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The baroness bows out

The baroness bows out

Sad news for Bookerites everywhere: Baroness Helena Kennedy has announced that she is stepping down as chair of The Booker Prize Foundation. Kennedy succeeded the long-serving Jonathan Taylor some five years ago and has been at the helm as The Booker Prize and The Booker International Prize have negotiated lively waters. Under her watch, the prizes have seen the end of the Man Group’s long-standing sponsorship and the transition to the warm embrace of the Crankstart charity; The Man Booker International Prize has been brought in line with its sibling, changing from a biennial award rewarding an author’s career to an annual award for a single book, with the prize money shared equally between writer and translator; she has seen the award of The Man Booker to its first American recipient (Paul Beatty in 2016); and of course last year’s controversial joint winner declaration. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the Foundation has remained active in promoting literacy and fostering a love of literature everywhere from prisons to universities. Needless to say, she is not going to be putting her feet up but taking up a new role as director of the International Bar Association’s Institute of Human Rights. Kennedy officially steps down from her Booker Prize duties in February. As the saying goes, it’s not until they’re gone that you know how much you miss them.

It might not have been something that the bookies were offering long odds on, but Hilary Mantel’s first Man Booker prize winner, Wolf Hall, has just topped the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction’s poll to find the UK’s favourite historical novel of all time. Wolf Hall, which also won the very first Walter Scott Prize in 2009, was followed by Rosemary Sutcliffe’s Roman legion epic The Eagle of the Ninth and Dorothy Dunnett’s The Game of Kings, the first volume (1961) of the Lymond Chronicles. Also on the longlist of 10 was a cohort of other Booker Prize novelists, including Sebastian Barry, Andrew Miller, Eleanor Catton and Sarah Waters. The past is no foreign country to them.

For those needing a regular Margaret Atwood fix, news comes that is as welcome as a drink of water to a man in the desert. Filming of season four of The Handmaid’s Tale (whose sequel, The Testaments, was of course joint winner of last year’s Booker Prize) is due to start on 2 March and run until 7 August. The action will be shot around Toronto, in Atwood’s home country, and the series should be ready for screening in the autumn. Meanwhile, The Testaments itself was hardly likely to be left alone and confirmation comes that it too is heading for a small screen near you, courtesy of MGM TV and Hulu series. Quite when, though, remains a mystery. It is clearly possible to have too many Handmaidens at any given time.

Another much anticipated adaptation of a Booker Prize novel, Sally Rooney’s 2018 longlisted Normal People, has finished shooting and is being prepared for release later this year, probably in the Spring. A trailer for the 12-part BBC adaptation – including a scene of something that doesn’t usually happen near a kitchen sink – has just been released. Rather than simply hand over her baby to others, Rooney co-wrote six of the episodes and has an executive-producer credit. As the director and producer put it: “Sally was involved in all the early discussions about how many episodes, the format, conversations about actors, as well as reading various versions of the script. She contributed to them all; it was a full-blooded engagement.”

Meanwhile, Lee Child, the mega-selling author and one of the judges of this year’s Booker Prize, is clearly taking his duties very seriously. So seriously in fact that he has handed over the writing of his Jack Reacher novels to his younger brother, Andrew. Child’s real name is James Grant and he has stipulated that little bro must write the books as Andrew Child. “My brother is a good writer. . . Now he has a hero,” said Lee/James. The first book of the reboot, The Sentinel, is due in October. OK, so it is not necessarily true that Booker Prize duties are behind the decision but it is a strange coincidence nonetheless – something that Jack Reacher might look into perhaps.