You are here

Judging the judges

Judging the judges

None of this year's panel of judges – a spectacularly well-read lot by any estimation – has any previous Man Booker experience. They do, however, have plenty experience of prizes. Ellah Allfrey, for example, has been a judge on at least five different prizes; Sam Leith has judged the MB's non-fiction equivalent, the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. John Burnside, meanwhile, is more used to receiving prizes: his poetry and novels have gathered a staggering 18 different gongs so far, and counting . . .


There is a degree of prescience about some of the titles of books written by the judges themselves. Did John Burnside have some presentiment perhaps that he would one day have to read some 150 novels in a year when he wrote A Summer of Drowning? Or his poetry collection Swimming in the Flood? Did Sam Leith suspect that the family cat might be in for a hard time during the Man Booker trials and tribulations ahead when he named a book Dead Pets? Did Frances Osborne suspect that in the midst of the reading deluge she might feel like her own title, The Bolter​? Or Michael Wood fear for his own over-filled head at the end of the process when he wrote The Man Who Knew Too Much?


A clutch of factoids: last year there were, for the first time, six judges but this year it is back to the traditional five. Michael Wood is the 15th professor to chair the judging panel. Ellah Allfrey is the first Zimbabwean to join the judges. Frances Osborne is the first Chancellor of the Exchequer's wife to be a judge.


An extraordinary turn of events involving the current MB laureate, Richard Flanagan. Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, overruled the judges of the Prime Minister's Literary Awards and insisted it went to Flanagan rather than the panel's choice Steven Carroll. Well, I suppose the prize is technically his to give. In the end Flanagan and Carroll split the £42,000 prize money with Flanagan donating his share to the Indigenous Literary Foundation to help to help underprivileged children. The MB judges will have their fingers crossed that Abbott's intervention does not set a precedent and that whoever is in No 10 next October will keep their mitts off the prize.


World Book Night, the annual give-away of free books to encourage those who don't regularly read to acquire the habit, takes place on 23rd April next year – UNESCO's International Day of the Book. In 2014 250,000 books were handed out, almost 80,000 in institutions such as prisons, literacy and learning support organisations, libraries and homeless groups. The Reading Agency, which runs the initiative, has now named the 20 titles that will be doled out this time. Among the better-known names are David Almond and Lynda La Plante but the top dog for many will be Roddy Doyle, Man Booker winner in 1993, and his novella Dead Man Talking. Should you want to be one of the volunteers handing out the books next April, more information can be found here.

The 2015 Man Booker Prize Judges - Credit Andy Paradise
The 2015 Man Booker Prize Judges - Credit Andy Paradise