Tuesday, 6 October 2009

We have a winner...

I am really pleased that the winner of the 2009 Man Booker Prize is Hilary Mantel for her novel Wolf Hall. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it is absolutely on my list for another read soon.

Last night I went to the Southbank Centre to hear the Shortlisted Booker Prize authors read from their nominated novels and answer questions from the audience. Hearing the authors talk was fascinating and gave me a real insight into the creative process of novel writing and how differently people set about the task.

J.M. Coetzee was not there as he remained in Australia and Sarah Waters was unwell so could not attend. Hilary Mantel was so interesting to watch as whilst she read from an extract of Wolf Hall she gesticulated wildly and acted out the reading through her hands and arms. She is incredibly witty and gave considered, honest answers to the questions.

I was really interested by Simon Mawer's reading from The Glass Room, a novel I have not yet read and also Adam Fould's reading from The Quickening Maze. I have to confess my mind wandered during A.S. Byatt's reading from The Children's Book which might be a sign that it is not going to be my cup of tea. However, A.S. Byatt herself was gripping, she seems a very formidable character but occasionally flashes of softness shine through the external hardness. She, like the other authors, was incredibly witty and a memorable quote from her was her talking about her Finnish translator "who read my book on the telephone [meaning iPhone I presume] whilst riding a bike on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela." A.S. Byatt was highlighting her astonishment at the way technology is changing reading, publishing and writing.

When asked by the audience if they had read each other's work they looked a bit sheepish as none of them had read each other's except A.S. Byatt who had read them all and said that she could honestly say that they were all exceptional and that she was in very good company. Simon Mawer admitted that he needed to put some distance between himself and the Booker Prize process before he would pick up all the shortlisted novels. Adam Foulds said that it would be like thinking about his girlfriend's ex-boyfriends, that they were all wonderful in ways that he could not match!

The novelists were also asked what they would be thinking during the five minutes before the winner was announced - all of them agreed that they would be finding the experience very surreal. A.S. Byatt said she would be "numb", Simon Mawer said "relief that he would not be facing the flashing camera bulbs", Hilary Mantel said she would need to look back on that time to be able to process it fully.

An audience member asked them about characterisation and if all their characters were completely made up - Simon Mawer answered that his characters are aspects of himself, he is playing a part many times over and A.S. Byatt agreed with him up to a point and said that she has little demons within herself through whom she looks out through her characters eyes. Adam Foulds and Hilary Mantel had based their protagonists on real people within history, John Clare and Thomas Cromwell so they hadn't entirely invented their characters.

When asked about modern authors as celebrities Hilary Mantel stated that when an author is sitting in front of a blank screen trying to get the next sentence out and being fully aware that they are only as good as their next sentence, they are not a celebrity, they are a writer. I agree with her as the act of writing is hardly enjoying the state of being famous for these authors, it is hard work.

Winning the Man Booker Prize has launched Hilary Mantel's name into a few more households, but will she now count herself as a celebrity? Considering her answer last night, I doubt it. However, the OED says that the word celebrity originates from 'celeber' meaning 'frequented or honoured', so is Hilary Mantel a celebrity in my opinion? Yes, because she has been honoured and deservedly so.


  1. Well thank goodness it wasn't A S Byatt is all I can say.

    I want to read Wolf Hall now. Though I think I need approximately six weeks to recover from The Children's Book first!

  2. Thank you so much for posting about the authors! That must have been a wonderful experience for you...I'm envious to say the least. Our library doesn't have a copy of Wolf Hall in yet, which is frustrating to no end, but it is on its way. I look forward to reading this book and I'm very happy that Hilary Mantel has won, so many were rooting for her.

  3. The readins and Q&A session sounds extremely interesting and the answers intriguing (although I wouldn't say illuminating). I wanted to attend myself but I have house-guests this week.
    HOw unfortunate that Sarah Waters was ill; she is lovely in person; Coetzee's shunning of the Booker amused me and plays into the metafiction of Summertime for me.

    Like Rachel, I am simply relieved that The Children's Book didn't win.

  4. That sounds like such an intriguing session. I am surprised that not more of the authors had read each other's work.

  5. What a fascinating evening! I especially appreciated Hilary Mantel's thoughts on authors as celebrities. Can't wait until her book is released here in the US..just a few more days!

  6. Thank you for sharing that. Some interesting comments,and it is lovely to read a personal account rather than a reporter's.

    I am relieved that I shall not feel compelled to pick up The Children's Wood and delighted that Hilary Mantel won - a worthy winner for both the specific book and her body of work.