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Weekly Roundup: William Boyd has his say on literary prizes

Weekly Roundup: William Boyd has his say on literary prizes

In a salutary piece on the book trade website BookBrunch, Ed Handyside, the publishing director of Myrmidon Books, gave an insight into the effect a Man Booker nominated title can have on the well-being of a publishing house. Myrmidon is the small Newcastle-based imprint which published Tan Twan Eng's 2007 longlisted The Gift of Rain and his 2012 shortlisted The Garden of Evening Mists (recent winner of the Man Asian Prize). A desperately lean early 2011 meant Handyside “stripped out every item of overhead cost that we could – and then some” so while the 2007 longlisting had come as “a pleasant surprise, the longlisting and shortlisting in 2012 was more of a relief”. The cash-flow generated was a necessity, as Handyside pointed out: “When The Gift of Rain was published in 2007 the price of a standard B format paperback was £7.99. A year after publication of The Garden of Evening Mists, the price of a B format paperback is … £7.99.” Books are one of the few commodities not to have gone up in price over the past six years.

Will Boyd (MB shortlisted in 1982), is not expecting his next outing – the new James Bond novel Solo, to be published in September – to bother the MB judges (or any others in fact). In a recent interview he claimed to have “a very phlegmatic, philosophical attitude to prizes: if you win one or you are shortlisted, then it is a very nice thing to happen, but I certainly don't agonise over it. I don't expect now to be on any shortlists any more. I've had my moment; there are newer and younger writers coming up”. Yes, but they might not be getting the girls and Martinis.

For several years the double MB winner J.M. Coetzee and the American novelist Paul Auster have been regular correspondents. A selection of their letters, Here and Now, has just been published. It contains the following description by Coetzee of the writer's existence: “One can think of a life in art, schematically, in two or perhaps three stages. In the first you find, or pose for yourself, a great question. In the second you labour away at answering it. And then, if you live long enough, you come to the third stage, when the aforesaid great question begins to bore you, and you need to look elsewhere.” A useful tip for reviewers perhaps who should look for clues as to which stage the writer under consideration is in.