Wednesday 1 June 2011

Penelope Fitzgerald at the Booker Dinner

In 1979, Penelope Fitzgerald won the Booker Prize for Offshore. She wrote about it thus to Francis King:
'In the stories I used to read when I was a little girl cab-horses used to win the National and everyone seemed to cheer, but you can't expect that in real life, and I know I was an outsider - however Asa Briggs explained to me that they'd ruled out novels evidently written with one eye on the film rights as they'd been looking for le roman pur, and I (naturally) agreed with him. - When I got to the Book Programme, soaking wet because I'd had to be photographed on a bale of rope on the Embankment, R. Robinson [Robert Robinson, the urbane/irascible TV and radio presenter] was in a very bad temper and complained to his programme executive, 'who are these people, you promised me they were going to be the losers'. - I couldn't help enjoying the dinner, though the Evening Standard man told me frankly that they'd all written their pieces about Naipaul and felt they were free to get drunk, wh: he certainly was; I did notice the Spectator Man, but thought he was perhaps dead [Peter Ackroyd possibly?]. Even so I had a lot of happy moments, and the best was when the editor of the Financial Times, who was at my table, looked at the cheque and said to the Booker McC Chairman 'Hmph, I see you've changed your chief cashier.' Both their faces were alight with interest. - I'm afraid Booker McC rather wish they'd decided to patronise show-jumping, or snooker - the novelists are so difficult and odd, not appreciating their surprise announcements and little treats.'
Fitzgerald's previous novel, The Bookshop, had been shortlisted for the Booker, but her then publisher Colin Haycraft not only ducked out of attending the dinner (claiming, bizarrely, that he didn't have a dinner suit) but also foolishly 'let her go' as he reckoned he had enough slim elegant novels by slim elegant lady novelists on his hands. At the time that Offshore won, she was embroiled in attempting to write a biography of L.P. Hartley, though much hampered by Lord David Cecil and increasingly appalled by what she was discovering about LPH. In the end, she had become so fond of Hartley's sister that she felt unable to publish. For a great writer, Fitzgerald, as is clear from her letters, was a quite extraordinarily fine person - good-humoured, self-deprecating, thoroughly nice, even loveable. Of how many writers can one say that?

1 comment:

  1. Naipaul definitely isn't thoroughly nice, even lovable.