Camilla’s book group question to author to be broadcast in prisons


The Duchess of Cornwall has quizzed acclaimed novelist Elif Shafak about her work as part of a book group discussion which will be shared with prisoners.

Camilla was celebrating a scheme which gives free copies of Booker Prize shortlisted titles to prison library groups.

At a tea reception celebrating the seventh anniversary of the National Literacy Trust’s Books Unlocked initiative, Camilla sat in the front row as British-Turkish author Shafak took part in the talk with Peter Florence, chair of judges for the 2019 Booker Prize.

Prison librarians asked questions on behalf of their Books Unlocked prison reading groups, with Camilla also taking part.

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The duchess, an avid reader, asked Shafak about her choice of language, saying: “As you know, I am one of your greatest fans and have read a lot of your books and I love them.

“What interests me is that I know that you write in Turkish and English. How on earth do you decide what language you are going to write in?

“Obviously some things must sound better in English and vice versa, so how do you decide?”

The author replied that when she was a child Spanish became her second language, but she still held an affection for English.


“English never abandoned me. I always loved it but I kept it to myself,” she said.

“My early novels were written in Turkish. About 15 years ago I switched to writing in English and at the time in Turkey, there was a bit of a reaction to that.”

She told the duchess she found she was able to express sadness more easily in Turkish, while English was better for irony and satire.

“I feel very attached to the Turkish language but maybe my connection with the English is more cerebral and I need that,” she said.

National Literacy Trust’s Books Unlocked programme event
National Literacy Trust’s Books Unlocked programme event

She added: “When it comes to melancholy, sorrow and sadness, I find these things much easier to express in Turkish, when it comes to humour which is very important, and irony and satire, I find it much easier to express in English.”

The discussion was recorded by National Prison Radio and will be broadcast directly into almost 80,000 cells in prisons and young offender institutions across England and Wales in the coming week.

Shafak’s latest book 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, which was on this year’s Booker Prize shortlist, tells the story of a Turkish woman reflecting on her life in the immediate moments after her brutal death.

The duchess also met Stephen Kelman, previously on the award’s shortlist for his work Pigeon English, and Rachel Seiffert, who was shortlisted in 2001 for The Dark Room.


The writers have both visited prison reading groups as part of Books Unlocked.

The event was held at a Books Unlocked Pop-up Cafe at KPMG in Mayfair, London.

The firm is donating 10p from every “literacy latte” sold between October and December to support the scheme.