Friday, 28 September 2012

The Booker Prize - who would you nominate?

Next month the Booker Prize will be won by some lucky person -  depending on how you look at it. Having won such a prize who would ever write again or need to or even dare to if you were an inexperienced writer?  Having won the top prize in publishing would you be happy as a writer to spend the majority of your year going to literary festivals, putting up with journalists and sycophants or worse still people who are envious and tell you you're rubbish. Would you be ready for the sour grapes, the talks, the television shows, the way that nobody thinks you need paying because you're obviously already making so much money, the way that people intrude so rudely into your life. You don't  have your privacy any more, everybody wants a piece of you.
The saying 'be careful what you wish for, the gods  may grant it' comes somewhere fairly close to all forms of celebrity. When I was twenty five I was convinced I was Jane Austen. I did go through a phase where I wanted to be rich. It was short lived.  I once had a friend who said, 'you can tell what God thinks of money by the people he gives it to'. Not perfectly true of course but you can only eat so much, drink so much, drive one car at once, sleep in one bed. What else is there? I remember Bianca Jagger saying that one of the most difficult things about being married to Mick was keeping up the houses they owned.  Can you imagine?  All that hassle, all that stress?
I have a house, a car and my caravan. I can pay my bills.  What else would I want?
I would like to be able to do what Catherine Cookson did if I ever did make any real money. She gave most of it to the Newcastle hospitals and a great many people, including me, have been bloody glad she did. That's what money's really for, not to spend a hundred million on a yacht as I heard one guy had. It had three heliports. Presumably for the windmills in his head.
But what really bothers me about the Booker Prize is that it is elitist and the very word makes me want to throw up.  Who says what makes a good novel? 

So, if you could nominate writers for the booker prize you would choose?

I would choose Ian Rankin becaue his plots are brilliant, his characters are memorable and he takes on big issues each time he writes.
I would nominate PD James, not because I think she's the most wonderful woman in the world and doesn't believe in bullshit but because her prose is almost poetry.
I would nominate C.J.Sansom, who is every bit as a good a writer as Hilary Mantel.

The trouble for me was that because her book won the Booker - I'm talking about Wolf Hall which won a couple of years ago - I was prejudiced against it and that really is the problem. A lot of people think that the shortlist is books which are indecipherable to most people so many folk who might enjoy them don't because either they think they aren't clever enough to understand or that the Booker like some Oxford College is there for certain very clever people and that isn't most of us.
Hilary Mantel writes simply, with authority, clarity and near genius. They say you can make a moderately good writer into a good writer but you can't make a good writer into a great writer and really that's why MAs in Creative Writing are almost always a waste of time. You could go out and do almost anything else and gain more from it. Who on earth would want to spend her youth sitting in a little room pouring out stories about god knows what because she hasn't got any experience? It's bad enough sitting in a little room writing all day when it's what you do for a living when you get older. It's anti social and it makes other people think you're bloody bananas. And in some ways you have to be. Neighbours at my last house thought I was a nurse and always on night duty since I wore my  pyjamas during the day. I've been working at home for thirty years, all alone, of course I'm bloody bonkers.  And yes, I write for money but believe me there are not many rich writers around and when was the last time you told your bank manager you'd never heard of him and how come he wasn't one of the top bank managers in the country?
I sat on my balcony this summer in Santorini and read Hilary Mantel's book, Bring up the Bodies. It is superb.  I left a whole load of things at home so that I could take the hardback with me, I loved it so much.
But - and it's a big but - it amazes me that she was not awarded the Booker for her best novel which is Beyond Black, the only novel I have read in years which had new ideas. They say there is no such thing. Well, I don't believe that. Hilary Mantel has new ideas.
I haven't read the other nominated books so I shouldn't say I hope she wins, except that I hope she wins, because a  it would be the first time it had happened twice to a woman and b because it would be the first time it had happened to a woman.
I went to my hairdresser before I went off to Santorini and there in a glossy women's magazine I discovered that the editor was going to read the same book as I was on holiday and that really is the point. Hilary Mantel is not writing for some stupid literary elite, she writes for everybody, she is accessible to everybody and so are all the great writers, Austen, Dickens, Fitzgerald and dozens more.
My lovely balcony. I could have stayed for a month
Me in Santorini. I wrote every day, read every day. Bliss
It would be a great thing if the Booker Prize was an event. It isn't really, not for millions of people the way that Strictly Come Dancing is.  But it could be.  It just needs sensible people to take the opportunity of short listing top writers and the writing world needs to stop placing writers into categories. A novel is a novel is a novel and somebody somewhere has grabbed up a copy of this wonderful book, stuffed it into her suitcase and is sitting on her balcony on a Greek island being grateful that Hilary Mantel spent hours, days and weeks and months so that we could enjoy her work. That is what reading is about. If the novelist doesn't entertain there are plenty of other jobs that she could do.  I'm very glad that Hilary Mantel chose to be a writer. She made my summer brighter.

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