The first winner of the BBC’s “End of Story” contest, to which 72,000 would-be writers submitted endings for six famous writers’ stories, has been announced. The BBC plans to circumvent the booksellers and put out an anthology on its own.
After reading judge Giles Coren’s hilarious U.K. Times article, in which he skewers literary prizes generally and End of Story in particular, I’d sooner saw off my right hand than read the thing (although some of you more enterprising souls may wish to read the winning entry and report in). I’d quote Coren’s article in its entirety, but since it’s behind a subscription wall I’ll show some restraint. He begins:
If media folklore is to be believed (and it so often is), there is no group of arbitrarily assembled people more vain, self-serving and irrelevant than a literary prize-judging panel.
Places on such panels, the naysayers insist, are allocated on the principle of Buggins’ turn: one literary editor, one publisher, one television celebrity with a degree, and one random bird loosely linked to the industry who might get her tits out at the gala dinner. This motley crew then sets about pretending to read 140 novels (and whingeing about the “workload” in interminable “diaries” in The Guardian Review), while in fact merely pushing whatever crap their husbands, wives or school chums have published recently.
Huddled in dark hotel rooms, shielded from public view, they deliberately discount anyone who has actually made a long-term literary contribution and devote their attentions to digging out unpunctuated 300,000-word interior monologues by Polynesian child-abuse victims and hermaphroditic zoo-keeping poetesses to “champion” with tragic and lachrymose futility in the face of “conservative opposition”.
Finally, on awards night, they reach a compromise which involves giving the prize to a book originally intended for children, which none of the judges liked, because it will “get people reading again”.
It’s happening again this year with the Man Booker Prize. In a scandalous turn of events, a young novelist who has met two of the judges once or twice before has been included on the long-list at the expense of Roddy Doyle, David Lodge and Hari Kunzru, the three richest men in Britain. Ooh, scandal. When the shortlist is announced later next week, the knives will be out again. Blunt as old bald men’s heads, but trying ever so hard to stab palpably.
So if you’ve had enough of all that elitist posturing and shady dealing then what you want to do is tune in to End of Story on BBC Three tomorrow night when the most open and transparent literary judging panel in history begins sifting through the most democratically assembled and longest long-list ever known to literary Britain. I know, because I’m one of them.
I’ll skip to the end, although you really should read the whole thing (especially the part where he says he’s the judge who might get his tits out):
When it got to the Marian Keyes entrants I tried to explain that chick-lit is a pile of poisonous old bilge and that all the entries should be burnt. Carole argued (again) that I was a small-minded public schoolboy snob. And (again) the others concurred. When it came to Shaun Hutson, I explained that horror was a ghoulish sub-genre for middle-aged virgins and thwarted Trekkies and we should just pick three at random. Muriel, a writer of fine horror novels herself, said that I was a small-minded public schoolboy snob, but that I was right in the case of Hutson.
In that instance, though, my words came back to haunt me in a way most literary panel judges never have to worry about, when I was forced to confront the six heavily tattooed and lugubrious horror entrants on camera — just after they had listened to my taped denigration of their art — and tell them who had lost. I swear, I feared for my life. At least Chris Smith, this year’s Booker chairman, didn’t have to sit down in front of Kunzru, Lodge and Doyle and, with the mock heroic revelatory style of Ant ‘n’ Dec expelling celebrities from the jungle, tell each of them, in turn, to sod off home.
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