Mature talent is celebrated with 'Silver Booker' list

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The Independent Culture

They are the silver-haired doyens of British society who, cliché dictates, should be preparing themselves for the more tranquil world of bus passes and pensions.

They are the silver-haired doyens of British society who, cliché dictates, should be preparing themselves for the more tranquil world of bus passes and pensions.

Instead, they are vying for recognition at the literary award known as the "Silver Booker". Yesterday, seven British writers above the age of 50 were unveiled in the final shortlist of the Saga Award for Wit.

The magazine-sponsored awards target older writers at the peak of their careers. The shortlist is an eclectic array of works, ranging from non-fiction and historical to comic fiction and autobiographies.

Julian Fellowes, the award-winning screenwriter of Gosford Park, was among authors on the list with his debut novel Snobs, a wicked satire on the upper classes.

John Walsh, The Independent writer and critic, also features with his autobiographical work Are You Talking To Me?, which examines the impact of movies on his early years.

Other autobiographical works include Simon Gray's The Smoking Diaries, which chronicles humorous and nicotine-stained themes including friendship, love, life and death.

On the fiction front, Laurie Graham's comic novel Mr Starlight and Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things are featured, and the historical is covered by David McKie, who paints a colourful portrait of a Victorian politician and swindler in Jabez: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Rogue.

Christopher Robbins also features on the shortlist, with The Empress of Ireland, in which he examines his friendship through the decades with the late Irish film director Brian Desmond Hurst.

The writers were selected on the basis of their "readability, wit and wisdom" having reached the landmark age of 50, according to Emma Soames, chair of the judges and editor of Saga magazine.

"The strength of our shortlist reflects the exciting wealth of talent writing at the age of 50 and over in Britain today," she said. "Judging humour can be a very difficult and subjective process but, after much consideration, we were able to whittle the list down to the final titles.

"We feel that we have agreed on seven books which each have a distinctive voice and that essential witty tone."

One of Britain's newest literary awards, the "Silver Booker" is in its second year and awards the winning writer £20,000 - the runners up receive £1,000 each.

Last year, the winning author was Alexander McCall Smith, who achieved fame and fortune with the creation of the crime series the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

The timing of the award could not have been better. At present, the over-50s represent the fastest growing sector of the population in the country.

For Fellowes, the award is the perfect way of celebrating those who blossom later in life than others, particularly in the literary arena.

Referring to the Oscar he won two years ago for Gosford Park, Fellowes told Saga magazine earlier this year: "The nice thing was that it happened when I was 52, and a lot of people identified with the fact that it came 10 years after many of us have given up hope. I feel like a spokesman for neglected ability."

The winners will be announced on 20 September.

THE SAGA SHORTLIST

Deborah Moggach, These Foolish Things

Prolific novelist and screenwriter, whose works range from Tulip Fever to Changing Babies, her latest novel was inspired by the boom in over-50s and is set around a British retirement home in Bangalore

Julian Fellowes, Snobs

Famous for his award-winning screenwriting rather than his prose. Snobs, his first novel,was published earlier this year

Laurie Graham, Mr Starlight

The Venice-based writer has written more than 15 books, including fiction, non-fiction, BBC plays and short stories, with previous shortlists including the Orange prize and the Booker prize

John Walsh, Are You Talking To Me? A life through the movies

Following on from The Falling Angels, The Independent writer, columnist and critic describes here how his adolescence was shaped by the movies he watched

David McKie, Jabez: The Rise and Fall of a Victorian Rogue

The Guardian columnist writes a compelling account of the Victorian politician and swindler Jabez Spencer Balfour

Simon Gray, The Smoking Diaries

Born in 1936, the London-based writer has written more than 30 plays, ranging from Otherwise Engaged to the Common Pursuit. The Smoking Diaries is a humorous and frank account of his life from the moment he turns 65

Christopher Robbins, The Empress of Ireland

When Robbins was hired in the 1970s by the prolific Irish film director Brian Hurst to write a screenplay about events leading to the birth of Christ, it led to a long and eccentric friendship as chronicled in this memoir

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