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Richard Flanagan and literature's literal coalface

Richard Flanagan and literature's literal coalface

Richard Flanagan's Man Booker Prize win seems to have come in the nick of time. He spent so long writing The Narrow Road to the Deep North that his finances were in such a parlous state that, he says, 'I was contemplating going to get what work I could in the mines in far northern Australia because things had come to such a pass with my writing.' The £50,000 prize money “means I can continue to write”. What should guarantee not just his next book but those that follow is the 'Man Booker bounce': in the week following his win 10,242 print copies of the book were sold in the UK alone (it sold 316 copies in the previous week). The sum generated was a whopping £137,430, which, as The Bookseller noted, 'eclipsed his combined BookScan sales for the previous 10 years'. This effect proves that the Man Booker is like a dog – it's not just for Christmas but for life.

In a different interview Flanagan revealed that the novel, 12 years in the writing, went through five drafts. After each draft he started from scratch, deleting each failed version from his hard drive and burning the hard copies: 'Just on the barbecue, with matches. Yep, I often lit the barbie with old drafts.' One wonders if it gave the prawns and sausages a particularly literary flavour.

Flanagan is also in line for another gong (and more cash). He has just been shortlisted for Australia's Prime Minister's Literary Awards. Thirty books have been named across six categories (fiction, poetry, non-fiction, Australian history, young adult fiction and children's fiction) and each section winner will share in a pot worth 600,000 Australian dollars. The winners will be announced before the end of the year. Should he win he'll be able to afford proper firelighters.

The previous Australian Man Booker winner, Peter Carey (twice, Oscar and Lucinda 1998 and True History of the Kelly Gang 2001), is a very nice man. He has a new book out of his own, Amnesia, about a Julian Assange-type figure, but in a television interview reflected generously on Richard Flanagan's win: 'he's a guy who's really worked very, very hard and is very talented and really serious. And, you know, writers, we're competitive, mean-minded people in many respects, but who could feel anything other than just joy?' Nothing mean-minded there. He went on to recall appearing at a literary festival with Paul Auster and Ian McEwan (Man Booker winner with Amsterdam in 1998): 'both friends of mine, and I spoke in that about the sort of – the joy, the secret dirty joy you can feel if your friends got a bad review. Neither of them would admit it'.

A curious admission from another former Man Booker winner, Roddy Doyle (Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, 1993). He has just ghosted the autobiography of the combative Irish footballer Roy Keane. The book, said, Doyle, was 'the most satisfying book he's ever worked on'. The book positively pullulates with anger and score-settling: who'd have guessed the affable Doyle was really a secret seether?