoods with Alex. “The shop is absolutely marvellous and great fun, a nice distraction from writing. I need the social aspect of it as I don’t want to get my ideas from a vacuum.”
The category winners for the Costa Book Awards will be announced on January 6, with the overall winner revealed on Tuesday, January 27.
Alex’s new album, A Short Album of Love, is a collection of 12 tracks, all of them living up to the title by being short.
“Time is precious, now more than ever,” says Alex, explaining the reasoning behind the album’s brevity.
“This is a record of tautly written, grown-up folkish pop songs, arranged with a minimum of fuss and performed with a great deal of heart.”
“The voice of an angel, the lyrical talent of Paul Simon and the ability to reduce audiences to tears,” was Mariella Frostrup’s verdict.
Alex began writing songs when he was 11: “I went to boarding school and hated it,” he recalls, explaining how he used songwriting to get through the experience, producing an impressive number: “When I went to America for a year after school, I threw away about 200 songs, though a lot of those ideas have transmuted into others.”
Having left school at 16, Alex worked in a record shop where he met Culture Club’s John Moss who “made me an apprentice in a way and got me involved with a major record label”.
Early gigs included a trip to Romania after the fall of the Ceacescu regime, when he played at a festival to welcome Romania back to the world.
“It was quite cool,” he recalls. “For most of my 20s, though, I was doing something for a major label but not getting records out.”
Since moving to Glasbury, Alex has built his own studio, where he recorded last year’s Tardis Heart and A Short Album About Love.
“The new record is about being as concentrated as possible,” he says.
“The songs try to get an idea across in the shortest, most succinct way possible. There is no need for a middle eight, and no need for intros and outros.
“The whole album is 32-and-a-half minutes long, an exercise in minimalism. I can’t stand self-indulgence in songwriting. It’s about leaving the listener wanting more and leaving them with a hook.”
Broken Soup is published by HarperCollins. Visit alexvalentine.com for further details about A Short Album About Love.