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The reluctant Anna Burns

The reluctant Anna Burns

It has now been a few weeks since Anna Burns was awarded the Man Booker Prize and she's still in shock. As she says, with a nicely judged sense of understatement, “I’m not used to winning the Booker. It’s not my normal milieu. But it’s absolutely wonderful, quite a gift.” And nor is she used to being seen as the poster girl for a whole range of societal issues that featured in Milkman. As she points out, she finished writing the novel in 2014 – way before the three horsemen of Brexit, Trump and #MeToo appeared on the horizon. Nevertheless, “People are wanting me to be a spokesperson for Brexit and for #MeToo. But I am just this writer that sits in my room doing my writing – I can’t be a spokesperson.” That's as may be, but you can guarantee that as long as those topics remain newsworthy – ie ad nauseam – she will still be asked for her insights about them.

 

Burns is one of the authors nominated in the novel of the year category of the An Post Irish Book Awards shortlists. Alongside her are her fellow Man Booker peers Donal Ryan (From a Low and Quiet Sea) and Sally Rooney (Normal People). The awards cover no fewer than 16 categories, from children's books to Irish-language works, and the winners will be announced on 27 November.

 

It is not often that the book world gets its communal foot in the door of Parliament. However, the Society of Authors’ chief executive Nicola Solomon spoke a few days ago to a Commons cross-party inquiry into authors' incomes and said that the further roll-out of the Universal Credit scheme would further damage the ability of the likes of Anna Burns, J.K. Rowling and Sarah Walters (all of who relied at one point on benefits) to write. To those who argue that writing is a privilege rather than a profession, she responded: “If writing is a privilege then only the privileged will be able to afford to write, and that gives us an incredibly narrow group of people writing about the same group of people that are reading their books.”

 

She may not have won this year but Esi Edugyan continues to sweep up prize nominations like spilled rice. Her novel Washington Black has now been shortlisted for the 2019 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, which comes with a $5,000 prize and is announced on 27 January. Edugyan has already been nominated for the Man Booker, the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. If only there were a prize awarded for prize nominations she'd be the hottest of favourites.

 

It has long been suspected in some quarters that there is only a single degree of separation between Jane Austen and the Man Booker. Details are scarce but it seems there is a new film version of Emma in the offing starring Anya Taylor-Joy (The Miniaturist and Peaky Blinders) and directed by Autumn de Wilde. Far more important than these names, however, is the fact that the script is being written by Eleanor Catton, 2013 Man Booker winner with The Luminaries. Catton is, of course, an experienced screen-writer by now, having worked on the script for the television adaptation of her own mammoth book. Emma weighs in at a few hundred pages shorter than The Luminaries so the job should be a doddle.