Winner attacks Booker for its `miserly' awards

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The Independent Online
BOOKER, THE food wholesaler that sponsors Britain's most famous literary prize, has damaged the prestige of the award by its "miserly" behaviour, a former winner of the prize said yesterday.

Kazuo Ishiguro, whose novel The Remains of the Day won the Booker Prize in 1989 and was then made into a film starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, made an extended attack on Booker for paying little more than the "salary of a teacher" to the winner and giving the judges just pounds 3,000. This is leading, he claimed, to a number of winners in recent years who had failed to make the bestsellers list. "The prize money should certainly be more than pounds 20,000," he said. "It hasn't changed since I won the prize 10 years ago. It's as if they [Booker] think that authors should live on the salary of a teacher and be grateful. Booker generates vastly more publicity than it puts into the prize."

Most dangerous of all, says Mr Ishiguro, is a selection process that overloads the judges without paying them enough to devote time to their selections. "It is not surprising the judges complain when they are each having to read at least 120 books, and they are only paid a miserly pounds 3,000. If they were given more money for the workload, I think it would help achieve a more credible decision."

Mr Ishiguro said that money was not the only thing damaging the reputation of the prize. "The days when the Booker Prize shortlist immediately jumped into the bestseller list are over. This must in part be blamed on some dodgy decisions in the mid-Nineties."

There have already been claims this year from somejudges, who are being chaired by Gerald Kaufman MP, that the reading load is too heavy.

However, Jonathan Taylor, chairman of Booker Plc and director of the Booker Prize management committee, said the most important thing for the prize-winner was the sales the award generated. "As far as I know there is no plan to increase the size of the prize. Nowinner of the prize has emerged poorer, whether it is Mr Ishiguro himself, or Arundhati Roy, whose Booker-winning novel, The God of Small Things, sold more than a million copies. Even a difficult novel like Keri Hulme's The Bone People sold over 30,000 copies off the back of the prize.

"The prize has been pounds 20,000 since 1988," added Mr Taylor. "Any damage done by inflation has more than been made up for by the effect a Booker Prize has on hardback sales and the sale of paperback rights or film rights."

Mr Taylor said the amount paid to judges was an honorarium, and that in his knowledge no judge had ever turned the job down because the money was too little. "In fact, very rarely has anyone turned the invitation to be a judge down.

"Money is a new theme for 1999," said Mr Taylor. "But the Booker courts controversy and I feel rather like the film producer who said he didn't mind criticism as long as they spell his name correctly."