Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Virginia Woolf Would Never Win the Booker

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Virginia Woolf Would Never Win the Booker

Article excerpt

At 6.30am there's a bit of excitement in the green room at BBC TV's Breakfast Roger Moore and Michael Parkinson are there--"Two knights in one morning!"--but 1 manage to avoid the elaborate dance of the croissants and go straight into make-up. There's no getting away from the pastries, however. My eyes are like two currants in a round of dough, and everyone else in the studio has that desperate perkiness you often find in the serial early riser.

The presenter Sian Williams is running the sofa with the same firm hand as Lieutenant Uhura once deployed to keep things steady on the Starship Enterprise. "Isn't it better to be safe than sorry with terrorist suspects?" she asks. We're talking about the legislation on holding terrorism suspects for 42 days without charge. I remind Sian that the government doubled detention to 28 days as recently as 2005. "The vote will go against the government in the Lords tonight anyhow," I said. "And so it should. You can't go about protecting liberty by undermining it in advance." Sian sniffs and blinks as if I was stating the obvious, which I was.

I catch the train to Manchester to do a reading and book signing at the university. The event is run by the creative writing throng and the audience is full of young people with dishevelled haircuts. My co-reader is Colm Toibin, who has lots to say about how hated staff are who choose to live off-campus. We went to dinner later with the faculty--Marianne Moore said she had to be paid $500 for a reading and $700 for dinner with the faculty--but this dinner isn't like that, and we spend a couple of hours laughing under these huge Brobdingnagian lightshades.

Professor Martin Amis made a big argument against plays. He thinks it all went downhill after Shakespeare. His colleague M J Hyland, the novelist, was having none of it. But there's a reliable way to decommission all weaponry nowadays, even when it comes to the most minor skirmishes in the culture wars: all you have to do is mention Sarah Palin. It's virtually impossible to find anybody who doesn't think she's toxic. Just mentioning her name causes an instant thrum of camaraderie. Maybe she's the best thing to happen to international diplomacy since the heady days of Henry Kissinger.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

British publishing is suffering from a very bad and very collective case of vertigo at the moment. They ruined their own head for heights a number of years ago by ditching the Net Book Agreement, so nowadays they exist constantly at the mercy of the book chains and the supermarkets, which wish to sell books in the way that they sell cornflakes. …

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