Behind the scenes at the Booker

<p>The highlight of the literary publishing year launches with a champagne reception in the Old Library of the Guildhall, deep in the heart of the City and just a stone&rsquo;s throw from St Paul&rsquo;s Cathedral. The room fills up quickly from 6.30pm onwards, this is not an evening to be fashionably late. It&rsquo;s a mix of publishers, literary editors, broadcasters and, of course, the authors themselves, propelled into the media glare under their publicists&rsquo; watchful gaze. <br />
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As you&rsquo;d expect, conversation in the Old Library is dominated by two questions&mdash;&lsquo;How many [of the shortlist] have you read?&rsquo; and &lsquo;Who do you think is going to win?&rsquo; Few people seem to have read all six, but nearly everyone has a strong opinion on who should win&mdash;and one person is even more precise: &lsquo;Are you asking me who I want to win? Or who I think deserves to win? Or who I think will win?&rsquo; he says. &lsquo;Because they are three different questions, and I&rsquo;d give you three different answers.&rsquo;<br />
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At 7.15pm comes the first call to dinner in the Great Hall. This always takes a while and requires much chivvying but everyone is seated, more or less on time, beneath the soaring arches. First up to the podium&mdash;and relayed around the Hall on screens&mdash;is Jonathan Taylor, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, who points out that the &ldquo;bottom line&rdquo; for a prize is increased readership, and that sales for this year&rsquo;s shortlist are more than double the comparable period last year. He is followed by Peter Clarke, chief executive of the Man Group plc, who praises the &ldquo;extraordinary commitment&rdquo; of the Man Booker judges and announces that the shortlisted authors will each receive &pound;2,500, a designer bound edition of their book&mdash;and a year&rsquo;s membership of the Groucho Club (which gets a cheer). Next is a series of very short films featuring each author reading aloud and then talking about their book (apart from JM Coetzee who just does the reading aloud bit&mdash;he has an unexpectedly cut-glass accent). After every film the author is whisked on to the stage for a quick blink-and-you&rsquo;ll-miss-it handshake, apart from Coetzee who isn&rsquo;t here but whose editor steps in on his behalf.<br />
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Then everything stops for dinner&mdash;mushroom and leek tart, duck with quince (plus a confit, a pur&eacute;e and a jus&mdash;excitingly all on the same plate) with ginger parkin and ice-cream for pudding. All delicious. <br />
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Finally it&rsquo;s time! James Naughtie, chair of Judges, takes to the stage and the air of excitement is palpable. He doesn&rsquo;t string it out for too long, but the anticipation in the audience builds and builds. He praises the shortlist&mdash;Mawer, Foulds, Byatt, Mantel, Coetzee, Waters&mdash;&ldquo;in no particular order&rdquo; and then, when the tension really is unbearable&hellip;it&rsquo;s Hilary Mantel. Huge cheers.<br />
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The official press conference takes place an hour later at 11pm, with Hilary Mantel flanked by Ion Trewin and a slightly dishevelled Naughtie. Mantel fields questions from the Independent, Daily Telegraph, Times and others. She gives quick, precise answers in a soft voice with only her fluttering fingers perhaps betraying her outward calm. <br />
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So in one sense it&rsquo;s all over, but in another it&rsquo;s just the start. Bad news for the bookies but fantastic for booksellers: the popular choice has triumphed, let&rsquo;s hope this translates into spectacular sales.<br />
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