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Robert Macfarlane taped up

Robert Macfarlane taped up

Robert Macfarlane, chair of the 2013 Man Booker judges, is, of course, a prize-winning writer of outdoorsy books of non-fiction. So, somewhere on his rambles up mountains and along tree-shrouded lanes the plot of a novel must surely have suggested itself to him. If it has, then he's not listening: “I have issued instructions to good friends to tape my fingers together if I ever mutter anything about writing a novel. There are more than enough novels in the world; one more mediocre novel by someone who should know better is not required.”

Hilary Mantel's quest for world domination continues . . . the full cast-list for the forthcoming television mini-series of Wolf Hall has been confirmed. Mark Rylance was long ago announced as Thomas Cromwell but the other leading figures are now revealed. Damian Lewis, fresh from the complicated world of power, death and geopolitics in Homeland, plays Henry VIII, the nexus of a complicated world of power etc, etc. Jonathan Pryce will play Cardinal Wolsey and Anton Lesser Thomas More. The leading women are played by Joanne Whalley (Catherine of Aragon) and Claire Foy (Anne Boleyn). Jessica Raine will be Jane Rochford – a nice irony since she is best known for her role in Call the Midwife and it is the birth of children, or rather the lack of births, that drives Mantel's Cromwell novels.

Following the new trend, Mantel herself is another novelist who has turned to judging prizes as well as being judged for them. Perhaps unsurprisingly she is the judge of the new Kingston Writing School Hilary Mantel International Short Story Competition inaugurated by Kingston University. The stories can be up to 5,000 words in length and the winner will receive a prize of £3,000 in November.

Future biographers of Ian McEwan (Man Booker winner in 1998 with Amsterdam) will have to pack their bags for Texas. McEwan's archive has just been sold to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas for a whopping $2 million. Included among his papers are the earliest draft of Amsterdam (as well as drafts of Atonement and On Chesil Beach – Man Booker shortlisted in 2007). There are also boxes of letters to other writers, including Man Booker alumni Michael Ondaatje, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith and the 2011 Man Booker International Prize winner Philip Roth. The archive also contains his back-ups of email conversations so both sides can be read. So, if you ever write to McEwan, beware: your deathless prose might be preserved for eternity.

The novelist and critic D.J. Taylor has been pondering the nature of literary reputations. Why, he asks, have the likes of Angus Wilson and Patrick Hamilton – once familiar and lauded names – drifted off the map while others such as Virginia Woolf – reviled in the 1950s – find themselves flying high? Reputation, he thinks, can be likened to the stock market and he singles out Iris Murdoch (Booker winner in 1978 with The Sea, The Sea) as a writer whose shares are currently “in freefall”. Murdoch's books, he reckons, are full of  “abstruse and high-minded dialogue” which “now seems as sepia-tinged in its way as the work of the forgotten Victorian titan George Meredith”. However, just as bull markets turn to bear, so stocks in Murdoch can rise as well as fall.

Robert MacFarlane (image credit Angus Muir)