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The Barack and Mohsin bromance

The Barack and Mohsin bromance

And so starts a new year and a big one for the Man Booker Prize which turns 50 in 2018. Mohsin Hamid will be happy if it kicks off as well as 2017 ended. His Man Booker Prize shortlisted Exit West was named by Barack Obama as one of his cultural highlights of the past year. The former president, still America's most popular man, makes a tradition of picking his favourite reading and listening and at the end of a year he must have found particularly difficult Hamid's novel took its place alongside books by others such as Naomi Alderman (The Power) and Ron Chernow (Grant). Hamid's musical tastes are unknown but, for the record, Obama picked Jay Z, Harry Styles and Rihanna among his faves. Mo, Jay Z, RiRi and Harry – sounds like a supergroup.

One of this year's Man Booker Prize judges, Val McDermid, has hit the ground running. Although the first submissions will already be piling up around her, she is heading a project to resurrect a forgotten Scottish writer, the 19th-century novelist Susan Edmonstone Ferrier. ‘Her writing stands up very well in comparison with the big-name Scottish writers of her day, like Sir Walter Scott,’ said McDermid. ‘But the most remarkable thing about Ferrier is that memory of her has all but disappeared.’ McDermid has written a new story about Ferrier, New Year's Resurrection, which is being projected on to the sides of various buildings throughout Edinburgh. You can download the associated app and follow the story from beginning to end around 12 sites in the city where Ferrier lived, worked and walked. The story/walking tour/theatrical experience runs until 25th January. Ferrier, says McDermid, ‘earned significantly more substantial publisher advances than Jane Austen. And now almost nobody knows her name.’

In a recent piece discussing writers' tips from the likes of Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway several Man Booker alumni were included for their wisdom. Hilary Mantel, for example, counselled cultivating ‘self-confidence – arrogance, if you can manage it. You write to impose yourself on the world, and you have to believe in your own ability when the world shows no sign of agreeing with you.’  Zadie Smith was blunt: ‘Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.’ Muriel Spark meanwhile was more comforting – get a cat: ‘The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impeded your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self-command it has lost.’ All very useful no doubt but no magic key.

The prize calendar never sleeps and the first winners of 2018 are already in. So congratulations to Jon McGregor whose Man Booker Prize longlisted Reservoir 13 has just won the Costa Novel Award. His books now enters a death-match with the other category winners (poetry, children's book, first novel, biography) and the last one standing, the ‘book of the year’, will have its arm raised aloft on 30th January.

Jessica Cohen, meanwhile, the translator of last year's Man Booker International Prize winner, David Grossman's A Horse Walks into a Bar, has just been nominated for the translation prize in the 2018 PEN America Literary Awards. Cohen donated her Man Booker International prize money to an Israeli human rights group so, should she win, it will be interesting to see what she does with her share of PEN's $315,000 prize pot – no one would blame her if she treated herself to some quite unnecessary luxury gewgaw.

Mohsin Hamid