Howls of outrage are bound to accompany next month’s unveiling of Granta’s list of top 20 young writers. Here a former Granta editor and veteran of the 2003 judging panel reveals how the list takes shape.
By Alex Clark
Ten years is a long time in the literary game: it can easily take someone until then to finish writing a decent novel – although that’s less and less likely to wash with contemporary publishers. But a decade is also more than enough time for a writer’s fortunes to change dramatically.
Take Hilary Mantel. In 2003 she was a highly respected novelist and critic, the author of such enthusiastically reviewed novels as Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, The Giant, O’Brien and A Place of Greater Safety, the epic fictional portrayal of the French revolution published a decade previously that had probably been her most widely read novel. In the spring of 2003 her extraordinary memoir, Giving Up the Ghost, came out. But Beyond Black, her macabre novel of psychic shenanigans in the home counties, was still two years away; and we would have to wait several more before Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies would scoop two Man Booker prizes and transport Mantel to the highest echelons of writerly fame. Ten years ago she was the very emblem of the seriously talented and audacious female writer who was somehow rarely mentioned in the same breath as the holy trinity of Amis, Barnes and McEwan. Now, she cannot express a mildly contentious view in a literary journal without waking to find an outraged press pack camped on her front lawn.
Both scenarios are mad, and flipsides of the same issue. The pigheaded undervaluing of certain writers and the overnight obsession with others suggest problems with scale and perspective; problems that are perhaps related to Jonathan Franzen’s analysis of the trappings that come with mega-successful authorship.
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