Tuesday, 22 October 2013

'I've been singing Royals to my cats for weeks' - Eleanor Catton sings

Eleanor Catton (right) with her partner Steve Toussaint (left)

Eleanor Catton has had a whirlwind week since she won the Man Booker Prize 2013 for her novel, The Luminaries. She accepted the prize from Camilla Parker Bowles in London’s Guildhall, partied into the small hours in the fashionable Two Brydges, and did a straight thirteen-hour day of interviews after two hours sleep. She is currently in Canada, attending writers’ festivals in Banff, Vancouver and Toronto.

New Zealand sales have sky-rocketed. Victoria University Press haven’t had a copy in the warehouse since publication. Every reprint has been sold out before delivery, and total orders are now over 30,000. Ebook sales have hit an unprecedented – for New Zealand – 4025, an intriguing figure given the number of wrist-strain jokes.

The Luminaries has got New Zealand booksellers excited. Tilly Lloyd, the owner of Unity Books in Wellington said that the Man Booker Prize produces huge sales, but sales for The Luminaries were 'astronomical'. 

"The Luminaries had springs right from its Wellington launch and has broken all our sales records. People have poured in the doors for it. We’re totally proud of Eleanor Catton, VUP and the IIML, but it’s a big coat-tails moment for all of us in the NZ book industry," said Ms Lloyd. 
Steve Toussaint holds a big book

Since its publication in August, the recurring comment from readers has been that The Luminaries is large, yet, even before the Man Booker Prize announcement, the novel was selling well. We asked Eleanor why she thinks in our apparently time-poor age, people were still drawn to long novels.

"I think that people often turn to literature to escape the condition of their daily life, rather than to see it repeated or echoed. I certainly wouldn't want to read a novel composed of tweets, or advertisements, or emails; I'd much prefer to read something enlarging, something contrasting, something new. 
Actually I don't think that the balance is shifting one way or another. There have always been long books and short books. Long novels can offer pleasures that shorter novels can't—a fuller immersion, for a start, but also a bigger promise, a more serious contract between the writer and the reader—but as with every aspect of fiction, these are qualities that need to be earned. My belief is that every novel has its spirit level: the length that it deserves to be."

In the same 24 hours that Eleanor took the top prize in London, she shared the headlines with Lorde who won the top prize at New Zealand's Silver Scroll Awards. (We won’t mention the third headline act of last week.) Much has been made of the ages of these two high-achieving women, and we asked Eleanor what she thought of all the fuss.

“Age and gender are bound up together, and it's quite hard to look at one aspect without looking at the other: when discussed by the media, I'm a young woman rather than a youth. I'm proud to think that young women's sense of what is possible might be enlarged by the story of The Luminaries, but I'd also be proud to think that about any reader, whatever their age, gender, and background. Biography has to do with the artist rather than the art, and I'm more interested in the art. Lorde is a fantastic lyricist and she writes top-notch pop songs. I've been singing ‘Royals’ to my cats for weeks.”

The Luminaries is a finalist in Canada’s $25,000 Governor General’s English-language fiction prize, which is announced on November 13 in Toronto.
Eleanor Catton after 12 hours of interviews following her Man Booker win last Wednesday

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