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Booker Prize pits tiny Highlands publisher against literary giants


A publisher operating out of a bedroom in a flat in the Scottish Highlands has had one of its novels longlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Sandstone Press was set up nine years ago to publish poetry and has only published seven novels. Its book The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, released in February, is set to take on the country's biggest publishing groups for the world's most prestigious literary prize. The winner gets a £50,000 cheque.

"We are all thrilled," said Sandstone founder Robert Davidson, 62, a retired former engineer who lives in Dingwall, 15 miles north of Inverness. "We are happy for Jane and for this wonderful book. Hopefully this will begin our progression into a British publisher of note."

Rogers said: "I am completely stunned, and amazed. I've been doing my mother-in-law's garden and got back in the car and saw I had six messages. I am speechless."

Her book is the story of a "near future" where pregnant women are dying from an incurable disease, praised by The Independent for being a "small, calm voice of reason in an nonsensical world".

According to an awards spokesman, all but four of the 13-strong longlist are from a "non-conglomerate" publisher, the highest number ever represented on the longlist. The judging chair, Dame Stella Rimington, denied that there was any agenda to represent smaller publishers. "It was a competitive shortlist but we didn't have any specific agenda in mind," she said.

This year's longlist is headed byAlan Hollinghurst with The Stranger's Child, the bookies' favourite to win. Hollinghurst won the award in 2004 for The Line of Beauty. Dame Stellasaid his latest novel was "interesting" with a "fascinating central character."

Julian Barnes, who had been shortlisted for the award three times but never won, is also on the list for The Sense of an Ending, concerned with the fortunes of a group of schoolfriends. He joined four first-time writers on the list: Stephen Kelman, AD Miller, Yvette Edwards and Patrick McGuinness.

Other notable inclusions include the Independent on Sunday columnist DJ Taylor for Derby Day, a Victorian drama about a betting sting. "I said to myself this morning, having seen many longlists come and go, that my book wasn't the kind of book you would get on the longlist," said Taylor. "You get a nose for these things. But I am immensely gratified."

Notable omissions include Justin Cartwright, Ali Smith, AL Kennedy and Andrew Miller, and former winners, including Anne Enright and Aravind Adiga, all of whom have released eligible books. One employee of a major publishing house, which had no longlisted authors, tweeted yesterday: "Congrats to all those authors and publishers but gutted none of ours made the longlist... I feel pretty sick and stunned."

The shortlisted authors will be announced on 6 September, with the winner announced the following month at a dinner at Guildhall in London.

The award's judges are the writer and journalist Matthew d'Ancona, the author Susan Hill, the author and politician Chris Mullin and the journalist Gaby Wood, chaired by the author and former spy chief Dame Stella.

She said: "We are delighted by the quality and breadth of our longlist, which emerged from an impassioned discussion. The list ranges from the Wild West to multi-ethnic London via post-Cold War Moscow and Bucharest, and includes four first novels."

Man Booker dozen...

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending

This short novel takes in a middle-aged man "resigned to his own ordinariness" reassessing his schooldays.

Sebastian Barry, On Canaan's Side

Revolves around Lilly Bere, mourning the loss of her grandson; the reader is transported back to Bere's experiences of the First World War, the new world of America, and the next seven decades of her life.

Carol Birch, Jamrach's Menagerie

Novel deriving from real-life sinking of whale-ship Essex in 1820, and taking in the life of Charles Jamrach, a leading wild animal dealer.

Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers

The tale of two outlaws travelling across the Wild West coming to terms with their relationship and their profession.

Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues

Revolves around the story of Hieronymus "Hiero" Falk, a mixed-race jazz trumpeter forbidden from playing in 1930s Berlin.

Yvvette Edwards, A Cupboard Full of Coats

Lemon and Jinx, two old acquaintances, meet each other and rediscover the circumstances surrounding the fatal stabbing of Jinx's mother.

Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger's Child

Explores the life and legacy of a gay war poet and how truth can be compromised by remembrance.

Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English

Portrait of the protagonists involved in Peckham's gangland culture.

Patrick McGuinness, The Last Hundred Days

Set in a 1980 Romania full of secret service agents, ravaged beauty and political turbulence, charting the fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's rule of terror.

AD Miller, Snowdrops

A psychological thriller unfolding during one Moscow winter.

Alison Pick, Far to Go

Tells the story of two Jews whose lives are upturned by the arrival of Nazi forces in Czechoslovakia during the Second World War.

Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb

Set in a future world where pregnant women are dying from an unknown affliction and various protest groups cannot agree on what to do.

DJ Taylor, Derby Day

Revolves around characters whose fates revolve around the results of the Derby at Epsom.