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Atwood the poet, wouldn’t you know it?

Atwood the poet, wouldn’t you know it?

The unstoppable Margaret Atwood rolls on. 2019 joint Booker Prize winner must surely be the hardest-working writer around – someone should remove her batteries for a bit and force her to rest. She has just announced not a new novel but a new collection of poetry, named Dearly, to be published on 10 November. The last time she released a poetry collection was 13 years ago, back in 2007, with The Door. What’s more, Atwood will narrate the audiobook version of the collection which will feature werewolves and sirens alongside real life and verses dealing with what her publishers describe as “absences and endings, ageing and retrospection, but also gifts and renewals”. Not surprisingly perhaps, the publishers are also hailing the new book as “the collection of a lifetime”. Atwood’s is of course a long literary life; her first poems, Double Persephone, were published 59 years ago in 1961. The author was then just 22 and the book was self published, with a mere 200 copies being printed. Rather more than that will be rolling off the presses this time round.


Marlon James, winner of the 2015 Man Booker Prize, has a new project on the go – a podcast with his editor at Riverhead Books, Jake Morrissey. Entitled “Marlon and Jake Read Dead People”, the podcast is be an extension of the sort of discussions the pair have been having for years. But why will they discuss only dead authors? Because, apparently, the chats will be entirely uncensored and dead authors can’t sue. “I’m not denying there is some fun in talking trash about dead people,” said James, not least because “They can’t attack me on Twitter.”


Jokha Alharthi may be the current Man Booker International Prize winner – until 19 May when the 2020 winner is announced – but that doesn’t mean she now has things easy. Before writing Celestial Bodies she was the author of two children’s books, which she wrote for her own children because “I told them many stories and then I ran out of stories! So I invented stories and my children actually liked them. I though why not write [children’s] books?” She would, it seems, like to write more but, even now, as a celebrated prize winner, she finds that “publishers want a certain kind of writing. Basically, I can write but I face difficulties in finding a publisher for my children’s books.”


Anne Enright, Man Booker winner in 2007 with The Gathering, has been recalling how her victory was received at the time. Not everyone was chuffed: appearing on Desert Island Discs, she said that “Particularly, it has to be said, the guys were made unhappy.” She went on to say that: “I think it is true that if a woman does well, then men can be sort of somehow personally insulted by their success, even though it is not really about them at all. It was something you had done to them.” Although she didn’t give details or name names, she hinted darkly that her win seemed to affect some of those around her in an “alarming way” and that she became the “centre of a lot of publishing agitations”. All very intriguing and it sounds like a ready-made plot for a half decent novel. . .


Howard Jacobson, Man Booker Prize winner in 2010, has a useful tip for all would-be novelists: “find your shame and own it” since, he reckons, “shame makes you a writer”. Switching out of the first person, Jacobson described a typical tyro writer: “You are young, you are little, you are probably shy, quiet, and you are living more in your head than in your body, that's what makes you a writer.” So far, so good. “Anything that puts him off or upsets him will be a double shame to him. Out of that double shame, a particular style of writing is born, and you make fun of yourself.” It is the ability to make fun of yourself, said Jacobson, that means you own your shame and your true writer’s voice emerges. Jacobson, of course, has never been afraid to poke fun at himself and his characters – and probably at others too, but only in the privacy of his own home.