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Weekly Roundup: Prizes, voting and Howard Jacobson on the effect of the Man Booker Prize

Weekly Roundup: Prizes, voting and Howard Jacobson on the effect of the Man Booker Prize

Tan Twan Eng, one of last year’s Man Booker shortlisted authors, has just trumped a hatful of other Man Booker worthies to win the £25,000 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. His The Garden of Evening Mists not only saw off Hilary Mantel but also former Man Booker winners Thomas Keneally and Pat Barker as well as Rose Tremain (shortlisted 1989, a judge in 2000). According to the judges, Eng’s book is “pungent and atmospheric; a rich, enigmatic, layered novel in which landscapes part and merge, and part again”. The judges may have found the book pungent but Eng will be finding that the air smells of roses at the moment.

Robert MacFarlane, the chair of this year’s judges, is also the author of The Old Ways, an account of his perambulations around the British countryside, which has made the Top 10 bestseller list. No mean feat (no pun intended) in a world of celebrity memoirs and thrillers. To mark the publication of the paperback edition Penguin is running a competition to find the Old Ways “Wayfarer”. Walkers have been invited to send in imaginative videos showing their own favourite paths and tracks. The results are now in and you can vote for your favourite for a few days yet at http://www.ajourneyonfoot.com/. The top 10 (a bit of a theme here) will go on to a shortlist from which MacFarlane will pick the winner. The prize is £2,500 of outdoor equipment plus two months of paid train travel and, above all, the opportunity to write about their journeying.

The Old Ways also features among the contenders for the £25,000 Warwick Prize for Writing, an international award which celebrates excellence in the English language. MacFarlane finds himself up against Julian Barnes’s Man Booker winning The Sense of an Ending and Tom Keneally’s The Daughters of Mars, among others.

This year sees the inaugural Rhys Davies Short Story Conference taking place at Swansea University (13th-15th September). It is intended to bring the art of the short story back into the notice of the reading public. Among those taking part in the popularisation of this problematic writing form are Will Self (Man Booker shortlisted author in 2012) and Edna O’Brien (judge in 1973).

Howard Jacobson has recently described the effect the Man Booker has had on his career since scooping the prize in 2010 with The Finkler Question: “My book sales had been dwindling and now I’m translated in 35 countries. I also feel I’m part of the big writer community, whereas before I felt I was never on the list. I was endlessly talked about as the ‘underrated Howard Jacobson’. It’s pretty pathetic, but none the less it makes a difference to your self-esteem.” At least he never turned to the bottle to bolster that self esteem: “I sometimes think my novels lack the flavour of late nights and burnt cigarettes. My pages aren’t gin-soaked. There’s no Dostoevsky.”