Sunday 20 October 2019

Kinsella linked to alternative literature prize as Man Booker 'dumbs down'

Cormac Kinsella, one of the best-known figures in the Irish books world, is to play an important role in the new literary prize which is being set up in Britain as an alternative to the Man Booker.

The new award, to be called The Literature Prize, is being promoted as a more serious version of the Booker. Due to be awarded for the first time next spring, the prize aims to return to the literary criteria that were once the bedrock of the Booker but have allegedly been diluted by a populist approach.

An advisory committee to oversee the establishment of the new prize has now been announced.

The international committee is made up of a dozen literary professionals, including critics, agents and editors. The only Irish member of the committee is Mr Kinsella, one of the leading book publicists in Ireland.

The Literature Prize, which was dreamed up by London literary agent Andrew Kidd, will be awarded each spring to the best work of fiction written in English and published in the UK in the previous year, with no restriction on a writer's country of origin.

Mr Kinsella said yesterday: "At this stage I'll be providing input into how submissions and judging will work. I will also be helping with PR ideas and in founding an academy of writers and critics from the UK, Ireland, America and further afield who will act as a pool of potential judges."

The advisory committee will meet quarterly and will be responsible for championing and managing the prize -- and for drawing together the 50 members of the academy who will serve as judges on a rolling basis, Mr Kinsella said.

Irish author John Banville, who won the Booker in 2005, is one of those backing the new prize.

"I am told that someone attached to the Man Booker this year spoke of the need for novels with more 'readability' -- a peculiar term -- but whether this indicates a fall in standards I don't know," he said.

"I lent my name to the new venture because I respect Andrew Kidd, who used to be my editor at Picador, and because I'd be very glad if there were to be a prize meant specifically for 'literary fiction', though this is another term I find peculiar."

This year's Man Booker came in for even more criticism than usual when the chair of the judges, the former spy chief Dame Stella Rimington, said she wanted people to read the books on the Booker shortlist, "not buy them and admire them".

Meanwhile, last week, actor Dan Stevens -- best known for playing Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey -- was announced as one of the judges for the Man Booker Prize in 2012. The appointment is likely to raise more doubts about the "seriousness" of the prize.

To be fair to Stevens, he is a regular book reviewer and an occasional guest on the BBC's Review Show.

The Booker judges for 2012 also include historian Amanda Foreman and Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement. But this is unlikely to prevent the Downton actor's appointment being presented as further evidence of the popularising of the prize.

Sharon O'Neill

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