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The Importance of Being Hilary

The Importance of Being Hilary

Her readers will have known this for yonks but serial Man Booker winner Hilary Mantel has officially (well, in the Sunday Times) been recognised as one of the most significant Britons of the modern age: she has been named as one of the newspaper's “100 makers of the 21st Century”. “Historical novels never used to dominate the literary landscape,” said the paper. “Then along came Hilary Mantel.”

Further recognition too for Alice Munro, winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize. She has in fact trumped Mantel by being immortalised on currency. The Royal Canadian Mint has recognised her achievements with a special edition coin (a “beautiful and meaningful keepsake for readers, writers and collectors alike”). The man from the Mint describes the design as an “ethereal female figure emerging from a pen as a representation of one of the many central characters from Alice Munro's beloved short stories”. It carries too an image of an open book, inscribed with a passage from Munro's The View from Castle Rock. Worth C$69.95 (£37.8) each, only 7,500 of the coins are being made. Authors of every degree of eminence will be cheered to know that writing can definitely translate into hard cash.

The news that the government proposes to ban books being sent to prisoners has led to a roster of eminent writers to rattle their cages. Several Man Booker authors were among those who wrote a letter to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling demanding that he reverse the decision. The signatories included three Man Booker winners – Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes – as well as the multiple shortlistee Sarah Waters. “Books represent a lifeline behind bars,” noted the authors, “a way of nourishing the mind and filling the many hours that prisoners spend locked in their cells.” While some writers' books might be deemed as inflicting unnecessary torture on incarcerated prisoners those of the Man Bookerites undoubtedly temper justice with mercy.

Eleanor Catton, the reigning Man Booker queen, is shortly to arrive in the UK for an intensive series of appearances around the country. Whether she will be wearing her newly acquired New Zealand Order of Merit insignia is as yet unclear. She will though be boosted by the knowledge that The Luminaries has already sold more than 100,000 copies in her home country alone. Despite this validation Catton's self esteem is far from impregnable: she recently revealed that “Sometimes I'll read something on Twitter and I'll just be in the darkest of moods for the rest of the day or the rest of the week sometimes.” Audiences at her events had better hope though that she's having a good Twitter day.

Catton though was nearly lost to literature. In her (even) younger years she told her parents she “wanted to be a vet and they arranged for me to sit in on a feline surgery (a cat was being neutered) as an observer”. Luckily, for both cats and readers, she discovered that she “wasn’t interested in the job itself – only in writing about it”. Perhaps she's the writer to pen the world's first great veterinary novel.