Good news. There’s a new literary prize in the firmament. It used to be known simply as the Literature prize when Andrew Kidd, a literary agent, thought up the idea in 2011. There’s something Ronsealesque in the name, in that it does what it says on the tin. Write some literature, win a prize. Simple. But now it’s got itself a sponsor and is going to be called The Folio Prize, which seems a bit more obscure, unless you know The Folio Society specialises in publishing beautiful books. Not that this is a genuine issue for complaint; where else is the money for the prize going to come from if not sponsorship? Some anonymous philanthropist? An ultra-successful author who has already made their millions? Well, perhaps, but that obviously didn’t happen, so The Folio Prize it is.
No doubt between now and March 2014, when the first winner is announced, there’s going to be a lot of chat about how the new prize is sticking two fingers up at the Man Booker for being inferior and generally more downmarket. After all, the two most recent winners are Hilary Mantel and Julian Barnes, who, as we know, specialise in airport junk*. If they can win the Man Booker then I can for goodness sake. We must therefore make a stand for proper literature and support The Folio Prize. We might think differently if we were now talking about The Ryanair Prize, but we’re not so we don’t need to worry our pretty little heads on that one.
Yet I’m not sure we need to concern ourselves at all with potential rivalry or corporate compromise. This represents neither of those things. £40,000 is being offered, and that’s good money to any author, even already successful ones like Mantel or Barnes. It’s the recognition for literature, in all its forms, that is important here. Authors need encouragement and a bit of a pat on the back to keep going. And if the publicity generates more book sales, even through Amazon (although there are other places to go), then that’s got to be good news, and is probably the point of the whole exercise anyway.
Which leaves just one thing to say: if I start now, have I got time to bang out a brilliant novel and submit it before entries close?