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Movie mogul Obamas

Movie mogul Obamas

What might Donald Trump do with himself now that he is no longer president? There are, after all, only so many rounds of golf a man can play before the lure of whacking a little white ball into the distance wanes. Unlikely, for sure, but he could look to the Obamas who have founded a film production company dedicated to creating movies that reflect their values. One of the works currently being shot by Higher Ground Productions is an adaptation of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, a novel that combines a love story, global migration and a supernatural event. The book won various prizes on its publication in 2017, including a Man Booker Prize shortlisting. President Obama has an end-of-year tradition of naming the books he has most enjoyed and Exit West featured on his list that year. Since leaving the White House, the Obamas have been somewhat busy as authors themselves but Hamid’s book clearly stuck in the presidential mind.

Another week, another new project for Bernardine Evaristo. It seems a long time ago now that the joint 2019 Booker Prize winner was simply a novelist. The conjunction of a raised profile after the win and the Black Lives Matter movement  breaking through into the cultural mainstream and its many ripples has turned Evaristo into a public figure and brought to the fore her long-standing activism. Her latest initiative is as a mentor to emerging writers of colour. She has teamed up with the Royal Society of Literature to encourage aspiring writers from groups that have not traditionally been well represented in publishing. Sky Arts is putting up £300,000 to find writers of colour from across different literary forms who live in England or will be here for 2021. The five winners will get a series of mentoring sessions with a leading writer, a tutorial with Evaristo herself and an opportunity to show off their work. All very good indeed for them but it means that Evaristo’s next novel is that little bit further away. Perhaps she could mentor someone to take over her non-writing duties.

The film of Aravind Adiga’s 2008 Booker prize-winning The White Tiger has swept all before it: it is currently Netflix’s number one film in 64 countries and 27 million households are set to see it in its first four weeks. Now it has also picked up no fewer than seven BAFTA nominations (Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Editing). The Oscars, of course are still to come. It is worth remembering though that despite various multi-Oscar films that have sprung from Booker Prize winners (Schindler’s List, The English Patient, The Remains of the Day) there is so far only one writer who has won both the Booker Prize and an Oscar. That is Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, who died in 2013 but whose work with the Merchant-Ivory film duo garnered her two Oscars (for A Room with a View and Howards End) while she won the Booker Prize in 1975 with Heat and Dust, which was also made into a film. So all-conquering Booker Prize novelists still have something to aim for.

A fashion tip from Hilary Mantel. In 2003 she wrote a note to Mary Kay Wilmers, the then editor of the London Review of Books, discussing the idea for a novel to be called Wolf Hall. She saw difficulties ahead: “The only trouble is I have to kill off Cardinal Wolsey soon,” she wrote, “and I'm going to miss him so much. The outfits, my dear! I wonder why we bother wearing anything but scarlet.”

Something for the diary: on 18 February Mary Beard will be discussing “other worlds” with various creative types on her Inside Culture programme on BBC Two. One of those she will be grilling about the conjuring up of alternative realities is the 2015 Booker Prize winner Marlon James. Perhaps Bob Marley, the pivot of his A Brief History of Seven Killings, will feature (is Beard a reggae fan?), but James’s subsequent – and startling – genre switch to fantasy fiction with his Black Leopard, Red Wolf trilogy is the more likely topic. Death and taxes are two of life’s guarantees, another is that James is always interesting, whatever the subject.