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Listen with Marlon

Listen with Marlon

If you'd like to know what kind of music you might hear should Marlon James, Man Booker winner 2015, ever invite you to his house for a drink then a recent radio appearance gives some fascinating clues. Naturally, since his book A Brief History of Seven Killings is based around an assassination attempt on Bob Marley, the great reggae man is there. James though confesses, however, that ‘Ultimately I'm a rock kid’ – and, he goes on to add, hip-hop and funkadelic too – so there are some more surprising choices: Black Sabbath (‘They understand groove quite a bit’), Can (sample lyric ‘I saw mushroom head/Well, I saw mushroom head/Well, I saw mushroom head/ I was born and I was dead’), and Bob Dylan. Eclectic doesn't quite cover it. What comes across strongly is how important music is to James. The reason, he says, is that ‘I listen to a lot of music when I'm writing – I don't trust silence.’


Simon Mawer, Man Booker shortlisted in 2009 with The Glass Room, has been talking around Tightrope, his new sort-of spy novel. His books, he says, are more about character than spying, though ‘I think I read [all the James Bond books] from being a 13-year-old, a 14-year-old, as a follow-on from Biggles. This was Biggles with sex.’ They clearly didn't turn him into a misogynist, however, since the lead character of his last two books is a woman. ‘I think women are very interesting,’ he says. ‘I think they may be more interesting than men.’


An interesting statistic about the gender split in major literary prizes has emerged with the latest award of France's pre-eminent gong, the Prix Goncourt, to Mathias Énard. The prize has been running for 113 years and 102 of the winners have been men and only 11 have been women. That means a man has won a full 90 per cent of the time. The percentages for Germany's Georg Büchner award are little better: 86 per cent men to 14 per cent women. America's Pulitzer is more ecumenical – 66 per cent men to 34 per cent women. It is though the Man Booker that scores best: 64 per cent men to 36 per cent women. What this figure doesn't show, however, is that over the past 10 years fully 50 per cent of the MB winners have been women.


One of the Man Booker's women winners, Arundhati Roy (The God of Small Things, 1997) is returning one of her awards – the National Award for Best Screenplay in 1989 which she won for the film In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones – in protest at India's growing intolerance. Her aim is to highlight the murderous prejudice that has led to two people being killed recently because it was suspected they had beef in their house or vehicle.


Roy's gesture chimes, coincidentally, with an observation of Donal Ryan's (Man Booker longlisted in 2013 with The Spinning Heart). He has recently said that ‘writers are sometimes afraid to honour an obligation to describe the world as it is and to answer questions about life, because all you can really do is describe life and hopefully in that process test illuminate in some aspects of humanity in whatever weak way’. Roy most certainly passes this test. As for Ryan, well he is a very self-critical writer. Reflecting on some early attempts at fiction, he remembers that he ‘started a number of novels in my twenties, and re-reading them in my thirties was actually embarrassing. The work was readable, but still I felt a kind of embarrassment over everything I wrote. The shame has stuck with me for some reasons, I am not sure why.’