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Jim Crace's secrets

Jim Crace's secrets

Jim Crace, twice a Man Booker shortlistee, was recently questioned as to why so little that might relate to his own life finds its way into his very varied books. “You can tell from my novels what my politics are, and that I’m interested in natural history,” he replied. “But my personal circumstances and relationships and marriage and children, none of those are going to show.” Yes, but why? Because he's “secretive”, he says, but mostly because “I’m ill at ease with what you may call the narcissistic trends of some fiction and nearly all poetry.” That's not to say he is without a writer's ego though. He was in Australia recently when he saw a woman reading one of his novels in a park. Both flattered and intrigued, he wandered over to her and asked: “How are you getting on with that?” only to have “Not now,” snarled back at him. Crace says he'd like to think she was so engrossed as to resent an intrusion on her reading – not least because the alternative is that she thought he was “some terrible pick-up creep”.

Ian McEwan has also had his pride wounded recently. While working towards his English A-level, the 1998 Man Booker winner's youngest son was set an essay question on his own father's novel Enduring Love. Not unnaturally, he asked dad for a few pointers and McEwan père duly obliged: “I confess I did give him a tutorial and told him what he should consider.” The boy's English teacher was clearly unimpressed by the author's insights and awarded the essay a C+. The + makes all the difference.

2014 Man Booker winner Richard Flanagan has added his weight to a campaign in his native Tasmania to stop the building of a cable-car up Mount Wellington which would result in tourists covering the 1,271 metre peak like Goretex-clad ants. Even in his campaigning though, Flanagan can't help crafting perfect literary sentences: not for him the straightforward “The cable-car will be an eyesore” or “I like the mountain as it is” but rather “To have this wonderland, this thumb of the southwest sitting itself into the pie of our city always seemed to be a miracle.” It won't fit on to a placard but it's an affecting line nonetheless.

One of the current Man Booker judges, the crime writer Val McDermid, recently gave insight into what constitutes an average day for her. Some future PhD student, researching her life, will make much of the fact that, she says, “I’ve never written a decent sentence before 11 in the morning, so that’s when I start” or that, for some unstated reason, “I generally write my books between January and April.” Her daily constitution is a walk round Edinburgh, but if the weather is inclement: “I’ve got a treadmill in the cellar where I can go for a walk and listen to an audio book.” She also receives emails advertising “'Cheap ankle holsters', 'new range of chocolate sex toys', 'special silver singles rates... WHY???”. Of course her routine is being knocked out of kilter by her Man Booker reading: “I have a pile of required reading that is almost as tall as me. And still they come. . .” Not for much longer though, the judges longlist is due on 24 July and the clock is ticking.

Elizabeth Moss, star and producer of the television adaptation of Man Booker winner Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is a very cross woman. The book is set in a dystopian future where women and minorities have been stripped of their rights and forced into servitude and a life as breeders. What with the new Trumpian world order and the #MeToo movement, it has struck a chord. It has however proved too much for some and that is what rattles Moss's cage: “I hate hearing that someone couldn’t watch it because it was too scary,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Really? You don’t have the balls to watch a TV show? This is happening in your real life. Wake up, people. Wake up.’” There, you've been told.