Julian Barnes tipped to win Man Booker Prize
The literary world's most prestigious prize is announced tonight in London and Julian Barnes is favourite to win.
The author, who has been nominated three times before but never won, is one of six writers shortlisted for the £50,000 prize, for The Sense Of An Ending.
Last night the organiser of the Man Booker Prize said that major book publishers have missed out on this year's award because they are "no longer taking risks" in working with new authors.
Ion Trewin, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said financial worries had meant many larger publishers were "going for the tried and the trusted" and missing out on some of the country's best new writing talent.
Mr Trewin dismissed suggestions that the award had been dumbed down and readability put before literary merit.
The shortlist, which includes two first-time novelists, has also been criticised for omitting big names including Alan Hollinghurst and Graham Swift.
The former director general of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington, who is chairman of the judges, said they did not want to produce a shortlist of books that languished half-read and admired on people's shelves.
But last year's chairman and former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion said a "false divide" had been opened up between "what is high end and what is readable".
He also said he hoped Barnes, who was nominated in 1984, 1998 and 2005, would win.
A spokesman for booksellers Waterstone's said: "Winning the Man Booker is always a guarantee of reaching a huge audience - it makes the book the must-read for the season. The fact that there has been an element of controversy around this year's shortlist, with much sniping about who made it on and who didn't, has not affected sales. This year's shortlist have sold in record numbers, which bodes well for the winner.
"The favourite is Julian Barnes, fourth time lucky, which is where I would put my money. However, the Booker is seldom predictable, and the field is wide open. It would be great to see a debut writer like Stephen Kelman take the prize home."
Kelman is nominated for his debut novel, Pigeon English, which is the story of an 11-year-old from Ghana who arrives in Britain with his mother to live in an inner-city council estate.
When a boy is knifed to death on the high street, the boy starts a murder investigation of his own.
Other books include Snowdrops, the debut novel by AD Miller, set after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the first Western to be shortlisted - The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.
Four of the six books are from independent publishers.
Other judges this year include politician and author Chris Mullin, writer Matthew d'Ancona and author Susan Hill.
The winner will be announced tonight at London's Guildhall.