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Calm down Kamila

Calm down Kamila

One of this year's Man Booker nominees in particular is having a frantic time of things. No resting on her laurels for Kamila Shamsie, who must have grown extra fingers to fit the number of pies available. As well as all the interviews that come with a Man Booker nomination, she is chairing the Royal Society of Literature's drive to bring in 40 new Fellows under the age of 40. The Royal Society of Literature is looking outside its own members for the nominations – publishers, agents, and literary and cultural organisations can put forward the names of any writer who has published two works of “outstanding” merit in any literary form. Shamsie has also written a ghost story set in Kenilworth castle for English Heritage: she was one of eight novelists invited to contribute to Eight Ghosts, a collection of stories each set in a different English Heritage property (Mark Haddon, Sarah Perry and Jeanette Winterson also feature – as writers rather than ghosts). The book comes out in October. Additionally, she was one of the writers asked by the Guardian to reflect on Partition on its 70th anniversary: “When I was growing up, partition was not so much a historical event as a family story. Partition had made half my family Pakistani and the other half Indian.”

Also among the contributors to the Partition article are her fellow Man Booker longlistee Mohsin Hamid and several others with connections to the prize, including the former winners Salman Rushdie and Kiran Desai. These writers take a bleak view of the post-Partition world. For Hamid: “Seventy years after partition, the old hatreds are alive and well . . . We are back in the murk of the unsaid, the unacknowledged, the undemocratic.” For Desai it seems as though India is the nation “condemned to forever return to the time of its conception”. While for Rushdie: “The 'world’s largest democracy' feels more authoritarian and less democratic than it should.”

This week we’ve discovered a curious footnote in the letters section of the Financial Times. A correspondent, responding to an article about the origins of the epistolary novel, signed off with: “There are some literary experts who argue that the first novelist was Thomas Malory (15th century). But his Le Morte d’Arthur would be ineligible for the Man Booker Prize on account of its foreign title – and it contains many unfamiliar words and spellings!” For the record, Malory would have been eligible for the prize since the book was written in English, albeit Middle English. The Man Booker has no stipulations disbarring books with foreign titles or that contain unfamiliar words or spellings. Indeed Malory would have been a shoe-in: the first printing of the book, by Caxton, was in 1485 and there was nothing else in competition that year.

One former Man Booker winner, James Kelman, is a contemporary writer who freely uses unfamiliar words and spellings – his 1995 How Late it Was, How Late was notorious for its expletive-rich Scottish vernacular. When asked about his writing life and methods he recently confessed: “At any one time I have around 150 stories in progress (plus essays, plays and novels). A few of those foundered years ago. Every so often I look them over, dredge up another sentence, push on a further paragraph. I’ll die at the desk. So what, where’s the coffee?”

This point in the proceedings is always a good time to put a bet on who will win the Man Booker come October. At the time of writing the favourites are George Saunders and Mike McCormack who offer the worst returns at a measly 4/1. Worth a punt though are Fiona Mozley, Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie, all at 16/1. Best of all though, for that tenner burning a hole in your pocket, is Emily Fridlund at 20/1.