What it is like to win the Booker prize, by Margaret Atwood, Hilary Mantel, Peter Carey and more

As the Man Booker prize turns 50 and readers vote for their favourite ever recipient, novelists reveal the highs (and lows) of winning the Oscar of the literary world

Adam Thorpes Ulverton

Hilary Mantel: You could spend years floating around showing off

Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012)

Hilary

Recommended For You

License Rights - Bonus Vault

Sell bonus vault as your own product and keep 100% of the money.

PostGopher - Blogger's Content Pack

Royalty-Free Republishing License (with Audio/Video/Print and Translation rights) - Special 50 Posts Pack Deal

Its a measure of the status of the prize that you wake up in a different world. Wolf Halland Bring Up the Bodieshad way outsold my previous books even before the shortlist. But after the wins, overseas deals multiplied rapidly and the effect bounced along to my backlist. So your previous career is recast, and all your work re-evaluated both in a marketing sense, and a literary sense.

The prize has been nothing but good to me, but I can see that it might be destabilising. Big opportunities open up. It would be possible to spend years floating around the world showing off, and to become a professional winner instead of a professional writer. I imagine also that panic could strike. Luckily for me, I was held safe, because I was committed to a trilogy. So neither in 2009 or in 2012 did I have to ask myself, What do I do now?

Having been a judge as well as a contender, I know about the vast burden of reading, the chancy and nervous nature of the process, and how much depends on the dynamics of the final meeting. It may be skill that gets you to the shortlist stage, but we winners should remember that we have had a bit of luck, too. Its important to get back to your desk, sit down in a spirit of humility, and if you aim to flourish after the prize learn all over again how to fail.

Quick guide

50 years of Man Booker prize winners

1969:Something to Answer For by PH Newby
1970:The Elected Member by Bernice RubensandTroubles by JG Farrell
1971:In a Free State by VS Naipaul
1972:G by John Berger
1973:The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell
1974:The Conservationist by Nadine GordimerandHoliday by Stanley Middleton
1975:Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
1976:Saville by David Storey
1977:Staying On by Paul Scott
1978:The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch
1979:Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
1980:Rites of Passage by William Golding
1981:Midnights Children by Salman Rushdie
1982:Schindlers Ark by Thomas Keneally
1983:Life and Times of Michael K by JM Coetzee
1984:Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner
1985:The Bone People by Keri Hulme
1986:The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis
1987:Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
1988:Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
1989:The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
1990:Possession by AS Byatt
1991:The Famished Road by Ben Okri
1992:The English Patient by Michael OndaatjeandSacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth
1993:Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
1994:How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman
1995:The Ghost Road by Pat Barker
1996:Last Orders by Graham Swift
1997:The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
1998:Amsterdam by Ian McEwan
1999:Disgrace by JM Coetzee
2000:The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
2001:True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
2002:Life of Pi by Yann Martel
2003:Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre
2004:The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst
2005:The Sea by John Banville
2006:The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai
2007:The Gathering by Anne Enright
2008:The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
2009:Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
2010:The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
2011:The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
2012:Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
2013:The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
2014:The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
2015:A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
2016:The Sellout by Paul Beatty
2017:Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Recommended For You

Memester Agency Yearly

The Memester Agency version will let you make video memes for others and profit from it without creating a single social media file.A lot of local businesses are struggling to build a strong internet social presence. Many of them even have Facebook page

Vid Siphon - 1000 Reseller Licenses

Get 1000 licenses to sell or giveaway

Julian Barnes: I felt a general soppy warmth towards everyone

The Sense of an Ending (2011)

Julian

Ive always believed that literary prizes should be for the encouragement of the young, and the consolation of the old. In the middle stretch, you should just get on with it. So winning the Man Booker in my mid-60s was indeed a consolation also a relief (Id been shortlisted in each of the preceding three decades), but mainly a simple pleasure. I knew there was no danger of it changing the way I might write, and little (I hoped) of it going to my head. My old friend Ian McEwan warned me a few days afterwards: By the way, youll find that from now on youre no longer the novelist Julian Barnes youve been transformed into the Booker prize-winning novelist Julian Barnes. This has indeed proved the case, but its hardly much of a burden.

