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Shhhh, writer reading

Shhhh, writer reading

In the last few days before he learns whether he is a two-time Man Booker Prize winner, Howard Jacobson might well be found on a park bench in Russell Square, London. No, Jacobson hasn't turned tramp, it is the place he likes to go for a bit of quiet reading. “I don’t mind a bit of cold – I wrap up in a scarf – but it’s loveliest in the sunshine”, he says. “I feel a melancholy ache in a city park that I wouldn’t feel on a ten-mile hike; it’s a little bit of quiet and beauty carved out of noise.” Jacobson was one of several writers asked by the London Evening Standard to name their favourite reading spot. The Man Booker longlisted David Nicholls, for example, chose the London Review Bookshop, while serial shortlistees Sarah Waters and David Mitchell plumped for Northern Line Tube trains and the Sir John Soane Museum respectively. Next time you wander through London treat it as a literary nature trail and watch out for celebrated novelists grabbing some book time.

One wonders about Ali Smith's notion of quiet time. One of the characters in her shortlisted How to be Both is under surveillance by a nefarious figure and rather than being freaked out, she rather likes it. Smith is the most unassuming of people and no seeker of the limelight, so she is likely to have mixed feelings on Tuesday October 14th when all eyes will be on her and her fellow contenders. But then, as her character says, “seeing and being seen is very rarely simple”.

As they gather for the ultimate anointment, there is a chance to hear the six shortlisted authors in action on Monday 13th when they will be reading from their novels and taking part in a Q&A session at the Royal Festival Hall. The event starts at 19.30 and tickets can be sourced here

Should you like the cut of anyone's jib in particular there is still time to have a flutter so, for those who follow their head rather than their heart, the odds at the time of writing are as follows: Neel Mukherjee is the bookies' favourite at 9/2 closely followed by Richard Flanagan at 3/1. You might start to make proper money with Ali Smith at 4/1 and Howard Jacobson at 9/2. Karen Joy Fowler and Joshua Ferris though are seriously worth a punt at 11/2 and 8/1 respectively. Not, we hasten to add, that this column in any way condones gambling or will take any responsibility if you lose your fiver.

Thomas Keneally, Booker winner with Schindler's Ark, has one great regret: “I wish I could have been a more patient writer.” Keneally has, admittedly, written 33 novels, 17 works of non-fiction and four plays. “I am very impetuous and want to get the book finished,” he says, “and that may have affected the quality of some of my books.” Who knows? What the ebullient and modest Keneally failed to point out is that he has had a 50-year career as a writer and among the gongs along the way are two Miles Franklin Award wins and three then plain Booker Prize nominations to go with the 1982 win. He may be impatient but it works for him.