There are some familiar names on this year’s longlist for the Man Booker Prize. Paul Auster, Zadie Smith and John McGregor are fully paid up members of the literati, but joining them is an unknown author from York, whose debut novel hasn’t even been published.
Fiona Mozley discovered she was in the running for the prestigious £50,000 prize earlier this week, but was sworn to secrecy until the full list was made public.
The 29 year old, whose novel Elmet is due out next month, said: “When my editor called and said she had some good news, I thought she meant she had found a famous writer to provide a quote for the front cover.
“To be honest I didn’t know it was Man Booker season and she hadn’t told me the book had been submitted to the judging panel. Honestly, I can’t believe it. I rang my parents as soon as I was allowed to. They are normally pretty in control of their emotions, but I think for the first time in my life I heard my mum scream.”
Ms Mozley, who juggled writing the novel with studying for a PhD in medieval studies at the University of York and working in the city’s Little Apple Bookshop, is used to keeping secrets. She first put pen to paper in 2013, but didn’t tell her family she was writing a novel until she secured a publishing deal late last year. And her parents only got to read the final version three weeks ago.
“I started writing the book while I was living in London working as an intern for a literary agent and continued on evenings and weekends when I came back to York three years ago.
“It has been a very slow process, but then towards the end of last year it was finished and I sent it off to various publishers.
“Like every author I got a lot of rejection letters, but in November John Murray said they were interested and in January I signed the contract. I knew though that the book would have to go through an editing process and I didn’t want anyone else to read it until everything had been finalised.”
Elmet, which tells the story of a family who build a house on land they don’t own, is set in South Yorkshire and was partly inspired by a train journey from London back home to York.
“I had been mulling over a few ideas for a novel,” added Ms Mozley, who went to Fulford School before securing a place at Cambridge University. “But then I saw this copse in between York and Doncaster and that was the starting point. I wrote the first chapter right there on the train, but the rest of it took a little longer to come together.”
Books published between October 1 last year and September 30 this year are eligible for the 2017 prize and the award can prove life changing. Life of Pi author Yan Martel and Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote Remains of the Day, both saw their books turned into films after winning the Man Booker and the award can also provide a massive boost to sales.
Among the other 12 nominees hoping for success these year are Mohsin Hamid, from Pakistan, Ireland’s Sebastian Barry and the Indian writer Arundhati Roy’s, whose first novel in 20 years, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness, could see her become just the fourth double-winner of the award.
The longlist - narrowed down from 144 entries - will be narrowed again to a final six in September before the winner is announced the following month. Current favourite is Solar Bones by Mike McCormack, but the award is known for throwing up surprises and should she win, Ms Mozley would be the second youngest winner of the prize.
She said: “It is a really international list this year, which makes it all the more surreal. I mean, who’d have thought that a story about little old Yorkshire written by little old me would end up among that illustrious company?”
Here is the full longlist for this year’s Man Booker.
Paul Auster (US) 4 3 2 1 (Faber & Faber)
Sebastian Barry (Ireland) Days Without End (Faber & Faber)
Emily Fridlund (US) History of Wolves (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan) Exit West (Hamish Hamilton)
Mike McCormack (Ireland) Solar Bones (Canongate)
Jon McGregor (UK) eservoir 13 (4th Estate)
Fiona Mozley (UK) Elmet (JM Originals)
Arundhati Roy (India) The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness (Hamish Hamilton)
George Saunders (US) Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury)
Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) Home Fire (Bloomsbury)
Ali Smith (UK) Autumn (Hamish Hamilton)
Zadie Smith (UK) Swing Time (Hamish Hamilton)
Colson Whitehead (US) The Underground Railroad (Fleet)