The highlights of that evening in 2011? A kind friend assuring me as I sat down to dinner: Well love you just as much if you dont win. (And me asking her jauntily two hours later, So do you love me more now?) My (female, British) publisher jumping into my lap a few milliseconds after the announcement. My (male, American) publisher instantly tapping into his iPhone instructions to up the print run for the forthcoming American edition. Then a general soppy warmth towards everyone in the Guildhall: the judges, my fellow shortlistees, waiters, interviewers even the journalist overheard before the press conference boasting to a chum that Im going to ambush him with The Martin Amis Question. Nothing could shake my absurd, if logical, good humour. I was overfamiliar with the downside of not winning the Booker, and could see no downside at all to finally winning it.

Margaret Atwood: I had a contest with Beryl Bainbridge who could be nominated most without winning

The Blind Assassin (2000)

Margaret

It was an evening with especially good flower arrangements in 2000, the year I won. Id been nominated for The Handmaids Tale (too feminist), Cats Eye (too provincial) and Alias Grace (too colonial), and it seemed that I was in the Beryl Bainbridge category always a bridesmaid but never a bride. In fact she and I had a contest going, who could be nominated the most without winning? When I actually did win, my first thought was My new shoes are too tight, because now I would have to walk in them to get photographed and so forth.

Recommended For You

Mobile Agency Apps

Your Complete Agency Package to sell Mobile Apps including 12 months access to the App Building Software

TigerPress Volume 2 Theme Club

Get all Tigerpress themes added each month, including the HTML versions and white label functionality, members also receive FREE updates and support, and also receive access to our Optimizepress 2.0 new templates added monthly for one low price.

I probably shouldnt have said that my earliest literary influence was Beatrix Potter however true but as I wasnt expecting to win, I had no speech prepared. I was of course thrilled and grateful, but also I was simply relieved: I would not have to return to Canada to a reproachful but gleeful media chorus of Atwood Fails to Win Booker, as if it were a horse race. Its much more like Best Pumpkin in Show: the pumpkin does nothing.

Howard Jacobson: I lost friends when I won

The Finkler Question (2010)

Howard

If theres such a thing as a Man Booker experience Ive drunk deep on it. Overlooked, infuriated, longlisted, shortlisted, victorious, overjoyed. I lost friends when I won. Not for winning but for reneging, as they saw it, on my earlier infuriation. Naive of them. If you are angry with a prize that doesnt seem to value the sort of novels you write you are bound to change your tune when it does.

I got lucky with the judges three women and two men of rare discernment and a sense of humour. Of course I thought myself deserving, but justice is no more than the dice rolling in your favour. Losing had been equally arbitrary.

Winning opened doors I thought were shut forever. Overnight, offers came in from foreign publishers, even publishers in Israel who until then had largely ignored my work on the grounds, they told my agent, that it was too Jewish.

How Jewish is too Jewish? Theres an argument that the fathers of the novel are Homer and the Old Testament, the Old Testament being responsible for the jokes. That being the case, all novels are Jewish in the disputatious, dialogic sense. If I didnt expect The Finkler Question to win and my mother was so convinced it wouldnt I suspect she went to William Hill and bet against it that was because I feared it was too overtly Jewish. Which goes to show you never know. Thus my only advice to aspirants to the prize: dont try to write a Man Booker book. Leave it to the dice. And remember to be graceful in victory. We need all the help we can get.

Anne Enright: I thought the camera was on Ian McEwan

The Gathering (2007)

Anne

One of the most useful things said to me after the Man Booker came from my medical sister, who looked at me with a cool, diagnostic eye and said, I usually advise people not to make any major decisions until six months after a life changing event. I didnt know my life had changed, I just knew that it was hard to get back to the desk. This was not part of the fantasy of the night, of course. I saw the cameraman lining up a shot on me and thought he was aiming at Ian McEwan, who was sitting over my left shoulder. When the announcement came, I expected a name, but the chairman of the judges read out the title of a book, and it took me a long second to realise that I had written this book. I told all this to a local audience in Dublin the other day and they just loved it: the fantasy of being the chosen one is incredibly strong. But if I am proud, it is of one fact: The Gathering is not just one of the minority of books written by a woman to claim the prize, it is also one of the very few to have a female narrator perhaps five out of the 50 and I am happy to have beaten those odds.

Peter Carey: Nothing prepared me for the apocalyptic flashbulbs

Oscar and Lucinda (1988) and True History of the Kelly Gang (2001)

Peter

When I was shortlisted for Illywhacker in 1985 I had never read in public in my life. I was terrified that I would win and therefore have to make a speech. For two days I calmed myself by imagining Doris Lessing or Keri Hulme would win. That worked, for my nerves, and for Keri Hulme as well.

