Arts : Books / Films By Graham Sharpe

A Bookies Booker

Snubbed again - I can't understand why I have been overlooked. The judges for the 2001 Booker Prize have been announced and, yet again, I am not on the list. Don't they know I have credentials second to none entitling me to be added to this prestigious gathering?

Haven't I been betting on it for the best part of twenty years? Aren't I invariably the only person outside of the actual judges at the Guildhall each year to have read all of the books and not just skimmed through the fly-leaves to pick up a feel for the book? Aren't I interviewed by whichever TV station happens to be covering the event this year and asked for my tip every year? Don't the papers clamour for my opinion?

Of course I am - of course they do - yet that elusive invitation remains just a dream. I am treated as though I were a judge, though. One national newspaper reviewer rang me a few weeks back asking me to quote odds for his hot tip to win the Booker Prize this year. I told him that was like telling me Red Rum was in the Grand National but not telling me who he was running against. I did take the precaution of getting hold of the book he fancied and reading it. The book is a decent enough read and packs in plenty of references to the seventies, although many of them seem to be inserted just to prove how well the author's done his research. Should get nominated but is probably too readable to win!

See, I can be controversial - which is always a good trait for a Booker judge - the Award doesn't really warm up each year until someone comes out with some outrageous comment which gets plenty of publicity and stimulates the betting market. Because, of course, the majority of people who bet on the Award do so not because they have read all the books, but because they are following a reviewer's hint or someone told them that they read one of the books and it was unputdownable - or, in some cases, incomprehensible.

Okay, that's enough controversy or they won't even invite me to the dinner. I do enjoy the evening - watching the shortlisted authors put on a brave face as the winner is announced; seeing people edge nervously away from Salman Rushdie - just in case; listening to folk pretending they know what happens in any of the books and wishing desperately I could nip out half way through surreptitiously to find out how Luton Town are getting on because they always seem to have a midweek fixture that evening.

So now you probably realise why they won't ever ask me to be a judge - I am not serious enough, don't have the gravitas, always have to pop into Tux N Tails at the last minute to hire my DJ and can never quite get the bow tie right. Oh, and I suppose if I were to make it on to the panel it would be a little difficult to do the betting, too - still, I could always promise not to tell who was going to win and, besides, the judges don't meet to make the final decision until the betting books have been closed.

No, I was right from the start - I should be one; I'm a writer, too, probably written more books than most. I even started an Award - the William Hill Sports Book of the Year Award, which was inspired by the Booker and has actually now become known as the Bookie Prize - mind you, I run that - and even I haven't invited me to become a judge.

So, come on, how about a rethink - what about 2002? Take a chance, dare to be different - get me on the panel - it really is time for the Booker to get a Bookie on board. I bet you won't regret it.