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Marlon James and Queen B

Marlon James and Queen B

As the clock ticks and the Man Booker Prize 2017 gets ever closer, a clutch of former winners are in the news. Marlon James, Man Booker winner in 2015, is currently playing the six-degrees-of-separation game with Beyoncé. James is famous for his love of music – indeed his A Brief History of Seven Killings centres on a plot to kill Bob Marley – but he is not known for a partiality for Beyoncé's type of Pop-R&B. In fact James has it down to one degree of separation since his Man Booker winning novel is being turned into a television series by Melina Matsoukas, the woman behind Beyoncé's Formation (as well as directing videos for Rhianna and Lady Gaga). James himself is preparing the script and the end result has been signed up by Amazon Prime.

Alan Hollinghurst, winner in 2004 with The Line of Beauty, has a new novel out, The Sparsholt Affair. While working on it he was asked to write an introduction to a new edition of another Man Booker winning book, Penelope Lively's 1979 Offshore. “I fell very much under her spell,” he says, “and was troubled by her example – why can’t I write a wonderful book which is 173 pages long, rather than 473 pages long? And I rather beat myself up about this, before facing up to the fact that actually I was writing a 400-and-something page book and just have to live with it. It is what I do.” So, self-acceptance then, but only up to a point . . .  “But I really envy that and long to write a short novel.” In the same interview, Hollinghurst discussed the nature of fiction and also “a larger question, which one’s always seeing articles about, wondering why there are so few mobile phones in novels”. So why are there so few? There is something “inherently old-fashioned in the novel”, he reckons. “There is a subconsciously retrospective element of entering the world of a novel, even if it’s about something burningly contemporary.” So maybe his next book should be a novella about the Samsung-Apple rivalry.

Unlike Hollinghurst, Ian McEwan, Man Booker winner in 1998, has written a novella, On Chesil Beach,  and recently claimed to have written a second that took him only two months and was “perfect in every way”. He then promptly lost it. While preparing to move house he put the precious manuscript somewhere safe; so safe that despite frantic searching he hasn't been able to find it since. But wait . . . it seems that the novella never existed in the first place. McEwan says he is the victim of “a false memory, nourished by desire” – he so wanted to write a work of staggering genius that he convinced himself he had. It was, says the deflated author, “almost like getting mentally ill”. All very confusing but, if nothing else, it has given him the bones for his next work

On the other side of the Atlantic, the University of Texas's Harry Ransom Center has just acquired the archive of the 1992 Man Booker joint winner (with the late, great Barry Unsworth) Michael Ondaatje. Among the 90 boxes of material charting his writing life from the 1960s onwards are four notebooks containing handwritten drafts of The English Patient, as well as various Oscar mementos from 1996 when the film of the book picked up nine Academy Awards, and correspondence with two other literary Canadians, Margaret Atwood (Man Booker winner in 2000) and Alice Munro (Man Booker International Prize winner in 2009).

Aravind Adiga meanwhile, Man Booker winner in 2008 with The White Tiger, has just been shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for Selection Day. Former winners of the $25,000 prize include the Man Booker alumni Jeet Thayil and Jhumpa Lahiri. Whether Adiga joins them will be revealed on 18th November at the Dhaka Literary Festival.