KILMIHIL author Niall Williams was crossing a street in London on Wednesday when he received news that his latest novel, History of the Rain, had been long-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. He is the only Irish author nominated.
The story is set in the village of Faha in West Clare, where young Ruth Swain lies bedridden in an attic room piled high with 3,958 books. The character tells the story of herself, her father and the family of English clergymen from which he came. Outside, it’s raining.
For the first time in its 46-year history, the £50,000 prize has been opened up to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK. “I was very surprised to get word this morning. It was completely unexpected and I’m absolutely delighted. I got a phonecall from the publishers to tell me that in an hour’s time, the announcement would happen. The phone rang and they asked was I having a good day? I said ‘yes, I’m having a good day’ and they said ‘well, this will make it better’,” Niall said on Wednesday while aboard the Heathrow Express.
Previously, the prize was open to authors from the UK and Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. Literary trail-blazers of the 20th and 21st centuries from Salman Rushdie to Hilary Mantel, Iris Murdoch to Peter Carey have been amongst the winners.
“The main thing is it means that more people will read the book and that’s why you write them. That’s the most significant thing. It puts things on a different plane. It does make a big difference internationally and to foreign publishers. This is my eighth novel and I’ve been writing novels in Clare for the last 30 years,” Niall added, before revealing his Saturday evening plans.
“I’m going back to Kiltumper (Kilmihil) and I can’t wait to get there. There’ll be a little bit of a celebration. You feel that you’re in a sunny spell and that the cloud has lifted. You’re in a sunny spell and you need to enjoy it while it’s there,” he reflected.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on Tuesday, September 9, with the winner to be announced on Tuesday, October 14. The 2014 panel include AC Grayling, Jonathan Bate, Sarah Churchwell, Daniel Glaser, Alastair Niven and Erica Wagner.
By Peter O’Connell