So I wear lip gloss. Does that make me a bad Booker judge?

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The Independent Online

"The Bitchiest Booker Ever," shrieked one newspaper. Well, yes and no. As one of the five Man Booker Prize judges this year, I can reveal that the adjudicating process was relatively civilised. The media coverage, on the other hand, has inclined to the snide.

"The Bitchiest Booker Ever," shrieked one newspaper. Well, yes and no. As one of the five Man Booker Prize judges this year, I can reveal that the adjudicating process was relatively civilised. The media coverage, on the other hand, has inclined to the snide.

The Evening Standard's literary editor, David Sexton, dismissed the entire short list and recommended readers to turn to Proust, Dickens and Roth instead. This might have had rather more force had it not been published before the short list was announced.

I woke on Friday and found I might as well have become the new Myra Hindley after AN Wilson, whose entertaining My Name is Legion did not make the long list, declared he was "trying hard not to hate this woman", and that I was "embarrassingly posturing".

Quite a few disappointed authors and editors have directed their scorn my way. I am "dizzy", "convivial", "glossy-lipped", "a friend of one of the writers" , and - oh cruellest cut! - not "a proper judge". While it may be true that I am not beyond a bit of posturing (which certainly embarrasses my husband), occasionally wear lip gloss, like a party, know some writers, and am rather absent-minded, all of my fellow judges display at least one or more of these human frailties.

Even the admirably regal and intellectual Fiammetta Rocco of The Economist dons a bit of lippy for the camera. But I fear I alone must bear the stigma of being an improper judge. An English literature don, a literary editor, a former minister for culture with a PhD on Coleridge, and a writer who was once Booker-shortlisted, would seem to have adequate qualifications.

But I suffer from what you might call "Mariella syndrome". This means that if you're female, under 40, get your face on the goggle box occasionally, and are more of a fishnets girl than an obvious bluestocking, you will be derided for presuming to have an opinion on a book at all.

I started compiling a list of "50 reasons why I should not be a Booker judge", of which my favourite are: I have a favourite colour (green); I use my mobile on the train; I enjoy the films of Paul Verhoeven, especially Starship Troopers; and Danny Baker came to my wedding. For these and the other 46 reasons (I don't walk on the cracks in the pavement ...) it will be my fault if a fancied author such as AL Kennedy or Justin Cartwright is omitted from the long list.

And it will count for nothing at all that the works of both Kennedy and Cartwright were among my favoured 20 novels this year - nor that I didn't, as it happens, champion my friend Matt Thorne's new book. The breadth of my past reading means nothing, nor the fact that over the past eight years I've commissioned and edited short fiction from the likes of Tim Parks, Simon Raven, Louise Walsh, Michel Faber and DBC Pierre.

And the reason that any of this matters in the slightest is that the Man Booker Prize matters. The Booker can transform a poor, obscure author into a rich, famous one overnight. It can turn a struggling publishing house, as Canongate was when it bought Life of Pi, into a flourishing one. It is not a prize for the best armchair read (Are Jude the Obscure, 1984 or Lolita cosy, tea-and-scones reads?), but for a book that, at the severe risk of embarrassing posturing, reaffirms the transforming and transporting power of literature on a reasonably profound level.

If the winning novel also happens to have swift-paced narrative that works well before a log fire, so much the better. And for all the intrigue, the process is simple: five men and women of varying ages, experience and literary taste, read and discuss more than 100 novels and find a surprising amount of consensus. Their detractors, in most instances, have not read the books on the short list, let alone the long list (mostly they haven't even read the novels they say should be there in their place). Yet there are calls for "professional judges".

An inspired idea straight from Stalinist Russia. You can see the line-up now: embittered, middle-aged male literary critics making a dandruff-flecked circuit of the Somerset Maugham Prize, the Hawthorne and the Whitbread, awarding everything, including the Orange Prize, to David Lodge. "And the Betty Trask award goes to Sir Vidia!" Perish the thought that some unknown should snatch victory from the arthritic jaws of a literary lion. And let's not mention the fact that septuagenarian Shirley Hazzard is one of this year's front-runners, as women simply don't count.

Take it from me, the Man Booker Prize long list was full of gems (Cooking with Fernet Branca, for example, is a work of comic genius), and the short list is outstanding. If you can't take it from me, take it from a man, like Boyd Tonkin writing in The Independent. Better still, read the books.

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