In a superb feature, “Tears, tiffs and triumphs”, The Guardian has persuaded “a [Booker Prize] judge from every year to tell us the inside story of how the winner was chosen.” Much fun—and much enlightenment: an observation that crops up more than once is that the judges come to jury meetings with their minds made up, and the rest is horse-trading. James Wood, a judge in 1994, writes:
[T]he absurdity of the process was soon apparent: it is almost impossible to persuade someone else of the quality or poverty of a selected novel (a useful lesson in the limits of literary criticism). In practice, judge A blathers on about his favourite novel for five minutes, and then judge B blathers on about her favourite novel for five minutes, and nothing changes: no one switches sides. That is when the horse-trading begins. I remember that one of the judges phoned me and said, in effect: “I know that you especially like novel X, and you know that I especially like novel Y. It would be good if both those books got on to the shortlist, yes? So if you vote for my novel, I’ll vote for yours, OK?”
That is how our shortlist was patched together, and it is how our winner was chosen.
My first novel is on the longlist of another literary prize, and even though I know that prizes don’t make a book better or worse than it is, I’ll be either ecstatic or heartbroken on the day the shortlist is announced. The rational part of my brain tells me to not think about it, to get back to that second book that I’ve begun, to write another 500 words, or 300, or even 50, before I head off to bed. But the roulette wheel spins, and I’m holding my breath…