A literary agent renowned for securing big advances for his authors’ debut novels is putting his clients to shame after his own first work of fiction was named on the Man Booker Prize long-list.
Bill Clegg is one of three debut novelists on the 13-strong list for the 2015 £50,000 prize, announced on 29 July, for his book Did You Ever Have a Family.
On an internationally varied list, he is one of five US authors nominated – the kind of American domination that, according to one expert, was “exactly what we feared” when the rules of the Booker were changed to admit any author writing in English.
Mr Clegg’s book, which is due for release in the UK in September, took him seven years to write while he continued his day job.
“It feels like a fluke,” Mr Clegg told The Independent. “I’m thrilled and grateful and surprised to be on the list.”
He added that his writing success is not going to change his work habits. “I’m first and foremost a literary agent,” he said. “For a full-time writer, my novel would probably have taken a summer. It took me years as it had to happen in the margins.”
Mr Clegg, who set up his own agency last year, is working on a second novel “which will take years”, but said working with his writers helped. “Seeing how the nails and support beams go into other people’s novels is a great help. I’m on the front-lines, seeing breathtaking writing for the first time.”
Before publishing his first novel, however, Mr Clegg had already published two memoirs – Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man in 2010 and Ninety Days two years later – about his struggles with crack addiction. Michael Wood, chair of the judges for the 2015 prize, said: “With a literary agent writing a novel, some might look kindly on it and others could be ready to dismiss it. But it is very impressive.”
The other debut novelists are Nigerian Chigozie Obioma, for The Fisherman, and New Zealander Anna Smaill, for The Chimes, who will look to emulate her compatriot Eleanor Catton who won the Booker in 2013.
They will be up against former winner Anne Enright. The Irish novelist, nominated this time for The Green Road, won the prize in 2007 for The Gathering. Other heavyweight authors on this year’s longlist include Marilynne Robinson and Anne Tyler.
Mr Wood said: “The range of different performances and forms of these novels is amazing. All of them do something exciting with the language they have chosen to use.”
Big-hitting novelists Jonathan Franzen, Kazuo Ishiguro and William Boyd were among the surprise omissions from the long-list for the award JM Coetzee dubbed the “ultimate prize to win in the English speaking world”.
Before the 2014 awards, the prize was open only to authors from the UK, the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe but the rules were changed to admit anyone writing in English and published in the UK.
Jonny Geller, joint chief executive of literary agency Curtis Brown, said: “It is certainly an international long-list. I’m pleased with the cross-section.”
Regarding the inclusion of five US authors, he said: “This year we are really seeing for the first time that they could be dominant. I can’t help but feel that it is taking the oxygen from home-grown writers.”
The number of British novelists has slumped to the same level as 2013 when there was a record low of just three. They were Tom McCarthy, Andrew O’Hagan and Sunjeev Sahota, who was named the Granta Best of Young British Novelists in 2013.
Man Booker longlist
Bill Clegg (US):
Did You Ever Have a Family
Anne Enright (Ireland):
The Green Road
Marlon James (Jamaica):
Brief History of Seven Killings
Laila Lalami (US):
The Moor’s Account
Tom McCarthy (UK):
Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria):
Andrew O’Hagan (UK):
Marilynne Robinson (US):
Anuradha Roy (India):
Sleeping on Jupiter
Sunjeev Sahota (UK):
The Year of the Runaways
Anna Smaill (New Zealand):
Anne Tyler (US):
A Spool of Blue Thread
Hanya Yanagihara (US):
A Little Life
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