May 1, 2015

Gaby Wood, new literary director of the Man Booker, compares judging to fantasy football


Manning might not be the right pick for next year's Booker.

Manning might not be the right pick for next year’s Booker.

The Man Booker Prize took a double-whammy a few weeks ago when both longtime director Ion Trewin and his colleague Martyn Goff passed away. The prize is what the Booker is famous for, but it’s also a foundation that needs a proper director.

Gaby Wood, head of books at the Daily Telegraph, has just been named the new literary director. Before her five year tenure with the Daily Telegraph, she was a judge for the Booker prize in 2011. (Julian Barnes won for The Sense of An Ending, if you’re looking for a sense of her taste.) She’s worked on a dozen other prizes as well, Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, the Jerwood Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Bookseller Industry Awards. Her response is excited and sad to take over for Trewin; she worked with him on the 2011 award.

In The Bookseller, Wood says:

“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.”

But she’s earned my admiration for comparing the panel of judges to a fantasy football team:

“[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.”

Some years those judges perform like Peyton Manning in 2013-14, and some years they’re Peyton Manning in 2012-13, you know? Wishing Wood luck with this year’s draft.


Kirsten Reach is an editor at Melville House.