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The promise of new life

The promise of new life

With a lack of fuss that characterises the new sponsors, Sir Michael Moritz and his wife, Harriet Heyman (through their charitable foundation Crankstart), the prizes have embarked on a new phase of existence. After a long and happy relationship with the Man Group, 18 years no less, the prizes now face the future under their pared-down titles, The Booker and The International Booker Prize. All those involved with the prizes look back on the past 18 years with pleasure and gratitude and look forward to what’s to come with hope and expectation. Just as 50-year-olds change over the course of time, so does the Booker, another half-centurion.


Lemn Sissay, poet, playwright and one of the judges tasked with whittling down previous winners of the Booker/Man Booker Prize for the Golden Man Booker last year (he chose Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively to represent the 1980s) has just won the 2019 PEN Pinter Prize. His enthronement will take place at a public ceremony on 10 October at the British Library. The prize, to commemorate Harold Pinter, is given to a writer who observes the world with an “unflinching, unswerving” gaze. Sissay recalled: “I met Harold Pinter when I was 36. We were on stage at The Royal Court. I was too intimidated or self-conscious to speak to him.” So not really a proper meeting then. Previous winners of the prize include Booker winners Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie.


Marlon James, Man Booker winner in 2015, has a thing about flying. It seems he only ever has bumpy flights: “But particularly when I’m going to France. Flights to France are the worst.” So bad in fact that “I remember being on one that was so terrible I was like, ‘All right, that’s it, that’s it, let me send this [manuscript] now ’cause we’re gonna crash, and hopefully someone will publish the book.’” Should he survive some future plane crash only to find himself instead in a blighted, post-apocalyptic world, he says he has one skill that marks him out: “I can cook anything including things that should not be cooked. So if it ever gets to the point where somebody has to turn a shoe back into beef, I’m the guy.” So, if you find yourself next to Marlon James on a flight wear leather shoes, but be very nervous.


Booker authors have a presence at this year’s South Bank Sky Arts awards. Rachel Cusk (Man Booker longlisted in 2005) is on a shortlist of three for the novel award, while the dramatisation of the Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St Aubyn (Man Booker shortlisted in 2006) is up for the best drama award. The winners will be announced on 7 July and, who knows, there may be another lauded Booker writer present, as the recipient of the “outstanding achievement award” has yet to be revealed.


Meanwhile, the polymathic and amiable John Burnside – poet, novelist, nature writer and one of the judges of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, is to reprise his judging duties as chair of the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry panel. When he judged the Man Booker he and his fellows had to read some 140 full length novels so one can only hope that fewer – and shorter – books of poetry, however intense and demanding, won’t prove quite as challenging.