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How to be Both wins one

How to be Both wins one

A good week for Ali Smith, one of this year's pipped-at-the-post Man Booker Prize shortlistees. She has just been awarded the Goldsmith's Prize for experimental fiction, worth £10,000. How to be Both links the stories of a contemporary young woman struggling with grief and a Renaissance fresco painter. The book was published in two versions, with each strand taking the lead. At an event before the prize ceremony Smith gave a ringing endorsement of fiction: ‘The novel is a revolutionary force,’ she said. ‘It can do all sorts of things and reveals to us the cycles in history and changes in the things that happen to us as human beings . . . there is something live about the novel that makes it brand new every time you find a shape for it.’ All novelists should have these words written on a post-it note above their computer for those inevitable times when they wonder if it is all worth it.

 

And a mixed week for the Man Booker winner Richard Flanagan. He has just been nominated for both the Waterstones Book of the Year Award and the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award. The good news first: The Narrow Road to the Deep North is joined by, among others, Helen Macdonald's newly-crowned Samuel Johnson Prize winning H Is for Hawk and Thomas Piketty's economics blockbuster Capital. The winner is announced on December 2. And the not so good news: Flanagan's Bad Sex shortlisting is based largely on a scene in which his hero, Dorrigo Evans, has his lovemaking interrupted by a dog killing a penguin. He is in good company since he is joined, no doubt reluctantly, on the list by another Booker Prize winner, Ben Okri. Haruki Murakami, regularly tipped as a Nobel winner, is also there. With his Man Booker in the bag, one suspects Flanagan will laugh off the nomination and should he win, simply accept with words as disarmingly good as his Guildhall acceptance speech.

 

No fewer than five previous Man Booker winners – Julian Barnes, Alan Hollinghurst, Margaret Atwood, Pat Barker and Ian McEwan – have teamed up with the charity Freedom from Torture to offer the chance of literary immortality. An auction to be held at the Royal Institution in Westminster, on November 20t offers bidders the chance to have their names used as a character in the authors' next books. Bidding has commenced online (bids start at £300, bid here ibid-fft.com) ahead of the main event. As Barnes says: ‘There is no guarantee of the named character resembling you, but a pretty good chance that he or she will turn out sympathetic. Unless, of course, you’d like it otherwise, in which case you are allowed to specify – though no promises can be made.’

 

In the week that saw the official centenary commemorations of the start of the First World War, Pat Barker, Booker winner in 1995 with The Ghost Road, part of her Regeneration trilogy about the war, reflected on what made her write about it. It was due to her grandfather: ‘When I was very, very small I noticed this bayonet wound in his side which had a sort of hole in the middle. I used to stick my finger in it. It was a very messy wound, not like a surgical incision. I’d say, “What’s that, Grandad?” and I don’t think he’d reply.’ It was his experience that fired her imagination: ‘I wrote a poem about it during my first year in grammar school, even though he didn’t talk about it. I think silence and mystery are what get a writer’s imagination going. It’s not being told things, it’s realising you’re not being told things that gets you started. The silence is what I had to go on.’