Profile: Nathan Filer, Costa first-novel award winner

Nathan Filer is fast emerging as one of the rising stars of British literature. His first novel, The Shock of the Fall, has just won the Costa Prize for best debut novel and he is now in the running to win the competition’s grand £30,000 prize.

Even before this latest triumph, the literary world was abuzz with hype surrounding the young author, whose novel was fought over by 11 leading publishers in a vast bidding war.

And, with a name like Nathan Filer, you’d perhaps like to think that… But, no, in fact Mr Filer is not Jewish. What’s more, you’d maybe rather not like to think he was. For, along with Mr Filer’s prodigious writing talent he carries a self-professed hatred of the Israeli government and tells a lurid tale of his detention by Israeli authorities at Ben-Gurion Airport in spring 2012.

The author, a former mental health nurse, recounted his exploits with his girlfriend (now wife), Emily to The Times this week, describing their actions while detained by the Israeli government, prior to deportation. “We conceived a baby,” said Filer. “[We] named her Ayda, which is a Palestinian name. She has an awesome origin story; great for a freedom fighter, which I hope she will be.”

‘I thought about a cultural boycott of Israel'

He also said that when the airport security officials asked him to empty his pockets, they “ruined” the surprise of his engagement when he was forced to take a ring out and propose on the spot to his “bewildered” future wife.

In addition to being a lecturer in creative writing at Bath Spa University, Filer, 32, is a long-time member of the International Solidarity Movement, ISM, which describes itself as a peaceful human rights organisation but is certainly not regarded as such by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

In Filer’s own words, he continues to be involved in the work of ISM but his detention and subsequent deportation by Israel has recently prevented him from taking a more active role.

When he is not protesting against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Filer continues to work Sunday shifts as a nurse on a mental health ward and performs regular stand-up poetry readings.

His prize-winning novel, which will be published in Israel in addition to 11 other countries, took five drafts and three years to write before the final version was ready.

“I had a lot of false starts,” he told the Independent. “I ended up throwing almost everything out and focusing on the character.”

In his blog, Filer said he mulled over a “cultural boycott” of Israel by not publishing a Hebrew version. But in the end he said he wanted as many people as possible to read it and would donate his “entire fee” from its royalties to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.

“This way I get to share my story with Israeli readers whilst at the same time making my beliefs known and helping to raise the profile of this important charity”.

Last updated: 4:09pm, January 10 2014