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Fiammetta Rocco on a new Man Booker initatiative

Fiammetta Rocco on a new Man Booker initatiative

This was originally posted in October 2010.


"A plot to help university freshers break the ice that first day of college gathers apace. After a pilot project in 2009, this year saw five British universities sign up to the Booker Prize Foundation's scheme to have the whole of a first-year intake read the same novel before they start.

On 7 October 2010, New Zealand author, Lloyd Jones, visited St Andrews to talk to students about silence, lychees and the colour blue, as well as how he came to write Mister Pip, his enchanting bestseller which was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2007. Translated into 26 languages, it is now being filmed with Hugh Laurie in the lead role.

After ten solid days of rain, a late Indian summer day on the east coast of Scotland. The principal, faculty and more than 200 freshers squeezed into the Buchanan lecture theatre to hear Mr Jones describe how his heroine, 13-year-old Matilda, came to him after he was sent on a reporting trip to the troubled island of Bougainville, a tropical island in the Pacific where civil war erupted during the 1990s. In Mister Pip, Mr Watts, the only white person who remains when the rebels descend, becomes the self-appointed teacher of a village school where the only textbook is Dickens' Great Expectations. Matilda is in his class.

Frighteningly well-prepared, the students asked the author all sorts of questions: about the colonising power of literature, whether a reader would be at a disadvantage if he or she read Mister Pip without having first read Great Expectations, why he had excluded all the bad characters in Dickens's novel, and whether he had found it difficult to write the ending.

"Stories are an act of persuasion," Mr Jones told the students. "You have to ask yourself, as a writer, whose story is it? And why is it being told?"

"Character is made up of incident and behaviour. But the most important thing is language, voice. Voice is everything. Once I had the voice, it just poured out, completely unmediated. I've never written a book like this". 

Fiammetta Rocco is Adminstrator of the Man Booker International Prize and Literary Editor of The Economist

Lloyd Jones
Lloyd Jones