You are here

Weekly Roundup: Retirement threats, money weaknesses and covering-up nudes.

Weekly Roundup: Retirement threats, money weaknesses and covering-up nudes.

Margaret Atwood, Man Booker winner in 2000 with The Blind Assassin, is busy publicising her new novel, MaddAddam. When asked whether she might be tempted to follow the example of Philip Roth (Man Booker International winner in 2011) and Alice Munro (MBI winner 2009) and retire from writing she had some pithy thoughts: “Don't believe it. People say that, but what they're really saying is, 'Stop calling me. Don't bother me, I'm retired. Now I can write more!' It's a great temptation. But they never really follow through, because as soon as they say it, they feel free, and as soon as they feel free, they get another idea. What they're really saying is, 'I don't feel obligated.'” If she's right there will be new books by Roth and Munro very soon.

Another writer who has threatened to retire is one of this year's longlistees, Jim Crace. He recent described how the idea for his novel Harvest was born in the most unpropitious circumstances. He had been working on a novel called Archipelago which wasn't going well and after 40,000 words he abandoned it, leaving him feeling “90% deep anxiety, strangely overshadowed by 10% of relief”. The next day he found himself passing the Watford Gap service station and saw that the “surrounding fields were full of ridge and furrow. As a Midlander and a big walker I'd always loved ridge and furrow fields, the plough-marked land as it was when it was enclosed. It is the landscape giving you a story of lives that ended with the arrival of sheep.” And so the seeds for Harvest, a story set during the enclosures, were planted at the side of the M1 motorway.

In an interview with the Money section of The Sunday Times, Charlotte Mendelson, MB longlisted for Almost English, revealed that her “money weakness” was for Iris Murdoch first editions: “I have 22 … including two signed ones. I bought the first one 10 years ago. They have fantastic cover art, so the spines are just beautiful. The most valuable is probably The Sea, The Sea because that's the one that won then [then] Booker Prize. It would be worth hundreds of pounds.” She also revealed that as a toddler in Oxford: “Tony Blair was my babysitter. My father taught him law.”

Another longlistee, Eve Harris, meanwhile, revealed that at the ultra-Orthodox Jewish girl's school where she taught English and drama for a year the rules were so strict that nudes in art books were plastered with stickers covering up the rude bits. The eponymous heroine of The Marrying of Chani Kaufman was the sort of girl who would be tempted to peel back those stickers, she is: “an amalgamation of all the naughtier girls I have taught with a bit of me thrown in”.

Two of the three debutants on the MB list have also been nominated for the £10,000 Guardian First Book Award (announced in November). So further congratulations to NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names) and Donal Ryan (The Spinning Heart).

As well as helping decide this year's MB winner,  R, the chair of judges, is in line for a prize himself. He is one of six shortlisted authors on the biennial £25,000 Warwick Prize for Writing (alongside Alice Oswald, Etgar Keret, Cordelia Fine, Amy Espeseth and Jim Al-Khalili). The prize is “genre blind” and encompasses writing across the spectrum, from fiction and non-fiction to poetry. The winner will be announced on 24th September, exactly three weeks before Macfarlane and his fellow judges will pick the Man Booker winner. So he will know well what will be going through the shortlisted authors' minds.