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And then there were five...

And then there were five...

What with imitation being the sincerest form of flattery and all that, it is good to note that Canada's preeminent literary prize, the Giller, credits the Man Booker for its decision to increase the number of its judges to five for the first time in its 22-year history. The prize's executive director Elana Rabinovitch said that a trip to London where she met the Man Booker's Literary Director Ion Trewin helped make up her mind. There was another reason too: ‘it was a way of confounding pundits and publishers and the public in terms of not being able to pin selections, any books, on any one person’.

Still with pinning selections (or perhaps blame), one of this year's Man Booker judges, John Burnside, has just narrowly missed out on picking up the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry in this 50th anniversary year of the poet's death. It was awarded on Monday to David Harsent for Firesongs, not that Burnside appeared in the least bit downcast – he has, after all, won the prize before. He can now clear his mind and concentrate on the job in hand, the ever-growing pile of Man Booker submissions task, he confided, is already looking ‘daunting’.

A clutch of Man Booker bigwigs have expressed their displeasure at the decision that the Oxford Junior Dictionary should lose nature words such as ‘acorn’ and ‘buttercup’ and replace them with the likes of ‘broadband’ and ‘cut-and-paste’. A letter to the publishers signed by, among others, the former Man Booker winner Margaret Atwood and chairs of judges Robert Macfarlane and Andrew Motion, called the omissions ‘shocking and poorly considered’ and noted that the increasing lack of natural play and an outdoors life for children had proven consequences including ‘obesity, anti-social behaviour, friendlessness and fear’. Despite the fuss the Oxford University Press has no plans to reinstate the chopped words.

Peter Carey, a double Man Booker winner (1988 with Oscar and Lucinda and 2001 with True History of the Kelly Gang) took part in a reader Q&A recently. One questioner who has had little luck finding a publisher for his own work asked Carey about his thoughts on self publishing. Carey pointed out that for all his gongs, sales and plaudits ‘it took ten years (and 4 unsatisfactory novels) before I was published (The Fat Man in History)’.

He went on to note ‘I have never self published. I don't know of any literary writers who have’ before defending publishers: ‘Amazon, it is true, can sell a chosen book like no-one else on earth but a publisher will also help you edit it and, most important of all, market it. This is the vital element, it seems to me. You want the world to know your book actually exists. You want it reviewed. Publishers are good at this.’ Publishers are more used to getting stick than praise so a pat on the back all round.

The longlist for the Man Booker's sister prize, the International Prize for Arab Fiction, has just been announced. Supported by the Booker Prize Foundation, the winner will be revealed on 6th May at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. As intriguing as the list of 16 nominated books is the fact that the names of the judges who chose them have not yet been made public is even more curious. Those five mysterious figures will be unveiled at the Casablanca International Book Fair on 13th February. Given the spy-riddled world of the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman film, Casablanca seems the perfect choice of venue for clearing up such a hush hush literary mystery.