COMMONWEALTH PEN POWER

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It's usually some time during turkey digestion, after the crackers have been yanked to death, that we remember the Commonwealth. Or rather, the Queen remembers, while we try to figure out where the remote-control is. "It's odd that if there's any country that stands outside the Commonwealth, it's Britain," says David Malouf, the Australian novelist. "It's as if, having introduced us to one another, you've left us to get on with it." In many ways, the Commonwealth Writers Prize is a reminder of what we're missing out on. In the 10 years since the pounds 10,000 prize was created, it has turned a spotlight on writers from all over the 53-state association. The post-colonial tale it tells is of a language that has not only been assimilated by the cultures it has encountered, but reinvigorated and refashioned by writers in ways that shame their drab British contemporaries.

Malouf is in England to join more than 40 writers for a 10th anniversary festival entitled "Enigmas and Arrivals" which ices this Tuesday's 1997 prizegiving cake with two UK tours and two major London readings. The author of Remembering Babylon finishes off the first tour tonight at the Pegasus Theatre, Oxford (01865 722851) in the company of Oliver Senior (Jamaica) and Mordecai Richler (Canada). Alastair Niven, the editor of an anthology brought out to coincide with the festival, believes that "Commonwealth writers help us to take stock of a migratory world without authoritative centres and where no-one can be legitimately marginalised". You can't marginalise any of the writers lined up this week. The highlight is 6 May's Fiction International in London, where Ghana's Ama Ata Aidoo and South Africa's JM Coetzee are joined by Rohinton Mistry and Vikram Seth. Seth's A Suitable Boy is a masterpiece of reinvented 19th-century storytelling. At 1474 pages, it's also the worst stocking-filler known to man.

Githa Hariharan, Alex Miller, Oliver Senior Voice Box, RFH, London 1 May 7.30pm; Fiction International QEH 6 May 7.30pm. Booking: 0171-960 4242

Dominic Cavendish

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