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The Man (Booker) in a van

The Man (Booker) in a van

One of the Man Booker longlisted authors who seems to have captured most public attention is Wyl Menmuir. Some of the attention is because of his novel, The Many, although not, ahem, many have had a chance to read it yet. The rest of the attention focuses on the writer and his curious backstory. The Guardian made its interest clear with the headline ‘Novel written in a VW campervan makes Man Booker longlist’ and went on to point out that Menmuir has given his campervan a name, Skye. ‘Sometimes I’ll take the van down to the beach or up on to the cliffs, away from people, away from the internet and sit on the floor and write’, says Menmuir. ‘Being close to the sea is important to me and was important to the novel. I wanted to get that sense of being right on the edge of something.’  The Many is also the first Man Booker longlisted book to be beholden to an internet group. Menmuir signed up to something called Write Track, which, according to its founders, is ‘an online platform that supports and connects its writerly users’. How does it work? ‘You start by setting a writing goal, track your progress against that goal, and then use data to help change your behaviour for better writing.’ Menmuir’s goal was ‘to write 500 words a day, five times a week’. It was the encouragement of other community members that gave him, he says, the push repeatedly to reach those 500 words. It sounds a useful idea for the rest of life too.

The act of writing, says another longlistee, A.L. Kennedy, is very odd indeed. ‘After a while, there is no typical day. There are very few days even close to being typical or useful,’ she says. ‘The busyness and business of being a writer fight for space with anything like writing. And then there is the resting and recharging, which are necessary and which I only remember when I get ill and am reminded – again – that I have to take a break.’ Unlike Menmuir though, it is trains rather than a campervan that is her most fecund space. ‘I spend much of my life on railway stations and in trains. Readings, festivals, conferences – travel sells books. As payment for everything plummets, I find I am back on the road as much as I was when I started out. The percentage of my income that comes from UK book publication is now the same as it was when I started out.’ It is one of the truism of the Man Booker that a listing increases public exposure exponentially so Kennedy had better get used to spending even more time on Abellio Greater Anglia and her other tracks of choice.

That exposure is felt most instantly by the publishers. Saraband, for example, publishers of Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project, found that, with the announcement, the novel ‘went out of stock straight away’. The chaos has been ‘crazy but fantastic’, says the publisher, ‘it’s hard to take in when most of the time we’re fighting to tell people about how good our books are, then suddenly everyone who hasn’t been in touch is wanting to speak to you at the same time – it’s that tricky day at work that you dream of having.’ The remaining stock on Menmuir’s book sold out within 15 minutes of the announcement and the button was pressed straight away on a 5,000-copy reprint. The same happened at Oneworld with Paul Beatty’s appropriately-titled The Sellout which immediately underwent a 15,000-copy reprint. Harvill Secker meanwhile, publishers of J.M. Coetzee’s The Schooldays of Jesus, reacted to his longlisting by bringing the publication date forward from 29 September to 18 August. For those who think publishing is a slow-moving business it is proof it can move with roadrunner speed when the need arises.

The prize for the best distillation of the moment when the longlist announcement was made goes to Fiona Wilson at the Times: ‘This year’s Man Booker longlist . . gives you that distinct feeling of opening an exam paper and realising that barely anything you have revised has come up.’