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Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness - and the Man Booker Prize

It’s been a pretty full-on month with the Man Booker Prize, starting with the announcement of the expansion of the prize to include authors writing originally in English and published in the UK. The story has been mistakenly headlined along the lines of ‘the Americans are coming’ but in fact the range of authors who will be eligible is much wider than that. Writers from as far afield as Mexico, China and Israel who are increasingly writing in English will, from this year on,  be eligible for what is widely regarded as the most important prize in the English speaking world. It will be fascinating to see what 2014 brings.

The Man Booker awards ceremony this October was even more high profile than usual because we were privileged to include HRH The Duchess of Cornwall as a  guest. The Duchess is an avid reader and is Patron of the National Literacy Trust, Book Trust, The Wicked Young Writers Award and First Story, all of which help to promote literacy in young people - so it was a huge coup for the prize.  Her Royal Highness met all six shortlisted writers and presented them with their designer bound books, before later awarding Eleanor Catton her winner’s trophy.

The Luminaries is Eleanor Catton’s second novel and, at 28, she is the youngest ever winner. The book is constructed according to astrological charts so there was much speculation as to whether her win was written in the stars. Did she see it coming?, one wag enquired.  28 does emerge as a significant number.  Not only is Ellie 28 but it’s also 28 years since the last New Zealand author won the title, Keri Hulme in 1985 with The Bone People…. To round off the story, I gather that she has, since her win, cast the horoscopes of each of this year’s judges!

The Man Booker Prize is with us, Four Colman Getty, year round so we’re already planning next year with Professor Anthony Grayling heading up the 2014 panel of judges. And meantime a group of us are off to New York to celebrate the newly opened Bookermania exhibition with a party at the Morgan Library.

Our Guest of Honour on the night will be Salman Rushdie who won the Booker Prize with Midnight’s Children in 1981.  The book was then named The Booker of Bookers in 1993, to mark the 25th anniversary of the prize, and The Best of the Booker in 2008, a celebration of 40 years of the prize.   So it should be some evening!

The Women of the Year Lunch is the longest running annual celebration of women in the UK.  This year saw the 59th Lunch take place at the Intercontinental Park Lane London on Monday 14 October.  Our Campaigning & Digital teams have worked with the Women of the Year, to raise the profile of the Lunch & Awards, since 2011.

For the 2013 Lunch and Awards, we achieved a terrific spread of high profile print, online and broadcast coverage for Women of the Year award winners and lunch attendees. Highlights include local coverage across the UK - from Gloucestershire and Nottingham to Hastings and St Albans. Interviews with Women of the Year winners’ Andrea Coleman in The Independent on Sunday and BBC Radio 4’s Midweek; Waris Dirie in TheGuardian’s G2  and on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’ s Hour and a terrific feature on the Lunch & Awards 2013 in the ‘Wonder Women blog” on the Daily Telegraph online. 

On the same morning as the Man Booker Prize dinner, we also organised a breakfast panel discussion to tie in with Frieze Week, perhaps the busiest week of the year in the art world.

The event was part of the official Frieze Art Fair VIP Event Programme, and appropriately it took place in the spectacular location at the top of The Gherkin. It was set up to celebrate Sculpture in the City, the City of London’s annual outdoor public sculpture exhibition.  This creative partnership led by the City with the support of local businesses saw work this year by artists including Antony Gormley, Richard Wentworth and Jake & Dinos Chapman.

Following a buffet breakfast, the high profile panel, composed of Telegraph arts editor Sarah Crompton, Clare Lilley from Yorkshire Sculpture Park, insurance tycoon and arts patron Robert Hiscox and artist Richard Wentworth debated the role that private money can or should play in public art.   This contentious issue has been brought to the fore by recent high-profile cases where local authorities have miscalculated the passion that many residents have for the art in their streets.

We’ve had some fabulous book projects this month. I mentioned Michael Cooper’s autobiography, Mini & Me, last month. Attention for the book has built up to the extent that Franc Roddam, Mini’s mentor, and he were guests on The One Show last Monday. This was followed on Tuesday night by a rescreening of the documentary which Franc made about Michael almost forty years ago. His story, of an unhappy life in care, remains relevant today and we are finding a lot of interest in it not just from media but also from a number of university sociology units.   It would be a significant success to see it on the recommended reading list for future social care professionals.

The Samuel Johnson shortlist was announced in October pitting a biography of Margaret Thatcher against a book of the importance of bees, to mention just two of the books. Look out for the announcement of the winner on Monday 4 November!

To mark the publication of Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility, the first book in the Austen Project in which contemporary authors reimagine Jane Austen’s novels, HarperCollins commissioned a survey to see where the British public stands on the perennial preoccupations of the book – love, money and marriage.     

Despite these straitened times, 86% of adults believe that being in love is the most important reason for getting married, whilst only 6% believe that marrying for money makes for a happier life. Absolutely none of the respondents believed that money is the most important consideration when choosing a life partner. You can read what Val McDermid makes of Northanger Abbey or Alexander McCall Smith of Emma in the months to come.

Paula Byrne got the spirit of the project in The Observer last weekend.  I’m still laughing at her verdict on Joanna’s Sense and Sensibility  - ‘as Mags Dashwood would say – ‘Totes Amazeballs’.

Two very different festivals occupied our time this month – TheTimes Cheltenham Festival of Literature celebrated its 64th year with a record crowd attending ten days of talks, debate and brilliant entertainment. In contrast the 2013 Frequency festival saw virtual realities blur with medieval streets as Lincoln’s festival of digital culture returned for the second time, featuring extraordinary art exhibitions, surprising installations, amazing performances and lively debates.

We worked too in October on the launch of Four Four Jew, the Jewish Museum’s blockbuster exhibition for 2013, which explores British Jews’ relationship to the beautiful game. 

What does football have to do with Jewish identity? Why did the Swastika once fly over White Hart Lane? Which club’s all-time leading goalscorer was an observant British Jew?

Visit the Jewish Museum in Camden Town to the find the answers. It runs till 23 February next year.

That’s just a flavour of October- more next month


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