Between the Covers 05/054/2013

Your weekly guide to what's really going on in the world of books

Poor men must be starting to think there’s a conspiracy, now that the third literary list in a month has been released that has more female authors on it than male. First, Granta announced its latest list of the Best of Young British Novelists, which had 12 women and eight men.

Then the Desmond Elliott Prize longlist was unveiled, with seven women to three men. Now, the Miles Franklin Award – Australia’s oldest and most prestigious literary prize – has announced its shortlist and, shock horror, it’s all female. The five shortlisted novelists are Romy Ash for Floundering; Annah Faulkner, The Beloved; Michelle de Kretser, Questions of Travel; Drusilla Modjeska, The Mountain; and Carrie Tiffany, Mateship with Birds. This might be surprising, if women didn’t write about as many books as men (but probably more fiction), buy 68 per cent of books, read about 80 per cent of fiction, or comprise up to 85 per cent of the publishing industry … but they do, so let’s all try to stay calm, OK?

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Congratulations to Ida Pollock, a founder member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association who has just been made its Honorary Vice President in celebration of her 105th birthday. Ms Pollock is the author of 123 published novels and has just found an agent for two more Regency romances. “A writing career is a career for life,” says the RNA’s chairman, Annie Ashurst.

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You’ve got to hand it to Claire Messud, who did what many authors must dream of doing when they are asked a silly question about their novel for the hundredth time. She completely went off on one – in an eloquent, literary way, of course. In an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, having already explained her thinking behind the character of Nora in her new novel The Woman Upstairs (left, top), Messud was asked: “I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim.” She replied: “For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t ‘Is this a potential friend for me?’ but ‘Is this character alive?’” If the poor interviewer didn’t need a friend before, she probably does now. Between the Covers can’t wait to read that novel, though (published by Virago on 30 May).

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In an interview with the books news service Bookbrunch, William Boyd (above) has spilled the beans about his appearance on the first Granta Best of Young British Novelists list (which marked its 30th anniversary last month). “I didn’t know many of them [Amis, Barnes, Rushdie et al],” he said. “I was living in Oxford and came up for the photograph, and I don’t think any of us realised that we would still be around 30 years later.” He adds: “I don’t expect to be on any shortlists any more. I’ve had my moment; there are newer and younger writers coming up.”

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