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Crime rates soar

Crime rates soar

Wyl Menmuir, Booker Prize longlisted in 2016 for The Many, was recently mugged. The experience, however, left the author bemused and amused rather than traumatised. Menmuir was snorkelling in Cornwall as part of his research for his new book when an opportunistic thief stole his wallet. Menmuir watched helpless from the water as the crime happened – with flippers on his feet he was in no position to give chase – and the criminal removed the wet writer’s rolled-up trousers from his bag, went to the back pocket, “opened my wallet, all the while it seemed to be watching me, took all of the receipts, the cards and everything out and just scattered them all over the place” and then scarpered before dumping the wallet in the top of a tree. Menmuir managed to scramble up and retrieve his goods but his National Trust card, library card and £20 were gone. The malefactor is apparently known in the area for its light-fingers – or rather light beak. The thief was a crow. “I always thought I would make the news because of my writing,” said Menmuir of his ordeal, “but it turns out it was for being mugged by a crow.” 

Since 2000 nine of the Booker Prize winners have been women (as have 57 of its shortlistees too). So it comes as no surprise that a gender shift in fiction publishing seems to have occurred, or rather caught up. The Bookseller, the industry’s journal, has reported that 629 of the 1,000 bestselling fiction titles from 2020 were written by women with just 341 by men (27 were co-authored by men and women and three were by non-binary writers). While the split in non-fiction was 75 per cent female to 25 per cent male. And in February, the UK Publishers Association released a diversity report showing that 64 per cent of the publishing workforce is female with women comprising 78 per cent of editorial posts, 83 per cent of marketing and 92 per cent of publicity. What, one wonders, did the Booker Prizes know that that the wider book world didn’t?

The Mexican author Valeria Luiselli is one of the women writers picked up early by the Booker Prize judges – her Lost Children’s Archive was longlisted in 2019. She has now scooped the Dublin Literary Award worth a tidy €100,000 (£86,000). The nominated books are put forward by libraries around the world and Luiselli saw off 49 other titles, including fellow Bookerites Colson Whitehead (The Nickel Boys) and Bernardine Evaristo (Girl, Woman, Other). Luiselli was notified of her win in an email and she thought initially that it was a scam. When she was assured it wasn’t her reaction was “more than anything” relief. “It’s been a year of very slow work for me, a year of struggling with writing because my kids are not at school, so I’m in the whirlpool of the household all day.” The win was a voice coming through the ether: “like someone was saying, ‘Carry on, do your work, this is what you’re meant to be doing. Just focus and continue.’”

John Banville, Booker Prize winner in 2005 with The Sea, has long had an alter ego in Benjamin Black, a writer of crime fiction. The split – literary fiction as Banville, crime as Black – was because the author is on record as saying he thinks of crime fiction as “cheap fiction”, suggesting it is a craft rather than an art. However, for his last crime novel, Snow, he decided to use his own name and now the book has been nominated for one of the Crime Writers Association Daggers Awards, the premier gongs for the genre. The category winners will be announced on 1 July but one can’t help but think that Banville should have been using his own name all along.

An honour too for Maaza Mengiste, Booker Prize shortlisted last year for The Shadow King. She has just delivered the eighth Annual Pluralism Lecture for the Global Centre for Pluralism, a charitable organisation founded by the Aga Khan and the Government of Canada. Her theme was how to approach difficult history in ways that can promote belonging over division, and she took as her focus the invasion of Ethiopia by Italy in 1935. Mengiste knows something about pluralism: born in Ethiopia, she lived in Nigeria and Kenya before making a (very successful) home in the United States.