Daily Telegraph head of books Gaby Wood has been appointed as the next literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, succeeding Ion Trewin who died earlier this month.
Wood will leave her Telegraph post at the end of June, but continue to write for the paper. She will take over full responsibility for the Man Booker Prize at the conclusion of this year's award. The 2015 Man Booker will be handled in the interim by Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the Man Booker International Prize.
Trewin gave his blessing to Wood as his successor, Booker Prize Foundation chair Jonathan Taylor revealed. "This is an exciting appointment," he said. "Gaby will bring new perspectives while maintaining our mission to bring the best of contemporary literary fiction to an ever widening international audience. Ion was aware of our intentions and shared our great enthusiasm at the prospect that Gaby would succeed him."
Wood has been in her Daily Telegraph post for the past five years, and was a judge for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, when Julian Barnes won with The Sense of An Ending (Jonathan Cape). She has also judged the Granta's Best of Young British Novelists list, the Jerwood Award for non-fiction, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Bookseller Industry Awards, and been a regular commentator on literary matters on TV and radio. Her father, Princeton academic Michael Wood, is chair of this year's Man Booker Prize judges.
Wood told The Bookseller she was "incredibly excited" about taking on the role "and also…obviously sad about the circumstances." She worked with Trewin when she was a judge of the award, and also met with him for advice on the literary director role in the later stages of his illness. She said: "It's a strange blessing to take up a job feeling you are partly doing it in honour of someone you admire. I have some sense of how Ion did it, and I intend to emulate it, and carry his ghost with me. He had a way of making it seem effortless – he was very wise and convivial, and not fluster-able."
As a commentator at the Telegraph, Wood took a relaxed stance towards the rule change which saw the Man Booker announce in 2013 that it would be opening up to non-Commonwealth writers for the first time.
"I was very open to it," she confirmed. "I didn't share the very paranoid fear that the British would be kept out. People are reading very differently now, it's easy to buy American books on Amazon – those divisions are false. People are talking about books in a way that doesn't have boundaries. If you take for granted that everyone is interested in literature from all over the world, that sets the bar quite high." She added: "The idea that an American style would automatically be preferred is chippy! I know lots of distinguished writers have had that view and I will get into trouble for saying so, but that's my opinion."
Only a poor selection of judges would justify those worries, Wood added. "[Selecting judges] is a bit like playing fantasy football. You assemble judges with a span of taste and experience from around the world. It is interesting to think how you can reflect different patterns, fashions, the different things that are going on in fiction."
A couple of years into the rule changes, they will have to be reviewed, she noted. "But it's hard to know, even in theory, if a change of rules [has produced a particular result], or if it is just varying from year to year because of who is judging and which authors are being published."
The Man Booker is a prize regularly accompanied by media furores; in the year that Wood was judging, much journalistic scorn was levelled at fellow judge Chris Mullins' praise for books that "zip along". Wood is largely unworried by the prospect of being in the hot seat on such occasions. "I think there is a difference between a discussion – something which raises the profile of the prize and of fiction – and its evil twin, a row that reflects badly on the reputation of the prize," she said. "I think one has to be quite careful about that… But anything else would be quite good. Not having a discussion about what fiction should be would be much, much worse."