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Don't Mess with Mantel

Don't Mess with Mantel

The news that Hilary Mantel's collection of stories The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher has been chosen as the BBC Radio 4's Book at Bedtime has not gone down well in all quarters. An attack in a Sunday newspaper drew a forthright response from the Man Booker heroine. First she mused whether the sniping at her were part of a larger battle the paper wages with the BBC, then she wondered when the journalists involved would begin “to feel ashamed of their paper’s attempt to bully and censor?”, before moving on to political critics (“the same tetchy commentators who made fools of themselves when my stories were first published have been persuaded to do it again. You’d think they’d learn”). Finally she dismissed the whole furore: “There is no need for me or any writer to justify or explain herself to people who have no interest in fiction except when it feeds their dim sense of being injured in some way.” The moral of the episode being, provoke Hilary Mantel at your peril.


How much time does it take to write a Man Booker winner? In the case of Kazuo Ishiguro's 1989 The Remains of the Day a mere four weeks. Finding himself unable to work consistently on the novel because of mail, invitations and assorted other distractions, Ishiguro and his wife came up with a plan. For a four-week period, they agreed he would clear his diary “and go on what we somewhat mysteriously called a 'Crash'. During the Crash, I would do nothing but write from 9am to 10.30pm, Monday through Saturday. I’d get one hour off for lunch and two for dinner. I’d not see, let alone answer, any mail, and would not go near the phone. No one would come to the house.” Of course, what resulted was not the finished book but a draft. What Ishiguro hasn't vouchsafed is if he's followed this Crash course for his subsequent books. Since he has produced just three subsequent novels (with a fourth, The Buried Giant, due out next year) one can only assume not.


Since this is the season for overindulgence and the pleasures of the table it is worth noting that Julian Barnes, Man Booker winner in 2011 and famed foodie, is a member of the panel of the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards. The shortlists for the 2014 prizes, worth £2,000 and to be presented on 31st March 2015, have just been announced. Among the interesting-sounding titles the most catchy is Paul Keer's and Charles Jennings's Sediment – a great name for a novel perhaps?


Ruth Ozeki, Man Booker shortlisted in 2013 for A Tale for the Time Being, has just been announced as the winner of the John Dos Passos Prize for Literature. The award is for an American writer whose work displays some of the characteristics that mark Dos Passos’s writing: an exploration of American themes, an original approach to form and and an interest in a wide range of human experiences. The citation notes that Ozeki, a filmmaker and Buddhist priest as well as a novelist, “is a writer who brings us perspectives we often fail to recognize in American literature,” and “she explores the boundaries between different identities, Japanese and American, and her writing offers us insight on how such cultures can intersect and at times conflict with one another.”