Failure led Jim Crace to Man Booker nomination for 'last' novel

Fri Oct 11, 2013 12:49pm EDT
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By Paul Casciato

LONDON (Reuters) - The idea for British author Jim Crace's Man Booker prize-nominated novel "Harvest" came to him almost out of nowhere at a desperate moment in his career.

The last English writer to make it onto the 50,000-pound ($79,700) prize's 2013 shortlist before American writers are allowed to compete for the Booker, said "Harvest" dropped into his head during an anxious 24 hours after his agent told him the novel he had been writing was never going to work.

"I owed money, so out of nowhere I had to find a new book," the 67-year-old Crace told Reuters.

On a train down to a London art exhibit from his home in the English midlands, Crace was moved by the ancient plough lines etched into the passing fields, which form the backbone of his tale about an unforeseen change which threatens a way of life.

"I walked into the first gallery and I turned right and ... I promise you I'm not making it up, the very first picture I saw was a watercolour of a Tudor enclosure," he said.

On the train home he read a newspaper article about how soya barons were seizing land in South America. Suddenly, he had the setting, an artist character and the subject matter: how forced land enclosure affected peasants in Tudor England.

"Normally I expect to struggle with a book ... but on this occasion I didn't struggle at all," Crace said. "I finished that book on the day I was due to deliver the book that had failed."

Narrative character Walter Thirsk chronicles a medieval estate whose peasants have ploughed the same fields for generations. Then strangers arrive, including an artist to sketch the land, sowing the seeds of foreboding.   Continued...