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Weekly Roundup: Failing, Plotting and Casting

Weekly Roundup: Failing, Plotting and Casting

A clutch of Man Booker writers were recently asked to reflect on failure – although it is hardly a topic most of the prize-winning writers are familiar with. Margaret Atwood (MB winner 2000) recalls a fruitless writing sojourn in Blakeney in Norfolk the result of which was “six months of futile striving, tangled novelistic timelines, rotten Tudors [she was reading Jean Plaidy], and chilblains”. Anne Enright (winner 2007) confesses that she finds that: “Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. I have thrown out more sentences than I ever kept, I have dumped months of work, I have wasted whole years writing the wrong things for the wrong people.” Howard Jacobson (winner 2010) trumped them all by starting his failing startlingly young: “I failed birth. I kept my mother waiting, arriving not just late but at a peculiar angle. I caused her pain and disappointed my father, who didn't weep exactly but would have liked his first child to have a more relaxed attitude to existence.” So much baggage, it's a wonder novelists write at all.

How should literary novelists learn how to plot? According to Zadie Smith (Man Booker shortlisted 2005) they should look no further than the sex, swords and sorcery television series Game of Thrones. The programme, she reckons, is a “masterpiece” and furthermore all the writers she knows are working on a television series. It would certainly make an interesting departure for her own fiction, which has tended to be set in contemporary north London, if it suddenly became infused with battling armies, Machiavellian dwarfs, and psychopathic boy-kings.

Yann Martel (MB winner with Life of Pi in 2002) has neatly summed up what it feels like to write a successful book: “There was something incredibly joyful about imagining a story with a setting, with characters and ultimate meaning, and trying to bring them together in loose sentences lined up. It is being like a small god.”

Casting has been taking place for the RSC's forthcoming staging of Hilary Mantel's MB-winning brace Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Ben Miles, whose previous credits include Peak Practice and Cold Feet has been given the lead role as Thomas Cromwell; Nathaniel Parker gets Henry VIII; and Paul Jesson will play Cardinal Wolsey. No news yet of Catharine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn. Wolf Hall opens at Stratford on 11th December and Bring Up the Bodies on 19th December.

In other casting news, Tom Rob Smith's MB longlisted Child 44 (2008) is currently being shot as a film for release next year. The book recounts a 1950s pro-Stalin military policeman's attempts to find the culprit responsible for a series of child murders. Needless to say, it leads him into all sorts of trouble. An already stellar list (Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace) has just been enhanced by Philip Seymour Hoffman. His role has not, apparently, been sorted yet but he always does a good line in villains …