By Roger Tagholm
LONDON: Last week the Man Booker Prize judging committee surprised many observers by including numerous independent publishing houses on the 13-strong longlist for this year’s prize. The list included a trio of titles from smaller, lesser-known presses including Patrick McGuinness’ The Last Hundred Days (Seren Books), Jane Rogers’ The Testament of Jessie Lamb (Sandstone Press) and Yvvette Edwards’ A Cupboard Full of Coats (Oneworld).
The intervening days have been enjoyably crazy — but crazy nonetheless — for those lucky publishers with rushed reprints, foreign rights inquiries, global coverage. This frenzy is not only testament to the power of the prize, but also to the speed with which news travels in the age of the internet and Twitter. Coverage proliferates which increases inquiries which amplifies coverage, all in a kind of benign circularity that didn’t exist in slower, analog times.
Yes, the large number of independents on the longlist — which also includes books from Canongate, Atlantic, Serpent’s Tail, and Granta — may very well be the most ever, but there are at least two other firsts for the list as well. One of the publishers, Robert Davidson, founder and MD of Scotland’s Sandstone Press –- the rare MD who answers the phone since, after all, there is only one other member of staff (a part-timer at that) –- is also a published novelist and poet. In the award’s long, 42-year-history, has any other publisher of a Man Booker nominee themselves been a published writer?
Another publisher, Mick Felton of Seren Books his Brigend-based company is the first Welsh house ever to be represented on the list, another small landmark in the history of the prize.