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Ion Trewin on selection of the 2012 longlist

Ion Trewin on selection of the 2012 longlist

On London’s hottest morning of the summer so far in a first floor boardroom close to Leicester Square, Sir Peter Stothard, chair of the 2012 Man Booker judges, cleared his throat and tapped a glass with a spoon. Silence fell. Debate was to begin to select the Man Booker Dozen, the longlist from which first the shortlist and then in mid-October the winner will be chosen.

Since they began reading shortly before Christmas the judges – Dinah Birch, Amanda Foreman, Daniel Stevens and Bharat Tandon – have met regularly but informally. They have discussed, debated, even argued (but amicably) about the entries. No-hopers have been steadily weeded out. By the beginning of July the last of the 145 entries had been received. The working list that resulted was the agenda for the longlist meeting. And the judges agreed to reread the contenders.

In the seven years I have administered the prize, no two chairs have chosen the same procedure for producing the longlist. One asked each judge to send me in advance their ten top titles – any that appeared on at least three of the lists made the longlist. For the remainder a debate took place. Several others used variants of what one might describe as majority voting.

For this year’s prize Peter Stothard chose a different approach. Every novel on the agenda was first discussed with debate in each case led by one of the judges. What rereading quickly proved was that not every novel can stand up to being read even a second time so soon after the first. This is truer of narrative-led fiction. Knowing the outcome means that the qualities of character and dialogue – among other attributes – are emphasised.

It took the best part of three hours for the longlist - or Man Booker Dozen – to emerge. I can testify that the process had been vigorous. Passion proved important. By the end novels by eight former winners had fallen by the wayside; only three out of fifteen works entered by previously shortlisted authors survived. But the longlist includes four first novels. The gender divide was seven men to five women, but a higher proportion of female entrants made the longlist cut.

We emerged into the Leicester Square heat. The judges had made their decision. The surviving dozen novels from what everyone agreed is a particularly fine year for the writing of fiction in English will now be read again. Early in September comes the shortlist meeting. It will be a tough, but exciting call.

Ion Trewin