Diary - D J Taylor

I write to a novelist confessing I was wrong to trash his latest, only to discover he sits on the Wh

Thursday 22 January. Five days to go now until the Whitbread Book of the Year dinner, which I am bidden to attend with the other category winners, DBC Pierre, Mark Haddon, Don Paterson and David Almond. Having in the past mildly disparaged many a literary prize, I am now, like Kingsley Amis when he won the Booker, hugely in favour of them. That said, it's difficult to be particularly sanguine about Tuesday night. Wandering into the Norwich branch of Ottakar's to appraise its Whitbread display, I find a kind of pyramid constructed of 200 copies of Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a 150 ditto of Pierre's Vernon God Little, five of Almond's The Fire Eaters and - ahem - a single copy of the darling items by Paterson and myself. Clearly the punters are speaking, but, to bastardise Eliot, I do not think that they will speak to me.

Write my radio column for The Tablet, collect a child from school and worry about my novel.

Reflecting on the Kilroy-Silk affair, one notes the eager, gratuitous ease with which people now fling around the insult "racist". Back in December, a Guardian journalist asked me what I thought about the complaints levelled at Monica Ali for her supposed "misrepresentation" of Brick Lane in her novel of the same name. I replied that as Monica Ali was a Bangladeshi by birth, she presumably had some conception of what the place, being full of other Bangladeshis, was like. It took a bare 24 hours before someone, in a letter to the paper, condemned this as "racist". Another, private, correspondent thought that, as the remark had appeared in public, only a public apology would do. Surely, though, members of any ethnic, religious or other minority, however far removed from each other in terms of class, geography or income, keep some kind of eye on what their particular sub-group is up to? Most people of Polish origin, for example, seem happyto discuss the subject of Poles in the UK, the places they inhabit, newspapers they read and so on. A Jamaican doctor living on the Wirral and a Jamaican docker living in Canning Town will presumably have more to unite them than drive them apart. The man who wanted the public apology seemed anxious to deny that there was such a thing as a coherent Bangladeshi community. The dozen-strong list of community organisations and ginger groups to whom he had circularised his letter rather suggested otherwise.

Two years back, I reviewed, unenthusiastically, a work by Novelist X. Unexpectedly, the book stuck in my head: whole episodes, lines of dialogue and incidental effects wandered there for months on end. I brooded on it, recalled the names of its characters, saw its cover staring at me from every shelf. Eventually, just before Christmas, I reread it, formed an entirely different view of its achievements and felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. What do you do in such circumstances? I decided to write to Novelist X in a suitably humble manner, owning up to this sad lapse in judgement. The letter sent, I discovered that X sits on the Whitbread jury, and probably now thinks me the most hypocritical crawler currently nosing the floors of literary London.

Write a review for Waterstone's magazine, collect two children from school and worry about my novel.

I send corrections to be put into the US paperback of Orwell: the life, together with an afterword covering new material come to light in the seven months since the book was published. Darkly conscious, as I do this, that it will probably be rendered out of date in a few days. Only last week in Southwold - Orwell's haunt as a young man - I came across an elderly gentleman who claimed, in 1932, to have watched from a den concealed in the heather of the town's common Orwell and his friend Dennis Collings digging a large hole. In this they buried a time capsule, the contents including a Great War tin helmet. On my next trip to the coast, I shall be taking a spade.

Write a book review, supervise three children and regret the absence of my wife, who is away on a girlie weekend in Cambridge.

I have only ever been to one previous literary prize dinner in my life - last year's Man Booker. The procedural pattern - lots of hanging around with nervous judges and contenders - endures. DBC Pierre, greeted with slight wariness (a newspaper having revealed that I was the Booker judge who voted against his prize-winning Vernon God Little last October), turns out to be hugely affable and requests a signed copy of my book. As predicted, Haddon wins, to general enthusiasm.

My father's formula, in cases where he had lost a bowls match and wanted to get home early, was to announce: "I have to go back and water my bedding plants." This seems unlikely to cut much ice in the weary aftermath of the Whitbread dinner. However, Rachel has to teach a class at the University East Anglia mid-morning, which seems as good an excuse as any. We get the 8am from Liverpool Street through the snow-covered East Anglian pastures.

Back in Norwich, I write an article, collect a child from school and worry some more about my novel.

D J Taylor's Orwell: the life won this year's Whitbread Prize for Biography

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