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Ali Smith and a return to writing

Ali Smith and a return to writing

Ali Smith’s 2014 Man Booker shortlisted How to be Both just keeps on hoovering up the accolades. After its Man Booker shortlisting the novel has gone on to win the Goldsmith’s Prize, the Costa Novel Prize and the Saltire Prize and now she has bagged the women-only Bailey’s Prize (formerly the Orange). All these ceremonies, acceptance speeches and literary festival appearances have, needless to say, been keeping her from her computer and her next book. She recently let slip, however, that she is starting work on a new novel next month. No more hints than that though: “It’s a really primal, private thing. If I was to talk about it, it would probably not be there when I tried to write it. It’s not fully formed yet. The inspiration came about 20 years ago. It was in my mind when I began to be a writer. It’s part of a sequence of books I want to do over the next few years.” So, if Smith suddenly disappears, you’ll know why.

Also in the running for a serious gong is the novelist and academic Aminatta Forna – a Man Booker International judge in 2013 – who is one of the nine writers nominated for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, which is often referred to as America’s Nobel. Like the MBI it is biennial but in this instance is open to playwrights and ports as well as novelists and is worth $50,000. Former Man Booker alumni shortlisted for the prize include V.S. Naipaul, Alice Munro and Nadine Gordimer. The double MB laureate J.M. Coetzee is a juror and the winner will be announced in October.

Marina Warner, the chair of this year’s Man Booker International judges, has used the experience in a speech calling for more foreign literature in translation. “Possessing a world language can make us oddly provincial in outlook”, she said, which accounts for the fact that only 3 per cent of books published in Britain are in translation. What she and her fellow MBI judges wanted to do was to read works on another wavelength. So “the more works make the passage into English, the better will be the results, as one instrument picks up from another to create that region’s music, as it sounds when played in English”.

 Congratulations to the walker and nature writer Robert Macfarlane, chair of the 2013 MB judges. He has just received a Hay Medal, a grand-sounding accolade awarded by the literary festival for “exceptional work”. Created by a local silversmith, the medals carry an image of an owl, the goddess Minerva’s symbol of wisdom. Very nice too and something to tell the grandchildren about.

Ritesh Batra, the director chosen to film an adaptation of Julian Barnes’s 2011 MB winner The Sense of an Ending, has been speaking about his methods. “It is important to immerse yourself in the project . . . The Sense of an Ending is an English film, set in the UK. It is important I become a local and that’s why I am heading to London months ahead to do my homework.” So should you see a slightly bemused Indian gentleman wandering around Cambridge, Bristol and north London – the book’s main settings – he may not be a lost tourist but rather Batra thinking himself into an English mindset and mentally framing his shots.