J.M. Coetzee was not there as he remained in Australia and Sarah Waters was unwell so could not attend. Hilary Mantel was so interesting to watch as whilst she read from an extract of Wolf Hall she gesticulated wildly and acted out the reading through her hands and arms. She is incredibly witty and gave considered, honest answers to the questions.
I was really interested by Simon Mawer’s reading from The Glass Room, a novel I have not yet read and also Adam Fould’s reading from The Quickening Maze. I have to confess my mind wandered during A.S. Byatt’s reading from The Children’s Book which might be a sign that it is not going to be my cup of tea. However, A.S. Byatt herself was gripping, she seems a very formidable character but occasionally flashes of softness shine through the external hardness. She, like the other authors, was incredibly witty and a memorable quote from her was her talking about her Finnish translator “who read my book on the telephone [meaning iPhone I presume] whilst riding a bike on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.” A.S. Byatt was highlighting her astonishment at the way technology is changing reading, publishing and writing.
When asked by the audience if they had read each other’s work they looked a bit sheepish as none of them had read each other’s except A.S. Byatt who had read them all and said that she could honestly say that they were all exceptional and that she was in very good company. Simon Mawer admitted that he needed to put some distance between himself and the Booker Prize process before he would pick up all the shortlisted novels. Adam Foulds said that it would be like thinking about his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriends, that they were all wonderful in ways that he could not match!
The novelists were also asked what they would be thinking during the five minutes before the winner was announced – all of them agreed that they would be finding the experience very surreal. A.S. Byatt said she would be “numb”, Simon Mawer said “relief that he would not be facing the flashing camera bulbs”, Hilary Mantel said she would need to look back on that time to be able to process it fully.
An audience member asked them about characterisation and if all their characters were completely made up – Simon Mawer answered that his characters are aspects of himself, he is playing a part many times over and A.S. Byatt agreed with him up to a point and said that she has little demons within herself through whom she looks out through her characters eyes. Adam Foulds and Hilary Mantel had based their protagonists on real people within history, John Clare and Thomas Cromwell so they hadn’t entirely invented their characters.