£50,000 buys me time, says Booker winner Hollinghurst as he takes a break from writing

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Hours after winning this year's Man Booker Prize, Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Line of Beauty was being reprinted in anticipation of an extra 10,000 sales this week. It is a transformation in fortunes that most jobbing authors can only dream of, but the writer was keeping his excitement firmly in check yesterday.

Hours after winning this year's Man Booker Prize, Alan Hollinghurst's novel The Line of Beauty was being reprinted in anticipation of an extra 10,000 sales this week. It is a transformation in fortunes that most jobbing authors can only dream of, but the writer was keeping his excitement firmly in check yesterday.

Sales of his tale of life in the 1980s Thatcher era would go up, he agreed, as he followed the relentless route from radio studio to television couch for yet more interviews after a celebratory party that left him with only three hours of sleep.

"Reprints were immediately ordered, which was very gratifying," he said yesterday.

But with the unruffled, cultured composure that exactly fits the elegance of his prose, he was not going to proffer ecstatic whoops of joy. He did need a new kettle, he conceded. "But I'm not the kind of person who's going to buy a swimming pool."

What the winner's £50,000 cheque and increased sales will do is take the pressure off him as he prepares to write the follow-up to his prize-winning work. He specialises in a extraordinary variety of novel in which a refined style is deployed on a subject matter - gay love and sex - which no previous Booker winner has tackled.

"What it means to me as a freelance writer is it buys me time, which is the most valuable thing of all," he repeated in interviews yesterday.

Speed is not his thing. Mr Hollinghurst, now 50, was 34 when he produced his acclaimed first novel, The Swimming-Pool Library, about gay sex in Thatcher's Britain. He was working on The Times Literary Supplement, which he continued to do until a year after his second book, The Folding Star, was published in 1994. The book - which was compared to Thomas Mann's novella, Death in Venice - was shortlisted for the Booker but beaten by James Kelman's How Late it Was, How Late amid speculation that some of the judges did not like the gay sex scenes.

Spell, a gay comedy of manners, followed in 1998 but it was six more years before The Line of Beauty continued many of the themes of The Swimming-Pool Library and went on to beat the hottest favourite in Booker history, David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, at Tuesday night's award ceremony in London. The decision of the judges was announced just 45 minutes before the ceremony began.

"This book took me a long time to write," he confessed. "I'm enjoying not writing a book at the moment."

The Line of Beauty tells the story of a young gay postgraduate of the American author Henry James, who lodges in the home of an ambitious Tory MP. The novel charts his path through the society of a wealthy elite alongside his romances in a Thatcherite Britain becoming conscious of the threat of Aids.

It was, Mr Hollinghurst has said, a "ghastly" time. "I feel an undiminished sense of unhappiness and indignation about that period and it took me a long time to find a way of writing about it," he said. "I needed the historical distance to deal with what happened politically in that era, and also the Aids crisis which forms such an important part of the book."

He seemed genuinely bemused when it was put to him that it was the first "gay novel" to win the Booker and said he had never thought of it like that. But he admitted that if The Swimming-Pool Library had won 16 years earlier it would have seemed "really remarkable".

Chris Smith, the chairman of the judges, said the subject matter had not even featured in their deliberations. "That in itself is something worth celebrating," he said. "This is a novel that happens to be about gay sex and gay relationships. The fact it can be considered as a perfectly valid part of contemporary fiction without regarding that as unique shows how much times have changed."

It will be interesting to see whether the subject will affect its success. Memories of the Thatcher era could be as much of a deterrent as the gay sex for some readers. For although all Booker Prize victors sell, some sell more than others.

Last year's winner, Vernon God Little by D B C Pierre, has sold more than £500,000 worth of copies in British bookshops in the past year but the 2002 victor, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, did better still with an estimated 1.7 million copies worldwide.

Joel Rickett, acting editor of The Bookseller magazine, said it was unlikely that Hollinghurst would achieve the phenomenal success of Life of Pi, but it would bring him new readers because the Booker invariably sold 10,000 copies a week after the ceremony.

"He's very well-known in the literary world and he's got his own readers, but it will take him to a completely different reader just not necessarily a mass market," Mr Rickett said.

" Life of Pi was an incredibly accessible story and the way it was written is very easy to get into. But the shortlist for the Booker this year was much more challenging. All three favourites - the Mitchell, Hollinghurst and Toibin - were literary novels about subjects without immediate mass market appeal."

Hollinghurst, a classical music-loving aesthete who studied and taught English at Oxford, can probably survive without the mass market. But as he said of the jury's decision in his victor's speech: "I know it's a decision I shall be grateful for for the rest of my life."

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