Debut novelist shortlisted for Man Booker Prize after penning book on her phone
A 29-year-old part-time bookshop worker has been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize – for the debut novel she began writing on her mobile phone on her way to work.
British writer Fiona Mozley, who works for Little Apple Bookshop in York, is up for one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes for Elmet, described by judges as “timeless in its epic mixture of violence and love”.
She sits alongside heavyweights like Scottish author Ali Smith and Mohsin Hamid for this year’s award.
Mozley began writing Elmet, set in the copses of Yorkshire, on a train from York, where she had been visiting family and where she grew up, to London, where she was going straight to work.
Elmet wrote the first chapter as the landscape of her native Yorkshire whizzed past the window.
Mozley told the BBC she had “brain freeze” when she discovered she had been shortlisted and that she finds it “embarrassing” and goes “bright red” when someone buys her novel at the shop where she works.
When one customer asked for a book in a style which sounded just like hers, “I recommend something else because I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” she said.
Her colleague at the bookshop said all the staff were delighted for their Man Booker shortlisted colleague.
Fellow bookseller Jennie Lister told the Press Association: “We’re just all absolutely thrilled for her. It’s brilliant, really well deserved because she’s so nice.
“Were hoping she carries on working here!”
And she added of Elmet: “We’ve sold a lot of copies today. We’re quite a small shop and we’ve sold double figures.”
Elmet has been described as a “forceful” and “tremendously potent” first novel, which is “also timely” on the “doomed resistance to the encouragement of an ever more faceless world”.
Since the longlist was announced, Elmet’s publisher, JM Originals, printed 13,000 copies but with the shortlist announcement it decided to make an additional 15,000.
Normally, titles on the JM Originals list have a print run of just 1,500.
Seen through the eyes of a child, Elmet is the story of a moody, philosophical bare-knuckle fighter who brings up his children “in defiance of social norms”.
Heavyweight Arundhati Roy’s second novel The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness – her first in 20 years – has not been shortlisted while British literary star Zadie Smith’s Swing Time has also been dropped after making the longlist earlier this year.
Scottish author Smith has been shortlisted for the fourth time, this year for Autumn, a book “in part about Brexit”.
Part of a quartet of books, it is the story of a dying man “whose country seems to have changed after the Brexit vote”.
Judges said that it “deftly questions what it means to be displaced in one’s own country” and is a “eulogy for lost time”.
Half the authors on the shortlist – including the bookies’ favourite to win, George Saunders for Lincoln In The Bardo – are US authors.
Lincoln In The Bardo focuses on a single night and actual historical event in the life of a “heartbroken” Abraham Lincoln, when he lays to rest his 11-year-old son in a Washington cemetery.
While readers “might expect a book set in graveyard” to “create a very dark world” the book was “a great expansive torrent of a novel”, judges said.
Judges dismissed controversy over the number of US names on the list, saying that the shortlist – recently opened up to US writers – was “not about the nationality of the authors” but “what is the best book”.
The other two US authors are Paul Auster for 4321, set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and civil rights movement, and Emily Fridlund for History Of Wolves, which explores “the effects of neglectful parenting” and the repercussions of childhood isolation and loneliness and is set in “the austere wilds of Minnesota”.
British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid completes the shortlist for Exit West, about the movement of large numbers of people across the globe in search of freedom and those “caught up literally and metaphorically in crossfire”.
Judges said that while the topics were varied, many of the books tackled parenting.
The winner of the shortlist, which features three men and three women, will be announced on October 17.
Paul Auster, 4321
Emily Fridlund, History Of Wolves
Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
Fiona Mozley, Elmet
George Saunders, Lincoln In The Bardo
Ali Smith, Autumn