Man Booker Prize: Dingwall publisher in the running

The 13-strong longlist will be whittled down to 6 in September. Picture: Toby Williams
The 13-strong longlist will be whittled down to 6 in September. Picture: Toby Williams
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A small publisher based in Dingwall is in the running for this year’s prestigious Man Booker prize – for the second time in three years.

Sandstone Press – which for ten years until last month was run from a bedroom in managing director Robert Davidson’s flat in the Highland town – found out yesterday that Eve Harris’s debut The Marrying of Chani Kaufman is longlisted for Britain’s premier fiction award.

The news came as the book was about to be printed.

“I don’t know whether you’ve ever heard an editor say, ‘Stop the presses’ but that’s what I had to do,” Mr Davidson said yesterday.

“We had a thousand copies of Evie’s novel about to be printed. After the announcement at noon, I checked we could use the Man Booker logo and we added a cover line saying ‘Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize’. We’ll print 3,000 tomorrow. We also have an e-book available now – which didn’t exist this morning.”

Harris, 40, wrote her novel, about a 19-year-old Jewish girl facing up to marriage with a stranger, after spending a year teaching in a Jewish school in north London.

Last year Sandstone received a £30,000 grant from Creative Scotland, which covered a third of the company’s costs in producing 20 books a year.

Harris’s novel joins a dozen more in what chairman of the Man Booker Prize judges Robert Macfarlane – whose team also includes The Scotsman critic Stuart Kelly – claims is “surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject. These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000 and from Shanghai to Hendon.”

The 100-page book is Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary which The Scotsman hailed as “a simple, powerful and majestic tale of a women trying to put the record straight”; the 1,000-page one is Richard House’s The Kills, published earlier this year in four parts, with the first given away in exchange for a mention on Twitter.

The other books include Harvest by Jim Crace, Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic and New Zealander Eleanor Catton’s 800-page The Luminaries. American-Japanese Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, published by Canongate, is the only other Scottish-published book on the longlist.

The list also includes Zimbabwean novelist Noviolet Bulawayo’s debut We Need New Names; Malaysian writer Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire; Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson; and Unexploded by Alison MacLeod; The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri; and Irish debut novelist Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart.

Five of the shortlisted authors – Toibin, Aw, Catton, House and Mendelson – will be at the Edinburgh book festival next month.

A shortlist of six books will be announced in September, with the winner named at a ceremony at the Guildhall in London on Tuesday 15 October.

Bookmaker William Hill made The Kills the 20/1 outsider to win the prize, with Eleanor Catton the 6/1 favourite followed by Crace and Toibin at 7/1.

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2013

Tash Aw (Fourth Estate) Five Star Billionaire

NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names (Chatto & Windus)

Eleanor Catton The Luminaries (Granta)

Richard House The Kills (Picador)

Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland (Bloomsbury)

Alison MacLeod Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton)

Colum McCann TransAtlantic (Bloomsbury)

Charlotte Mendelson Almost English (Mantle)

Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland) The Spinning Heart

Colm Tóibín (Viking) The Testament of Mary

Jim Crace Harvest (Picador)

Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)A Tale for the Time Being

Eve Harris (Sandstone Press)The Marrying of Chani Kaufman

Commentary: It’s a longlist that’s short on predictable names and themes

The Man Booker judges got one thing right. This year’s longlist, they noted, “will have those people who like to search for themes and coincidences in contemporary literature scratching their heads”. The 13 hopefuls do indeed have little in common. They’re not a predictable bunch and with one or two exceptions – Colm Toibin, for example – not well-known names at the bookshop till.

The judges turned down plenty who are. Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam, out in just over a month, may well have suffered from being the third in a dystopian trilogy that started with Oryx and Crace, which was shortlisted for the prize ten years ago. Hilary Mantel’s second victory last year with Bring Up the Bodies might have spoilt prize-winning prospects for trilogies for some time to come.

Other well-known authors fared no better. David Peace’s Red or Dead might have been passed over as a bloated reheating of The Damned United, Roddy Doyle for not taking his comedic chronicling of the Rabbitte family in Two Pints significantly further than he did in The Van, shortlisted all of 21 years ago.

But even though many will be bemused by the longlist’s omission of such writers as Kate Atkinson, James Robertson, Evie Wyld or Jonathan Coe, this was a year in which few of fiction’s big hitters had new books out.

Publishers Picador are probably the happiest with the judges. Jim Crace’s Hardyesque novel Harvest – the bookies’ favourite at 9/2 – Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English (published by their subsidiary, Mantle) and Richard House’s The Kills – a 1,000-page doorstopper that is really four interlinked novels in one – are all on their list.

Elsewhere, with three first novels in the mix and a far greater diversity than normal, this is an intriguing, exciting list that will serve the prize well. In the past, people have talked about a “typical Man Booker novel”. I’d like to see them try that with this bunch of books.