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Damazer’s eye on the prize

Damazer’s eye on the prize

Mark Damazer has been named as the new chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, the parent organisation of both the Booker and International Booker Prizes as well as its charitable endeavours. After a long and distinguished career with BBC News, Damazer became Master of St Peter’s College, Oxford. Damazer, who studied history at Cambridge, clearly has a clear eye for the past and one of his first acts in his new role was to affirm that, after last year’s events, neither prize will be allowed to be shared again. “What you don’t want last year to do is to set a precedent,” he said, “and I think this is a rather crucial point.” Damazer knows a thing or two about winning prizes: in 2013 he was the captain of the winning Gonville and Caius team on Christmas University Challenge. His quartet defeated an Emmanuel College team and no, they didn’t split the trophy.

It has been a big week for all things Booker Prize related. The coronavirus-interrupted International Booker Prize had news of its own: the winner will be announced on 26 August. The event will take place some three months after it was first due and will be revealed at a digital ceremony. Part of the reason for the initial postponement was that, with most bookshops around the country being closed, readers struggled to get their hands on the shortlist. As of 15 June, many of those bookshops will reopen and there will be an accompanying push with a series of films about the shortlisted books. The films, one each week, will feature not just the shortlisted authors and translators but also have readings from actors including Natalie Haynes, Toby Jones and Elizabeth McGovern. If you were wondering what the judges have been doing with this extra time, well, it has not been spent choosing a winner. Ted Hodgkinson, chair of judges, revealed that, as per tradition, that final task will be done around announcement time. So perhaps the judges have been baking or painting instead.

David Mitchell, Booker Prize shortlisted for number9dream and Cloud Atlas, has spent the past five years hard at work on a rock’n’roll novel – not the usual stamping ground of literary fiction. Utopia Avenue is centred on a fictional London band that is part of the late 1960s psychedelic scene. Mitchell says that his band members “share the DNA” of such music greats as Ray Davies of the Kinks, Ginger Baker, of Cream, and Pink Floyd’s enigmatic Syd Barrett, while the “real” David Bowie also puts in an appearance. The novelist has garnered much useful detail about the nitty-gritty of band life from a slew of recent memoirs: “If I have succeeded in giving the impression of being in a band then it is because of [the material] I have been able to harvest,” he says. “I’m lucky to be writing it now,” he noted, “When the Sixties and Seventies survivors are in a need of a pension.”

An unpleasant stunt by an Australian prankster showed how tone deaf some people can be. In the midst of a fatal global pandemic, a Twitter post appeared nominally from Penguin Australia, announcing the death of the two-time Booker Prize winner and Nobel laureate JM Coetzee. The idea was, apparently, to show the prevalence of fake news and the paucity of fact checking that goes on. Happily, Coetzee is alive and well and treating the shoddy episode and the “serial hoaxer” with the disdain they deserve – by saying nothing.