When, three years later, I was shortlisted for Oscar and Lucinda I was a different man, not quite ready to punch the air or throw myself on the floor, but confident I would not lose my voice if called on to speak.

What I said is fortunately forgotten but I accepted the nice cheque and slipped it in my rented tux. It was only after this, when I had the money in my pocket, that I discovered there was something ahead, more overwhelming than a speech.

Oscar and Lucinda had been my fourth publication. I had already done many interviews, I thought. I had been photographed more than was decent. But nothing in my previous life prepared me for what followed. I mean my body had known nothing like these apocalyptic flashbulbs, relentless probes, strobes, questions left, right and over there. I was over the moon. I said I was. I was proud. I said that, too. Others were proud, my whole country even. What did I feel? What did I think? Was I happy? In those hours of media triumph and celebration, while my publishing life changed for ever, the cruellest trick of all was how numb I felt. I had to wait three days, for a stranger to hail me in the arrivals hall of Sydney airport, to really feel the thrill: Good on you, mate. Well done.

Marlon James: I had to be marched back to my seat

A Brief History of Seven Killings (2015)

Marlon

I really didnt think I was going to win. So much so that I didnt even write a speech. I was so convinced another book was the winner that right before the announcement I set off to the bathroom, only to be met by two near panicking members of the dinner staff who had run after me. They marched me right back to my seat. The journalist beside me knew I had won and tried to impress on me that I really should write a speech, to which I politely but firmly said no.

I was stunned when Michael Wood called my name. You really do slip outside yourself for a second, the way you do with any extreme experience, whether fear, pain, joy or heartbreak. I bumbled through a speech where I think I mentioned my father way too much, and then told people all the reasons why my book was not easy. I wonder if not easy referred more to the writing of it than the reading of it.

Hilary Mantel wrote a brilliant and hilarious article about not winning awards, which I had read at least three times, mostly in an attempt to get accustomed to not winning. I watched clips of Maggie Smith playing an actor who did not win the Academy award. Because honestly, I never win anything. You try not to be bitter about it, but who are we fooling? It was an honour to be nominated can sound as hollow as you think it would.

Except that its not hollow. No disrespect to the winners at all, but my most surprising reading experiences have come from the shortlist (Monica Ali, for example) and the longlist, (Timothy Mo, for example). So I had come to a quite beautiful moment of acceptance that I was about to join some truly esteemed company. But then I won.

Pat Barker: Its more like an Oscar than a literary prize

The Ghost Road (1995)

Pat

Does the winning author ever know the result before its officially announced? Not in my year, though there was a clue: the cameras seemed to be focusing more on the winning table. I remember saying to my publisher, I think weve done it! After that, my memories are a blur of radio and TV interviews and a bank of cameras with flashing blue lights and voices calling out of the darkness, Look this way! Over here! You feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Winning the Booker changes everything. In its power to transform a career its more like winning an Oscar than another literary prize. I was always aware of the luck element. A different set of judges might well have chosen another book. The question is, how do you react to your sudden (though shortlived!) fame? Embrace it, wallow in it or run away from it as fast as you can? I ran. As soon as I could, I went home and settled down to being the unsuccessful author of the next book. Though even that wasnt easy. Youre always aware that the next book will receive more critical scrutiny than any previous book has done and that can be inhibiting. But even sitting in front of a blank screen tearing my hair out I was always grateful to have won.

In recent years Ive become more aware of a downside to the Booker prize-winning label. Too many intelligent, enthusiastic readers take it as a sign the book will be above their heads, and yet many of these books the shortlisted as much as the winners are brilliantly accessible. Give it a go, you want to say, You never know, you might be missing a good read.

John Banville: The notion I might win made everyone try not to laugh

The Sea (2005)

John

On the day of the award in 2005, I flew into London from Philadelphia at 6am. I had long before arranged to be in America at that time, as no one, especially myself, had the slightest expectation that my novel would even reach the shortlist. When it did get on, it became imperative that I attend the award dinner, in the fear that if they knew I would not be coming the jury would take offence though even the notion that I might win made everyone put on a straight face and try not to laugh.

I came back to the UK alone, with a return flight to New York arranged for the next day at 10.30am bad taste for a loser to hang about any longer than necessary. But what, I wondered, could I possibly do with this day, a whole day, on my own in London? I determined that I must not drink I had made a great mistake in that regard when I was on the shortlist in 1989 so I simply strolled about the city in the October sunshine, looking in the shop windows at all the things I would no more be able to afford tomorrow than I was today.

