They said when they invited me to judge the David Higham award for first novels this year that it would not be too onerous – about 20 books, they said. There were, in fact, 37. I took the job on out of various kinds of curiosity. I thought the novels would provide an interesting survey of the state of British fiction – what kinds of things people are writing about, what forms they are using. I thought it would provide me with some insight into the state of mind of publishers faced with larger number of manuscripts most of which, even if published, will not themselves make a profit – what do they think is promising? Or more than promising? I thought I might find something new – a new kind of writing, a new subject matter. The other Higham judges this year were Walter Allen and Elizabeth Berridge: although our decision about the winning novel was genuinely and immediately unanimous, I must stress that anything else I write about the reading represents only my own inexperienced views, not theirs.