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Small screen heroine

Small screen heroine

Margaret Atwood, Man Booker prize winner in 2000, continues her takeover of the small screen. The Handmaid's Tale and Alias Grace have both been recent critical and ratings successes and they are now to be followed by her MaddAddam Trilogy, the first volume of which, Oryx and Crake, was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2003. The books were originally optioned by HBO in 2014 but the project was dropped in 2016. Now, perhaps prompted by the taste for all things Atwood, it has been picked up by Paramount TV with David Kanter, the man behind the screen adaptation of Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, as one of the producers. As befits a dystopia, there is no word yet as to when the MaddAddam books will hit our television screens. Hopefully when it does Atwood will have better financial luck than she did with The Handmaid's Tale. She sold the film rights to the book to MGM way back in 1990 and because they retained them, the profits from the television series went to the studio rather than the author. “People think it’s been all Hollywood glamour since the TV show happened, but that’s not happening to me,” she noted. “But book sales have been brisk, so there’s that.”

Someone else with experience of seeing their fiction filmed is Michael Ondaatje, whose 1992 Man Booker winner The English Patient (it shared the prize with Barry Unsworth's Sacred Hunger) was turned into a film that won a whopping nine Oscars. Speaking recently at the Jaipur Literary Festival, he pointed out that the novel and the film of it were different beasts: the “subliminal elements” of filmmaking can lead to widespread restructuring – in his case the jettisoning of his book's non-chronological order. What filmmakers are looking for in a novel, he believes, is “a short story within it” and it is that that is filmed. Ondaatje’s attendance at Jaipur was part of the Man Booker’s 50th anniversary celebrations – teaming up with literary festivals across the globe, the prize will be announcing events with Man Booker authors throughout the year.

Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the Man Booker International Prize and culture correspondent of The Economist, will be stepping out from behind the scenes this year. She has just been announced as the chair of judges for the 2018 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-fiction. Her four fellow judges have yet to be announced but will be uniquely privileged to be working alongside someone who knows inside out how prizes operate.

Julian Barnes, 2011 Man Booker winner, has a new novel out, The Only Story, concerning an affair between a younger man and an older woman. In a recent interview he came up with a potent take on the concept of first love: “you are putting your heart into someone else’s hands and with that an incredible power to cause pain of various kinds (and vice versa). That’s a given. But there is an additional absolutism about first love, when you have nothing to compare it with. You don’t know anything, yet you feel you know everything – this can be calamitous.” He also quoted Turgenev, that “first love fixes a life forever, either as template or as counter-example”. As an antidote to such weighty thoughts he also confessed to having some surprising books on his shelves, including such unlikely volumes as Pig-Sticking or Hog-Hunting by Sir Robert Baden-Powell, Rope Spinning by D.W. Pinkney and Tap Dancing Made Easy by “Isolde”. Perhaps he bought them for research.

Fiona Mozley, shortlisted in 2017 for Elmet, says the greatest influence on her writing is not the novels of others. Mozley grew up in York, home of the medieval Mystery Plays and in 2000, at the age of 12, she took part in a production of them in the imposing setting of York Minster. The experience was formative: “I still consider these early introductions to drama as having influenced my own writing more significantly than any books I have read.” She didn't say, however, whether the plays left her with a hankering for a future on the stage.