Those Women on Air girls can really pick the authors to bring to Christchurch. Earlier this year they hosted the extremely talented Linda Grant, who has just made the Man Booker short-list for The clothes on their backs. I’ve loved all Grant’s books and she writes for Vogue and she has a blog about clothes so I would have gone to see her anyway but the the smug feeling of having heard her read from a book that might just win one of the biggies on the literary award scene and from having a signed copy is an added bonus.
Grant is an Orange Prize winner but she’s not the favourite to win this one. Even the bookies were surprised when Salman Rushdie didn’t make the short-list and seem to think Sebastian Barry might be the winner this year.
The women writers on the Oranges Are Not The Only Prize panel at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival were generally in agreement that prizes can make a difference to sales and in bringing books to the public’s attention and so it has proved for The clothes on their backs. Just making the longlist saw it jump from selling 11 copies in the week before the announcement to 144 the week after. In library land books on long and short lists certainly generate more reserves, just like a review in The Press or the Listener or a mention on a popular blog.
A fascinating piece in the Guardian Online about Booker deliberations through the 40 years of the prize detailed some of the shenanigans the judges have got up to in picking the winners. The general message seems to be that it’s something of a horse trading exercise so the novels the judges thought should have won but didn’t and their picks as the best of the Bookers are particularly interesting.
More than one judge chose J.G. Farrell’s The seige of Krishnapur as the best winner and Penelope Fitzgerald’s The blue flower as most undeserving loser (‘a grotesque oversight” according to Paul Bailey).
And when The bone people won in 1985 the women’s co-operative who had published it “came up in full island dress to collect it, chanting a Maori praise song”, in Marina Warner’s bemusing phrase.