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Marlon James, out of it in Africa

Marlon James, out of it in Africa

Marlon James, Man Booker winner in 2015, has just revealed details of his first novel since A Brief History of Seven Killings. Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first installment of his mooted Dark Star fantasy trilogy, should appear next year, followed by Moon Witch, Night Devil and The Boy and the Dark Star. Inspired by The Hobbit and an urge to ‘geek the hell out of something’ James's new fictions will play with African legend and language and be set in a period after the fall of the Roman empire. ‘I just became really fascinated with real, old, epic storytelling,’ James says. ‘There are African epics that we still talk about – some of which are as old as Beowulf. Others, like The Epic of Son-Jara and The Epic of Askia Muhammad, I’ve been researching for years. When I started to really dig in to it, the book almost started writing itself.’ By way of a teaser, James revealed that ‘The very, very basic plot is that this slave trader hires a bunch of mercenaries to track down a kid who may have been kidnapped, but finding him takes nine years, and at the end of it, the kid is dead. And the whole novel is trying to figure out: ‘How did this happen?’’ Even for fantasyphobes, that's enough to whet the appetite.

A cluster of Man Booker heavyweights are having a somewhat unlikely face off next week at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards. Yann Martel (Man Booker winner in 2002) squares up to Julian Barnes (winner in 2011), Madeleine Thien (shortlisted last year) and Robert Seethaler (Man Booker International Prize shortlistee in 2016) in the ‘fiction with a sense of place’ category. It would be an unusual novel that didn't have a strong sense of place but that cavil aside, Martel's The High Mountains of Portugal has a self-evident setting, Barnes's The Noise of Time goes for the Russia of Shostakovich, Thien's Do Not Say We Have Nothing involves Chinese Canadians and Seethaler's The Tobacconist is set in pre-war Vienna. The winner will be announced next week, on the 17th, and will receive an antique globe trophy. Giving it a spin and sticking a pin in it might not just help them choose their next holiday destination but where their next novel should be set.

It seems Donald Trump is not the only one caught up in claims of nefarious doings. It has emerged this week that Han Kang, the current Man Booker International laureate, was not congratulated on her victory by the Korean president Park Geun-hye because she is on a blacklist of cultural figures, some 10,000 of them, who ‘do not support the government’. The existence of the blacklist emerged when various former government ministers and officials were arrested. One suspects that equable Han Kang might get over the lack of a presidential phone call without too much hand-wringing.

The International Prize for Arabic Fiction always does things a little bit differently. Part of its tease is that it doesn't release the judges’ names until it releases their longlist. The big reveal of 16 books and five judges will be on Monday, the 16. This year sees the 10th anniversary of a prize mentored by the Booker Prize foundation and worth $50,000 and guaranteed translation into English for the winner.