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The Edinburgh way to pick a winner

The Edinburgh way to pick a winner

As the time for the Man Booker Prize shortlist announcement approaches (13th September) the Edinburgh International Literary Festival has been patting itself on the back. Months earlier, when the organisers (led by Nick Barley, chair of judges for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize) started to approach writers to appear, they managed to pick no fewer than six of this year's Man Booker nominees – Sebastian Barry, Zadie Smith, Paul Auster, Ali Smith, Jon McGregor and Colson Whitehead. Such prescience is uncanny and one can only hope they went to the bookies at the same time.

One of the Man Booker longlisted writers who didn't make it to Edinburgh was Arundhati Roy, who in a recent interview said something that many writers think but rarely express: “I spent many, many years only thinking about the money.” Writing is usually a shortcut to penury, which is why prizes such as the Man Booker are so important. The God of Small Things salved her financial worries and receiving the Man Booker prize in 1997 changed her life: “It happened so quickly that I had no time to absorb what was happening. And it took a long time for me to deal with it afterwards because while it was a tremendous sense of accomplishment, at the same time – being the kind of person I am, living in a country where so many people can’t read, can’t eat – being successful in such an unfair and violent society is a bit complicated to deal with.”

Perhaps the best piece written to mark the 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana has come, unsurprisingly, from the pen of Hilary Mantel. In a thoughtful and wide-ranging essay on the nature of the “People's Princess” she was not afraid to point to her flaws nor to undermine the very nature of the public's fascination. “When people described Diana as a 'fairytale princess', were they thinking of the cleaned-up versions?”, she asks. “Fairytales are not about gauzy frocks and ego gratification. They are about child murder, cannibalism, starvation, deformity, desperate human creatures cast into the form of beasts, or chained by spells, or immured alive in thorns.” Mantel's message is that the circumstances of the Princess' life and death were more complicated than the simple good (Diana) versus bad (Royal Family) narrative that pertained at the time. And throughout the essay are those aperçus that could only come from Mantel: “When she referred to herself as a 'queen of hearts', the blood chilled. She seemed to be reading from her own obituary.”

Few Man Booker writers had as curious a career trajectory as Gordon Williams, who unfortunately passed away on 20th August. Williams was the author of more than 20 novels, including From Scenes Like These, which was shortlisted for the inaugural Booker Prize in 1969. His 1971 novel The Siege of Trencher's Farm was turned into the controversial film Straw Dogs by Sam Peckinpah and Williams apparently turned down the chance to write the script for the delightful 1981 movie Gregory's Girl. Williams also had a second career, as commercial manager for Chelsea football club. His love of football meant that he was the ghostwriter of choice for Bobby Moore, Tommy Docherty and Terry Venables. It was after working with likely lad Venables that the pair collaborated on four co-written novels (under the pseudonym P.B. Yuill), which went on to be made into the successful television series Hazell.

Following last week's item about the appearance of two films based on novels by Ian McEwan – On Chesil Beach and The Children Act – the author himself is due to appear at the BFI London Film Festival on 8th October to discuss his books, their adaptations and writing for the screen. On Chesil Beach is being screened as the festival's Love Gala.