As the afternoon grew late, and the dreaded dinner hour approached, I found myself in St Jamess Park, standing by the little lake there, idly watching five pure white waterbirds fighting with a duck over a crust of bread. The duck won. I took it for an omen, and went off to put on my black tie.

Penelope Lively: The prize is nicely unpredictable it may be you

Moon Tiger (1987)

Penelope

At lunchtime, on the day of the Booker dinner, my husband said: I dont think youre going to win, but, just in case, perhaps youd better think of something to say. Wise words, as it turned out. I wasnt the favourite, so the advice I would give to anyone shortlisted would be the same: the Booker is nicely unpredictable, so it may turn out to be you, even if they are all saying that is unlikely. And remember, anyway, that there is no such thing as a best book, merely one on which a group of people have been able to reach agreement.

Life after the Man Booker meant a couple of years and more when it was difficult to do what I wanted to do, which was get on with some writing. There was much book-related travel, too much time in airports, too many events. All that is 30 years ago now, and in a way I am quite grateful for the travel: it means that one of the satisfactions of old age is the thought that I shall never see Heathrow again. I have had all the travel I want or need.

Once the searchlight is turned on others, your take on the Man Booker is that of any reader the revelation of books you might not otherwise have come across, and will now read. That is the value of the shortlist (longlist, too) a swathe of books are highlighted for readers. For me, though, there are also the ones that got away that should have won. Two, to my mind: Adam Thorpes Ulverton and Carol Shieldss The Stone Diaries.

Ben Okri: The hunger and the dreams are still there

The Famished Road (1991)

Ben

You take a young poet and novelist flaming with hunger and obscurity and dreams, you put him through the rigours of the short-story form, you unleash him on a novel he had been secretly writing for years, and you gift him with a strange magical night at the Guildhall in October 1991, and what do you get?

You first get shock, surprise, retreat, delight, celebration, partying, making up for the hunger years, excessive travel, an explosion of readership, the opening up of the magic casement of African writing, a very English lingering backlash, many beautiful friendships, an initial stunned hiatus in writing followed by a steady, quiet harvest, opportunities for constant literary and spiritual growth, much conflicting criticism, an ebb and flow of fortunes, some smouldering resentment, the curious compliment of being plagiarised, publication in many languages, undue expectation followed by a rush to declare disappointment, many St Sebastian-like arrows patiently and humorously borne, love and kindness directed at me from ever renewing sources, and an abiding, never faltering gratitude for the fact that regardless of how my books are received or not received the flame and the hunger and the dreams are still there, enriched by that destiny-altering night at the Guildhall in 1991.

DBC Pierre: I bet a tenner on myself as if I were a horse

Vernon God Little (2003)

DBC

For a participant, one thing the Man Booker prize is strange for is that your days of feverish writing can be two or more years behind you. Theres an extreme Doppler shift: you didnt write the book with a view to later competing with others. You suddenly find yourself not only in competition but given odds at the bookies (I put a tenner on myself as if I were a horse you just have to). As if runners ran a race against themselves, and judges were convened years later in a different place; or you worked up the strength to lob a bowling ball up an alley over the horizon, and by the time you got over the rise you saw that agents and publishers had kept the thing rolling on. The night itself is numbing. The shortlist is the realistic prize. I dont know how possible it is to find a single winner among artworks. From the perspective of the dinner table on the night you quickly realise the shows set up for TV. I remember being told to expect one of five roving cameras in my face as the winner was announced. Those are the cameras that catch your reaction when someone else wins. Only five of them, as the winner will go to the stage. I spotted the cameras early. Watched them wait for the announcement; and lived a very long split-second as I realised none were coming to me

Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

Thank you for taking the time to read our article.

If you enjoyed our content, we'd really appreciate some "love" with a share or two.

And ... Don't forget to have fun!

Recommended Products

TigerPress Volume 8 White Label

Adds additional functionality to TigerPress themes so they can be white labelled.

WP Toolkit Developers License

600+ Premium Themes and Plugins with Developers Rights WP Toolkit is a simply massive library of Premium WordPress Tools, offered at literally ‘pennies on the dollar’, complete with Developers rights...

RewardLeads Premier Training and CaseStudies

Advanced casestudies and training for RewardLeads.

Leave a Reply