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The Booker authors, served grilled

The Booker authors, served grilled

You have to admire the pluck of the Booker Prize shortlistees. The six authors have screwed their courage to the sticking point and agreed to take part in reading-group discussions of their books. For three weeks, leading up to the winner announcement, the authors will meet their readers and chat about the themes and the writing process of their novels. Such ventures can be unpredictable affairs full of uncomfortable questions and blunt home truths. If you want to listen in, the encounters will be broadcast on BBC radio’s Front Row, and the dates are to be announced shortly.

Margaret Atwood’s Booker shortlisted The Testaments has finally broken free of its impenetrable shackles and made it into the hands of the reading public. The novel, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, arrived 34 years after the original. In a coup de theatre, Atwood launched the novel at Waterstone’s bookstore in London where a file of women dressed in the handmaiden’s famous costumes trooped in carrying the much anticipated book in their hands. Furthermore, the author inflamed the interest of her fans by hinting at the possibility of a third Gilead story. “Never say never,” she said when asked if there was more to come. “But never try to predict what you may or may not write, because if you do predict it and then do something else, you will endlessly have to answer the question: ‘But you said you were going to do that, and then you didn’t… why did you do that?’” She’s been caught out before, she recalled: “I never rule things out completely, although come to think of it I did rule out writing a sequel and now I’ve gone and done it.”

Salman Rushdie, a fellow Booker shortlistee, has revealed himself to be disappointingly sensible when it comes to cars. Asked recently about how his life changed when Midnight’s Children became a hit, he said: “I’ve always been quite sensible about money. I didn’t buy any fast cars, for instance – I bought an ordinary Citroen. Even if I had the money, I never wanted a Lamborghini.” So he’s no petrol head and won’t be appearing in the guest slot of Top Gear any time soon.

A sense of urgency currently surrounds the filming of Sally Rooney’s 2018 Man Booker longlisted novel Normal People. Word has gone out that the BBC is looking for strong swimmers as extras for the book’s swimming-pool scene.  "This is paid work,” stressed the Beeb. “Applicants need to have excellent availability for the entire day. Swimmers will be required to swim lanes repeatedly so need a good fitness & swimming level.” So if you have a pair of Speedos or a decent cossie, get over to Dublin pronto and get wet.

In more film news, the forthcoming screen adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker winning The White Tiger has just announced some major cast news. The Netflix production is to be joined by Priyanka Chopra, Miss World in 2000, and the wife of the popular-music sibling Nick Jonas. Her largest role to date was in the film version of Baywatch. Chopra’s involvement will sprinkle some stardust over Adiga’s tale of a self-made man who starts off in a teashop.

Richard Flanagan, Man Booker winner in 2014 with The Narrow Road to the Deep North, revealed at the recent Melbourne Writers’ Festival that he jotted down ideas for the book on beer coasters which he then promptly misplaced. The prizewinning-novel-to-be slipped from his mind and it was only when he found the beer mats again years later that he was spurred on to start on the book in earnest. Since winning, he probably drinks champagne rather than beer, so the problem is unlikely to happen again.

It's not quite a blockbuster but definitely worth a watch, take a look at what happened at the shortlist party here.

The Booker Prize 2019 shortlist party