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The next chapter

The next chapter

The brave new Booker Prize world arrived last week in the form of St Moritz – not the chi-chi ski resort but Sir Michael Moritz and his wife Harriet Heyman. Their philanthropic organisation Crankstart has become the new sponsor of the Man Booker and Man Booker International Prizes for the next five years (and maybe more). The modest venture capitalist and author and his novelist wife don’t want their name attached to the prizes, which will revert to being the plain Bookers. Crankstart’s mission statement is to aid “the forgotten, the dispossessed, the unfortunate, the oppressed and causes where some help makes all the difference”.  It may seem disingenuous to link these groups with the rarefied world of literary fiction but it is worth remembering that the median income for a professional writer in the UK is £10,500 a year – not even in touching distance of the minimum wage. Nor do you have to look hard to find novelists jailed for their opinions under oppressive regimes around the world. The “forgotten” is a term that also covers the great majority of novelists whose work for reasons that don’t necessarily have anything to do with quality, barely scratches the surface of public consciousness. So, financing the prizes, and therefore a wider ecosystem of writers and publishers, will undoubtedly “make all the difference”.

 

Between them, Moritz and Heyman also embody something of the spirit of the prizes. He was born in Wales, studied at Oxford, and made his career in Silicon Valley, as well as writing books about Steve Jobs and Apple, the Chrysler motor corporation and the football manager Alex Ferguson. She was not just a journalist with Life and The New York Times but also a novelist and an acrobat. So international in outlook, with a wide-ranging set of experiences and interests and adroit at high-wire acts – it could be a definition of what makes for a good novel.

 

This same breadth of approach and engagement was vividly illustrated by two former Man Booker winners, Arundhati Roy and Margaret Atwood. The two are among a group of luminaries (also numbering Neil Gaiman, Ken Loach, Khaled Hosseini, Gloria Steinem and five Nobel peace laureates) highlighting the current US-Taliban talks and the fact that they risk excluding great sections of Afghan society, including women and young people. Their joint letter states: “Over the last 17 years we have fought to bring women’s voices and interests into Afghanistan’s political, social and cultural institutions, against a backdrop of ongoing violence,” and urges that this hard work is neither consciously ignored nor accidentally overlooked.

 

Starter question. Which music critic said this of the pianist Angela Hewitt: “Wise and silky in her touch. She can simultaneously separate out the contrapuntal voices and let them sing while braiding them into their transcendent unity”? The answer is Hewitt’s friend, the Man Booker-winning Ian McEwan. Readers will remember that music features heavily in the novelist’s The Children Act and indeed the soundtrack to the film adaption of the book features Hewitt performing J.S. Bach’s Partita No.2. Nice to be able to call a chum to provide some music rather than having to pay Spotify or buy a CD.