The Man Booker Prize 50th Anniversary Debate, Charleston Festival, Charleston, Firle, May 24

A TALK by writer Erica Wagner will take the audience behind the scenes of the Man Booker Prize.

Forget what you may have heard about judges falling out in the final selection process for the literary award. According to Wagner, who judged the 2002 and 2014 award, her experience is of plenty of polite discussion rather than stormy dissent.

And if your idea of heaven is to spend the summer reading, bear in mind that every judge has to read over 130 books from cover to cover.

“It’s a serious task,” says Erica. “You have to read a book a day – in the bath, over breakfast, lunch and supper. In bed. Every spare moment is taken up with reading. It is all-consuming. But it is also a great privilege.”

The event at this year’s Charleston Festival on May 24 sees three previous Booker judges – including Erica – celebrate the prize’s 50th anniversary by inviting the crowd to witness the selection process and then choose the winner of a hypothetical contest.

Each of the three judges will make the case for the books chosen in previous years.

Publisher Ellah Wakatama Allfrey will endorse Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, A C Grayling will speak for V S Naipaul’s In a Free State and Wagner will fight the corner for Jan Martell’s Life of Pi.

The debate will be presided over by Gaby Wood, literary director of The Booker Prize Foundation.

Wagner says it is difficult to say what makes a particular book stand out from the others, for it is a very personal process – a collaboration between the writer and the reader.

“I am aware that a different group of judges would probably choose a different book,” she adds. “It is particularly exciting to read a book by an unknown writer.”

There is usually a panel of five judges and out of the longlist of over 130 books they select a short list of 13. Each book will probably be read at least three times.

What of the fact that there are usually a lot more male writers than female? “I hope things are changing,” Erica says.

Carole Buchan

Tickets are £16 and available by phone on 01323 815150. Or visit, where the programme can be viewed.