Cover stories: Booker longlist; Alan Bennett; Jean M Auel

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The Independent Culture

For the first time, the Booker judges, under the stewardship of Kenneth (now Lord) Baker, have published the long list from which their shortlist will be plucked on 18 September. The 24 titles are surprising in commissions and omissions. So yes to McEwan, Naipaul, Carey, Gordimer, Bainbridge – but no to Rushdie, Coe and P D James, for example. Melvyn Bragg is a presence, as is Baker's former colleague at Margaret Thatcher's court, Ferdinand Mount (now editor of the TLS). Marina Warner is also listed in a despatch notable for its first novels (Manil Suri, Eoin McNamee, Rachel Seiffert), small press showing (anyone for Zvi Jagendorf's Wolfy and the Strudelbakers, from Dewi Lewis?) and moments of populism: notably, Nick Hornby's How to be Good. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the presence of Philip Pullman, whose novel The Amber Spyglass remains, essentially, a children's title. Should it make the shortlist, it will (like J K Rowling at the Whitbread) cause a judicial row on the night. For now, the bookies can start to consider whether this, at last, will be Beryl's year.

¿ The normally reticent Alan Bennett has been speaking frankly to the trade weekly Publishing News. The publication next month of his latest short story, "The Laying On Of Hands" (Profile) occasioned the piece, in which he reveals that he's been writing short stories because he can't seem to write plays, at least not plays that people would want to see: "They're so gloomy. I don't think I could inflict them on the public." An additional distraction is a family memoir prompted by the discovery that his maternal grandfather committed suicide during a period of unemployment. There's no publication date as yet, though Bennett himself has already spun off some of the excess text into the series of Telling Tales.

¿ It's been 11 years since the last Jean M Auel novel, Plains of Passage, the fourth in the prehistoric Earth's Children series that began in 1980 with The Clan of the Cave Bear. The series has sold 34 million copies worldwide, with 28 translations, and the books are set texts in Europe and the US. Next May, Auel fans' patience will be rewarded when Hodder publishes The Shelters of Stone.