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How to win a Man Booker Prize

How to win a Man Booker Prize

An enterprising number cruncher has been giving the Man Booker Prize a bit of an audit. Using an interactive tool commissioned by FlipSnack one can search previous winners and see what links them, whether by theme, gender, narrative voice, number of pages and more. Apparently the average length of a Man Booker winner is about 370 pages, and more winners have employed a third person narrator than a first person. The majority of winning writers have been in their forties and fifties and Eleanor Catton (2013 winner) is the only writer so far to triumph in her twenties. All very interesting but then, as we all know, numbers only reveal so much. For example, the tool reveals that the majority of those to have picked up the award have been British (56 per cent) and with the UK being the most common setting. Hardly surprising since it was only in 2014 that the prize was opened up to writers of any nationality. The real surprise would have been any other result. The Man Booker Prize is a very different beast now to the one that started in 1969 and the numbers, though interesting, are no guide to the future. What they can't tell you is that a 16-year-old transgender novelist from the Pitcairn Islands definitely won't win the 2017 prize.

Who in 1969 would have predicted, for example, that there would be an annual Man Booker International prize and that one of the shortlisted books would be written by an Angolan author who divides his time between Angola, Portugal and Brazil? Nevertheless, it happened and Daniel Hahn, the translator of José Eduardo Agualusa's A General Theory of Oblivion, will be appearing at a free event at Waterstone's Piccadilly, London store on 20th July to talk about the book and life as a translator.

Deborah Smith, the translator who pipped Hahn to the Man Booker International Prize post with her work with Han Kan's The Vegetarian, has herself been discussing the translators' art at the Seoul International Book Fair. Translation, she said, is the act of rewriting the original creatively in another language: ‘Translation is a process that needs varying degrees of interpretation and editorial decision.’ When asked if she was ever tempted to write a novel herself, Smith was admirably clear-sighted – and forthright: “No.” And one of the reasons, she went on to point out, is that “the nicest thing about translating is that you don't get writer's block’.

Congratulations are due to the 2000 Man Booker Prize winner Margaret Atwood who has just been awarded the 2016 PEN Pinter Prize. The prize, named after the politically unwavering playwright Harold Pinter, is for a writer who seeks to ‘define the real truth of our lives and our societies’. Among the judges who chose Atwood were Sir Peter Stothard (Man Booker Prize chair of judges in 2012) and Pinter's widow, Lady Antonia Fraser (Man Booker Prize judge in 1970). The judges singled out Atwood as a ‘consistent supporter of political causes’ and for ‘her work championing environmental concerns comes well within the scope of human rights’. Atwood will receive her award, and give an address, at a public event at the British Library on 13th October.

Another Man Booker Prize winner whose hot streak continues is Anne Enright (Man Booker Prize 2007 for The Gathering). She may have missed out on the recent Bailey's Prize for women novelists for her 2015 Man Booker Prize shortlisted The Green Road but she has just picked up the Independent Bookshop Week award, voted for by booksellers themselves. As Enright herself noted, independent booksellers have been having a rough time of things with numbers falling to 894 in 2015, down three per cent on the previous year. Nevertheless, said Enright, ‘they’ve battled on and they’re starting to flourish’. Let's hope she's right: every high street should have one.

Eleanor Catton