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Readers, Writers and Literary Competitions: An Interview with Man Booker Prize Administrator Ion Trewin

Author of the 1998 internationally acclaimed Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard, Kiran Desai is the first woman to win the Man Booker Prize for Fiction since 2000 when Margaret Atwood scooped the prize with The Blind Assassin.  At 35, Desai is also the youngest woman ever to win the award.

Desai's winning book, The Inheritance of Loss, is a radiant, funny and moving family saga that has been described by reviewers as, among other things, ‘the best, sweetest, most delightful novel’.

The Inheritance of Loss won ahead of Kate Grenville's The Secret River, M.J. Hyland's Carry Me Down, Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men, Edward St. Aubyn's Mother's Milk and Sarah Waters' The Night Watch.

This year judges selected 19 novels from 112 for the longlist. Of those 112 novels, 95 were submitted and 17 were called in by the judges.

Man Booker Prize administrator Ion Trewin spoke about the prize, the books that made it onto the longlist, and how the prize has managed to establish itself as one of the world's longest-running literary awards.

How did the Man Booker Prize for Fiction come about?

The Man Booker prize came about nearly 40 years ago when it was realized that literature in Britain did not have a prize of the stature of the Prix Goncourt in France. It was felt that such a prize might also encourage more book buyers to read literary fiction.

What are the aims and objectives of the award?

The aims and objective are simple: to select the best novel written in English by a citizen of the British Isles and the British Commonwealth in the year of first publication.

In general, why is it a good idea for writers to take part in literary competitions?

Writers benefit from greater sales – not just for the winner, but [also] for books on the long and short lists that are published during the judging process.

Greater sales not only mean increased earnings for the writer but also wider readership, and the book trade benefits too.

What set the writers and books that made it onto the longlist, apart from the rest?

Those books selected by the judges for the longlist are, in their opinion, of a higher quality — in writing, story, characterization, literary merit — than the rest.

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is one of the longest-running literary awards in the world. How did you manage to achieve this?

The longevity of the Man Booker prize owes much to the choices of the judges down the years in selecting winning books which have touched the nerves of readers – some winning books have sold half a million copies within a few months of winning. The saying that success breeds success has never been truer.

Will you be able to maintain or sustain this?

To maintain the prize's success needs our constant attention: we must choose judges who believe in the novel as a means of expression, as entertainment, as a vital part of life among educated people. As long as judges are constantly vigilant and choose only the best, the prize should thrive.

About Ambrose Musiyiwa