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Beware of Joseph O'Neill

Beware of Joseph O'Neill

One of this year's Man Booker longlisted authors, Joseph O'Neill, has been defending himself against charges that he is some sort of harbinger of doom. In a recent interview it was pointed out that an earlier novel, Netherland, could be described as a 9/11 fiction while this year's nominated novel, The Dog, set in Dubai, is somehow tied up with the global financial crisis. 'I don't sit around waiting for these things to occur', countered O'Neill. 'It's not my fault if every time I sit down to write, something big happens!' Much more of that and the poor chap will be too scared of what might happen if he writes another book.

It is turning out to be a very good summer for Paul Kingsnorth. Not only has he made the Man Booker longlist with The Wake but he also features on the second Gordon Burn Prize shortlist, named after the polymathic writer who died in 2009. A fellow nominee is Richard House with The Kills, which was longlisted for last year's Man Booker. The winner of the £5,000 award (plus the opportunity for a three-month retreat at Gordon Burn's cottage in Bewickshire) will be announced on 10th October, a mere four days before the Man Booker itself. If Kingsnorth wins the first prize let's hope his head has cleared in time for the second.

Eleanor Catton is about to become a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. She's the judge a new literary prize for Kiwi high school students who translate part of a foreign language book in to English. The prize, says the New Zealand Book Council, reflects the country's 'multi-ethnic and multilingual society'. Lucky New Zealand to have such clever children given that the latest figures from our own National Literacy Trust say that '16 per cent, or 5.2 million adults in England, can be described as "functionally illiterate"'. Perhaps they could be Catton's next target group (though not initially with her 848-page The Luminaries).

Will Self, Man Booker 2012 shortlistee with Umbrella, showed his fearlessness by recently taking on Guardian readers in a live webchat. The questions ranged from 'What was your nickname at school?' to 'Are you a son of fun or a daughter of darkness?' but the one many people were probably waiting for was 'Do you use big words because you feel insecure?' Self's answer was frank: 'I do think I probably began to use big words because I felt insecure, but now I use them because I know what they mean and I like them . . . My first novel, My Idea of Fun featured an outrageous and diabolic sesquipedalian called The Fat Controller; in devising the character ­– and providing him with dialogue – I massively increased my own word-power; it's a muscle I've continued to exercise ever since.' So, if you want a vocab like Self's, exercise that muscle.

If you are interested in this kind of thing then the first betting odds for the 2014 Man Booker have already been announced. At the time of writing William Hill has David Mitchell's The Bones Clocks as the favourite at 5/1, followed by Neel Mukherjee and Ali Smith at 6/1 and 7/1. Paul Kingsnorth offers the best potential return on your cash at 12/1. Ladbrokes puts Mukherjee in front of Mitchell and Smith with David Nicholls offering the longest odds at 16/1. You'll get only 2/1 though if you bet on one of the Americans winning the prize. Whether anyone at William Hill or Ladbrokes has yet read the all longlisted books is not vouchsafed – I wouldn't bet on it.