" I certainly wish I hadn't taken on the Booker judging this year. I thought it would be a nice sedentary occupation, and after all I have done it before, but I've definitely gone downhill since then and I think the books have got longer - I've only done 35 so far ( I keep counting them) so 100 more to come, and already there's hardly any floor space in my little room. Also I drop off to sleep almost immediately when I start to read them - it's becoming an automatic reaction.'
I wonder if any of this year's judges have suffered as Penelope Fitzgerald did back in 1998? Nigella Lawson was also a judge and 'looked stunning' and here Penelope's thoughts on the chairman..
'...Douglas Hurd... a marvellous hand at managing a commitee, but he admitted that his idea of a novel was a good read with a strong ending....As usual I didn't agree with anyone.'
And then what do the judges do with all the books...
'All the books (115 I think) are standing in piles on the floor of my small sitting room. Now I'm wondering who I can get to take them away.'
Or perhaps there's been a repeat of this, Penelope Fitzgerald's experience in 1991
'I've been one of the Booker judges this year and as always there have been alarming differences of opinion, and even one walk-out. the first in its history I believe.'
'I realised the dreaded Booker dinner was on that evening I hoped I might not be needed there, but now I see that because there's been so much trouble about the judging and I feel I'm more in trouble than anyone in some ways... I shall have to go.'
Those were the days, bit of a bun-fight, bit of genuine rather than some manufactured controversy, now we usually hear that the judges all got on famously and were unanimous in their decision, but Booker 2010 is here and we must pronounce.
It's been a sadly lack-lustre Booker year chez dovegrey after that initial excitement over a big pile of books waiting to be read.
So many books I have picked up and failed with, so many books that others have picked up and adored that have done nothing for me, with apologies to David Mitchell and Emma Donoghue, Christos Tsiolkas et al, I gave you a good innings but I'm sorry I just didn't get what you were trying to tell me.
The Man Booker debate forum, always a site for some great and forthright discussion about the books, and one with a loyal following, mysteriously collapsed and imploded on itself with the finishing line approaching and in the face of bizarre technical difficulties which everyone seemed to think a twelve year old could sort, but sadly no twelve year old available at Booker HQ.
Perhaps they just didn't want our predictions... something odd going on there surely, and if nothing else a really ungrateful way of saying thank you to all those who had partaken of the debate with such diligence and contributed so much and so freely to the Man Booker website.
A PR disaster if ever there was one...er... best not mention 'that' again.
Then there's been the hoo-hah about the suspended betting after one book attracted massive and suspicious attention, a real dilemma if that book happens to be the winner.
So the excitement, last year maintained right to the wire and intensely gripping, has fizzled like a damp squib for me this year with just one book radiating something special.
Before I arrived at the Everyone's A Critic evening discussion in London, more of which ever so soon, I had a Very Important Tea engagement to attend, and what pure pleasure it was to meet up with Linda Grant and Andrea Levy in a select little establishment in the depths of Crouch End for a good chinwag about books, the Booker and plenty more besides.
This all involved following very careful instructions involving both tube and bus across London which is always a bit of a culture shock for me the minute I step off the train from Devon, where we see one bus a week and the bus stop is three miles away. But have Oyster card will travel and it's only a matter of minutes before I'm up to speed and travelling in the right direction, doing all the right things, looking casual, reading my book on the train, not looking lost, coping with the fact that the tube exit Linda has told me to take was closed due to flooding and I had to find another one, and then find the bus stop furthest away from the exit I hadn't just walked out of but should have, and then get on the bus going in the right direction for about ten minutes and get off at Waitrose...or was it Budgens, and cross over and, oh all manner of unusual things for a country yokel.
But rising above all the Booker damp-squibiness, the very lovely Andrea Levy, and I'm not just saying this because we've met, she is warm, genuine and self-effacing and I am more than thrilled and delighted to have met her and to know that Andrea's book The Long Song is on the shortlist because it belongs there and would be a worthy winner. Good reviews around the blogosphere, hither and thither and for me, it is far and away the best of the Booker books that I have read, or tried to read, this year, though I think when I finally get my hands on a copy of Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question it might come close. I loved Kalooki Nights, I 'get' Jacobson's style of writing and his humour and think I will enjoy this one too.
But it was a real privilege to talk to Andrea about her golden book and hear about her and Linda's writing lives generally. I meet quite a few writers these days, mostly women it's true, but the ones I meet are wonderful, genuine unassuming people who love what they do, sweat blood over it sometimes but take their work very seriously. I'm sure the men do too but I just don't seem to meet many of them, and don't miss Amanda Craig's blog this week, she makes some very perceptive observations about author's behaving badly and it doesn't seem to be the women who have the hissy fits these days.
Having read Linda Grant's forthcoming novel We Had it So Good due for publication in January, I know you will all have a great read to look forward to in the New Year too, so I had a lovely afternoon, the chat and the cake was perfect.
Much good fortune to Andrea and The Long Song and the team at Headline this evening but meanwhile spare a thought for Penelope Fitzgerald the night she won the Booker Prize in 1979 for Offshore...all these extracts taken from the endlessly entertaining So I Have Thought of You - The Letters of Penelope Fitzgerald,
'I couldn't help enjoying the dinner, though the Evening Standard man told me frankly they'd all written their pieces about Naipaul and felt they were free to get drunk, wh: he certainly was; I did notice the Spectator man, but thought he was perhaps dead...
When I got to the Book Programme, soaking wet because I'd had to be photographed on a bale of rope on the Embankment, R. Robinson was in a very bad temper and complained to his programme executive 'who are these people, you promised me they were going to be the losers'...
I'm afraid Booker McC rather wish they'd decided to patronise show-jumping, or snooker - the novelists are so difficult and odd, not appreciating their surprise announcements and little treats....'
I feel sure Andrea Levy will be looking fabulous and enjoying every moment.