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How to distract a novelist

How to distract a novelist

It is the last few days of waiting before the Man Booker Dozen – the 13 longlistees – learn whether they have made the cut and they can continue to dare to dream. Tuesday 13th is the date of the shortlist announcement. At this point in the cycle, nervous authors are in the market for displacement activities – long country walks, box-set binges, alcohol, that sort of thing. One of the 13, Madeleine Thien, has just been given something pleasurable to distract her. She has been named on another longlist, that for Canada’s premier literary award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, for her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Also on the list is the Irish-Canadian Emma Donoghue with The Wonder - her Room was shortlisted in 2010. There is cause for casual optimism since the writers’ odds are better on the Giller than the Man Booker – there are only 12 on the longlist. The winner of the $100,000 prize will be announced on October 7th.

Ian McEwan, Man Booker winner in 1998, recently made a startling confession: as a child he told his mother he would ‘really love to be a girl’. His mother, unsurprisingly, was apparently not entirely sympathetic to the wish. McEwan went on to explain the reasons for his whim: ‘I don’t think I wanted to change sex so much. I just thought in the playground the boys just wanted to hit each other and play football, and the girls stood around in groups talking, and I could be with them.’ What the author did not vouchsafe was whether this was a passing phase or whether, in the long dark reaches of the night, he still yearns to be one of the girls.

Marlon James, still for another month or so the reigning Man Booker laureate, was recently given an interesting and non-literary commission: interviewing Brad Pitt for the New York Times. The interview turned out to be less of a question-and-answer session than a two-dudes together shooting-the-breeze one. Books were not mentioned, other than ones on architecture and style. And nor was Pitt’s epic sartorial faux pas – he was wearing a fedora inside. Since his Man Booker win, James himself has become a celebrity but meeting the Hollywood version seemed reassuringly normal, at least until the very end. After a few hours of their bromance James had to leave and it was then, he says, ‘under the glare of the California sun, that I’m confronted with the absurdity of standing next to Brad Pitt, on the side of the road, waiting for an Uber.

It might be a good time for a date in the diary. The Man Booker is awarded on October 25th but the night before the shortlisted authors will be appearing at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank for an evening of readings and talk hosted by the comedienne Sarah Pascoe. This annual event is usually an entertaining and popular one so, as they say, book early to avoid disappointment.