Friday, 11 July 2008

Booker and Age-Ranging Revisited

A couple of days ago I spent the afternoon teaching a very impressive group of writers who'd just finished their Creative Writing Diploma course at the university and - not having been put off in the least - had set up their own summer school (pity summer didn't decide to come along). At one point we were looking at the difference between Booker prize-winning novels and commercial novels - and yesterday, blow me if there wasn't an article by Vincent Dowd discussing that very thing on - the entertainment section. Martin Goff, longtime organiser of the award, said a Booker gives 'people information and feeling about something they knew very little about indeed'. So does a Haynes manual or a Lonely Planet guide, surely. There's got to be more. Tracy Chevalier explains that it's not what you say but the way that you say it: 'the working definition of literary fiction is fiction that is not just concerned with story, but with how it's told as well ... When you read a book like Atonement - a very popular literary fiction - its form follows its function. The story is a compelling one, but how it's told is also essential to the story itself. Those two things come together and make the book more than it would be if it was just a plot.' So now you know.

Ironically, however powerful Atonement was, it didn't win the Booker and therefore couldn't make it onto the 'Best of Booker' shortlist, where, as I've discussed before (see my 12th May post), a selection of six previous winners of the prize was made by a small panel and then opened to the public vote. Many of us feel the exercise would have been far more valid if all the titles of the past 40 Bookers had been available for the public to vote for. As expected, Salman Rushdie's 'Midnight's Children' was announced yesterday as the winner. You can't help wondering if people voted for it because it was the only one on the list they'd heard of. Sadly - and predictably - my own favourite, 'The Siege of Krishnapur' didn't win. I haven't as yet checked out where it came in the voting. As I said before, do check it out: it's a wonderful book.

Another follow-up to a previous post, this time on Age-Ranging on children's books (6th June): the petition now has 3,000 signatures, and important children's writers including Philip Pullman have met with publishers' representatives to discuss the issue. Publishers are promising to consult with individual authors before age ranging the backs of books - but there's a real fear that only the authors with clout like Philip Pullman and Anne Fine will have their wishes fully observed. I think, however, that publishers have been taken aback by the petition and the weight of strong feeling this issue has generated. As I said before: it's perfectly OK to age range in bookshops by labelling shelves and sections - but don't put anything permanent on the books themselves.

Tomorrow I start teaching my annual novel-writing summer school for Oxford University's Department of Continuing Education - which will prove to be a very intense week! Last year's group were a total joy.

No comments: