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The long list of shortlists

The long list of shortlists

Following hot on the heels of the mother of all literary announcements, the Man Booker shortlist, sisterly and daughterly (as it were) prizes are now making themselves know. First comes the Baillie Gifford Prize for non-fiction (the prize formerly known as the Samuel Johnson Prize), the Man Booker’s estimable prose equivalent. It carries a strong Man Booker flavour with the inclusion of Frances Wilson (a Man Booker judge in 2011) on the shortlist for her biography of Thomas De Quincy, Guilty Thing, and Hisham Matar (a shortlistee in 2006) with his memoir of Libya and his father The Return. Quality will out. The shortlist comprises 10 books and the winner will receive a hefty £30,000 on 15 November.

Then comes the prestigious 2016 BBC Short Story Awards with its shortlist announcement featuring two Man Booker heroines. The first is the double Man Booker laureate Hilary Mantel, the second is Thamima Anam, a judge on the 2016 Man Booker International Prize. To make it to the final five is no mean feat; Mantel and Anam are still standing after a staggering 473 other entries were mown down. The other contenders are Lavinia Greenlaw, Claire-Louise Bennett and K.J. Orr – an all-female shortlist in other words, the third in nine years. Given that previous winners include such pulchritudinous MB alumni as Rose Tremain., Sarah Hall and Zadie Smith one wonders if there is something about the short story form that attracts female writers. This year’s winner will receive a cheque for £15,000 on 4 October.

That the sums offered by the Man Booker, the Baillie-Gifford and the BBC National Short Story Award 2016 really matter was evidenced by an interview with one of the newly-unveiled Man Booker shortlistees, Ottessa Moshfegh. As a writer of acclaimed but non-mass-readership short stories she became fed-up with the struggle and decided she ‘wanted to write a novel to start a career where I could live off publishing books. That was my prime motivation for writing Eileen. I thought, fine: I’ll play this game. And I still feel like I’m playing it.’ She had other thoughts too, among them the incontrovertible fact that: ‘there are all these morons making millions of dollars, so why not me? I’m smart and talented and motivated and disciplined and … talented: did I say that already?’ (just to be clear, said in a self-depreciating way) and went out and bought a self-help book on writing a blockbuster. Needless to say, Eileen is about as far from a conventional airport novel as it is possible to be. Nevertheless, in the annals of Man Booker books hers, surely, has the most unlikely origins. As Moshfegh puts it in condensed form: ‘I’m broke, also I want to be famous.’

Another shortlistee, Graeme Macrae Burnet, is a pace or two further down the path of fame and fortune (although, who knows, he may not want them) with the news that the film and television rights for his novel His Bloody Project have, in the phraseology of Hollywood, been snapped up. The company responsible, a Scottish outfit called Synchronicity Films, is now in discussion with ‘a major UK broadcaster’ to instigate the hunt for a scriptwriter. As with all film projects there’s many a slip ‘tween cup and lip but a Man Booker win for Burnet on the 25 October would certainly concentrate the filmmakers’ minds.