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The upwardly mobile Man Booker

The upwardly mobile Man Booker

The start of 2015 saw a clutch of Man Bookerites go up in the world. In 2014 Marina Warner (chair of the 2015 Man Booker International Prize), Jonathan Bate (judge of the 2014 Man Booker) and Ali Smith (Man Booker 2014 shortlistee with How to be Both) were all lauded writers and academics, each with a string of honours to their name, but with the publication of the Queen's New Year's Honours List they skipped into January as, respectively, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a knight and a Companion of the British Empire. Dame Marina likened receiving the award to 'the same feeling as when a teacher gives you a gold star'. Congratulations – and gold stars – to them all. Though whether Ali Smith (just announced as the winner of the Costa Prize novel award) would have swapped her CBE for last year's Man Booker Prize is a moot point.


Another Man Booker alumnus with a damehood (and a CBE) is Hilary Mantel. The buzz is now intensifying around the television adaptation of her Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. The BBC television trailers irritatingly tease viewers with the news that it will air ‘in January’, an imprecision guaranteed to have Dame Hilary's fans squirming in their seats. Henry VIII is played by Damian Lewis and the actor has found himself surprised at how connected he feels with the head-lopping monarch: ‘The more I read about him the more I was happy – and alarmed – to find that I did share character traits with him . . . sitting in the clothes, it feels like a canny piece of casting, because I do feel, I do find similarities between myself and him. I think there's no question it helps having had the kind of schooling that I've had to play a King. Just the way, the sort of court structure, hierarchies, the way they're set up, it's something I feel I implicitly understand.’ Lewis went to Eton.


Mark Rylance, who plays Cromwell, went to the University School of Milwaukee. His sense of connection with his character is more visceral than Lewis's: ‘I think the codpieces are just too small,’ he has complained. ‘I think that was a directive from our American producers, PBS. They wanted smaller codpieces.’ He is most unlike his screen character in other ways: notably, he took the part of Cromwell Rylance because his wife, who had already read the books, told him to. In a recent interview Rylance was asked whether he viewed Cromwell as a hero: ‘I mean if you call a surfer who happens to be out there when the best wave ever comes along, and manages to stay on it a little bit longer than other people stay on it but eventually smashes into the cliff and dies, a hero. Then yes.’ That's a no then.


2015 is looking good too for Eliza Robertson. Robertson was a Man Booker scholar (the award helps fund fees, travel and living costs) on the University of East Anglia's creative writing course. The benefits are already apparent: her debut collection of short stories, Wallflowers, is being published next week by Bloomsbury (it has already proved a hit in her native Canada). Press attention has duly followed with the New York Times calling the book ‘a captivating read’ and the Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer noting: ‘If writing these particular stories was a kind of apprenticeship, then it’s clear Robertson is poised to become a master’. Now Robertson has been selected by the Independent as one of its ‘10 face to watch’ in 2015. The Man Booker, which aims to support new writers as well as reward the already-published, consequently feels like a very proud parent.


Good news if you've always wanted to attend the annual Jaipur Literature Festival but found India to be rather a long way away. The JLF is exporting itself, adding a US branch (at Boulder, Colorado in September) to the British spin-off that trialled last year at the Southbank Centre’s festival of South Asian culture, in London. The festival proper runs from 21-25 January and its speakers include the Man Booker winners Eleanor Catton and V.S. Naipaul, serial shortlistee Sarah Waters, 2010 longlistee Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap), and double shortlistee Damon Galgut (In a Strange Room and The Good Doctor).