Yeah, so Mo Yan won the Nobel, and it’s a big deal because he’s the first Chinese citizen to be made a laureate, and it’s all very exciting, but another, usually far more low-key prize has also seen more than its share of thrills, spills and assorted other rhymes over the past few days: Ewan Morrison’s Tales From The Mall took this year’s Guardian-arranged, self-explanatory Not The Booker Prize but, as is inevitable with the ever-provocative author, took it with no small dose of controversy.
(N.B.: in the interests of full disclosure, I am acquainted with several people involved in the publication of the book, and so am going to try to keep this account as straightforward and impartial as I can, but feel free to argue the ins and outs in the comments. Please, do read the source articles linked to above and below for a full picture of exactly what has transpired over the past couple of days.)
Voting for the Not The Booker is not the province of a panel of judges, but depends upon the number of reviews (or links to reviews on blogs and other sites) left by fans of each book in the comments section on The Guardian website. The title with the most reviews submitted at the end of the process is the winner. As this takes more effort than a standard ‘click this button to vote for this title’, the polling pool is considerably smaller than most other awards open to a public vote. Morrison’s book won this year with 106 votes. Its nearest rival – Pig Iron by Ben Myers – took 65. That is, by any measure, a considerable margin.
The prize’s organiser, however – The Guardian’s Sam Jordison – took issue with some of Morrison’s methods in attaining that margin in the article accompanying his coronation as victor. Jordison published an e-mail Morrison had sent hours before the prize’s Sunday night deadline to, in Jordison’s words, ‘just about everyone involved in the prize’, in which Morrison urged those on his mailing list to vote for his book:
I’m neck and neck in this NOT THE BOOKER competition – all of the other nominees have dropped out, apart from my adversary- who, it has to be said, is published by a big multinational company, and Tales from the Mall is published by a Scottish indie. So can you help us win?
Morrison went on to say that, if he won, his plan was to denounce the ‘stupid voting by internet process’ and request that in future, the winner of the prize be determined by ‘a panel of people who understand and study books’.
Jordison subsequently pointed out that Morrison’s presumed ‘nearest adversary’ – Myers – is actually published by the small scale indie publisher Bluemoose and that none of the other contenders had, in fact, dropped out. Having been e-mailed by several of Morrison’s friends on the subject after his e-mail address was distributed to them by Morrison, and with the original group e-mail surfacing in the comments on the Guardian’s site (keeping up?), Jordison then offered Morrison a chance to drop out himself, ‘to save yourself a bit of embarrassment tomorrow’. Morrison declined in a series of e-mails which Jordison presented without comment alongside the announcement of the winner.
Morrison has since released his own statement on the brouhaha, apologising to Myers and Bluemoose for his prior implication, outlining his frustration with the prize’s voting system and its potential pitfalls – including the purgatorial state in which many votes submitted via Facebook found themselves – and clarifying that he did not give Jordison his permission to publish private correspondence.
The winner of the Not The Booker Prize receives a coffee mug for his or her troubles.