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Friday, 4 January, 2002, 01:18 GMT
Patrick Neate: All that jazz
Patrick Neate
Twelve Bar Blues is Patrick Neate's second novel
Author Patrick Neate admits to being a bit confused.

The 31-year-old writer of Twelve Bar Blues has just pocketed 5,000 for winning the Whitbread novel award but his feelings of joy are tempered by those of embarrassment.

"I find the whole thing a bit absurd," he says of the award.

His novel was released to what Neate admits was "deafening silence" last year but eight months later it has beaten Ian McEwan's Atonement and Helen Dunmore's The Siege, among others, to take the prestigious prize.

"I have read almost everything Ian McEwan has ever written," he says.

"I thought he was going to win."

Unlikely winner

He adds: "When my book was published it did not make the barest ripple on the surface of the nation's literature, so to win an award beating Ian McEwan and Helen Dunmore is just absurd."

He was not alone in thinking Twelve Bar Blues was an unlikely winner.

Atonement has loomed large in the book charts since it was released and shortlisted for the Booker prize, while Twelve Bar Blues has made little more than a dent.

It may not be a reliable gauge but Neate's book is a mere 4,600 places below Atonement in the Amazon.co.uk book sales chart.

But all that could change.

Boost

"The reviews there were, were very good. We are in a media-saturated society and its very hard to get coverage. But coverage matters," he said.

He is bound to get coverage now and with it a boost in book sales.

Twelve Bar Blues is an accessible, dizzying ride through the streets of New Orleans at the turn of the last century.

"It is all based around jazz but that is not really my passion. I am fascinated by the origins of jazz and the stories around it," he says.

The central character is Sylvia, a retired London prostitute who hooks up with an African witchdoctor and a New Yorker, and goes to New Orleans to establish the jazz credentials of her horn-playing grandfather.

He has in the past been described as "a travel writer and a satirist" - both are labels he denies.

'Hooked'

"I am really obsessed with stories," he said.

"A good novel should keep you hooked from start to finish and then make you feel a little better about the world we live in at the end."

He says he is "a bit like William Boyd and a bit like Louis de Bernieres".

"There is a mythologising about the beginnings of jazz which is ripe for writing about. I like the idea of modern mythology.

"Although the book is set in the jazz milieu that was not the point - it was to write about the mythologisation of history."

Literary recognition

Originally from Putney, his first novel Musungu Jum and the great Chief Tukolo made an equally shallow impact on the literary world.

He has written about music, often hip hop, for magazines such as Q, The Face and Mixmag.

Despite his new found literary recognition he says he will continue to write his "100 reviews" for Mixmag.

"I used to be a music journalist, writing for Youth culture, The Face, Sky, Q and Mixmag. "I still do reviews for Mixmag because I like them.

"I will still do my reviews for 100," he promises.

But if he goes on to win the overall Whitbread prize and with it a cheque for 25,000 he may stop reviewing for a while.

But no doubt his feelings of confusion and surprise are bound to continue.

See also:

24 Jan 01 | Entertainment
High praise for Whitbread winner
24 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Whitbread victory for Kneale
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