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Thursday, 24 October, 2002, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Yann Martel relishes Booker boost
Yann Martel accepting the Booker Prize
Martel followed the ceremony with a party in Soho
Canadian author Yann Martel was named winner of the Man Booker Prize 2002 for his third novel, Life of Pi.

It was a celebration that would not have looked out of place after the winning goal of the World Cup final.

Yann Martel leapt in the air, arms aloft, and was quickly embraced by members of his team.

The world of literature does not often see excitement like that, but the annual Booker Prize is one event that really rouses the passions.


It's not the money, it's not the fame - it's that your book now will connect with more people

Yann Martel
"I do feel a bit like I'm on a beach in Normandy on D-Day - you know, this invasion of the tension. Which is quite wonderful," Martel told BBC News Online the morning after the night before.

"I'm feeling a bit ragged, but underneath that raggedness, there's deep exhilaration."

That raggedness came from media interviews - with press in the UK and Canada - plus a party in Soho and three hours sleep.

Although he thought he had a good chance, Martel was convinced that it was not going to be him as the chairwoman of the judges Lisa Jardine was preparing to announce the winner on Tuesday.

Yann Martel
Martel spent almost four years researching and writing the book
"There was a short film where they showed the jury discussing, and I didn't sense that they'd talked about mine, so I was a bit puzzled," he said.

"And then Lisa Jardine came on, spoke a bit, and then said 'And the winner is...'

"I was so convinced that I would hear another name, and so when I heard mine there were one or two seconds of complete shock. I was just genuinely delighted."

Comments from the judges in the preceding months had given Martel hope, though.

They said they wanted to consider fewer heavyweight tomes, and Martel thought that may play into his hands.

Stands out

His winning novel, The Life of Pi, has "a lightness of touch", he said.

"One thing you can say of mine - not that it's the best, but it does stand out a bit. It is a bit different."

And it also marks a milestone for Martel's career after his first two novels were critically acclaimed but "didn't meet very many readers".

Life of Pi
The book is about a boy and a tiger stranded in a lifeboat
"For all the effort I put into them, they didn't have much of an impact. I would write no matter what, but you do want your book to meet a reader," he said.

Now his name will be known by hundreds of thousands of people around the world and Life of Pi will see a huge boost in sales.

"For most serious writers, it's not the money, it's not the fame - it's that your book now will connect with more people," he said.

"It is for your own private pleasure when you're doing it, but ultimately, you want to share it with other people. That's the real joy."

And he said it is an accessible book, addressing themes of reality and faith that everyone should be able to connect with.


You can't sit with a picket fence up your ass your whole life

Yann Martel
In Life of Pi, an Indian family who run a zoo take their animals to America, but the boat sinks and the boy is stranded on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger.

It has a strong plot - something Martel says is now often sacrificed for style.

"We have too many things that are strictly word-based," he says. "Style is extraordinarily important, of course, but you have to have more than that."

Martel says he went on a "spiritual journey" during the four years it took to write Life of Pi.

He started as an agnostic, but investigated three religions while researching the book and now says he is more open to the idea of a greater force.

"I used to dismiss spirituality and religion as being mumbo jumbo for children," he said.

"However, there's more than just fundamentalism out there when you talk about religion. And that I'm more in tune to now."

Fulfilling

The writing process also made him realise that a fulfilling life is one in which you are not afraid to take decisions.

"On certain key questions, you must make a decision. You can't sit with a picket fence up your ass your whole life."

The Life of Pi project started with six months in India visiting mosques, temples, churches and zoos, before Martel took a year to read religious texts and castaway stories.

He then got down to writing - which took another two years.

"I was doing this full time. It's not like I had three kids and a job," he said.

"In some ways, being a writer is the most wonderful profession in the world. I spent four years waking up in the morning thinking 'OK, what's happening today with my tiger?'"

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Yann Martel, Booker Prize winner
"I'd like to thank readers for having met my imagination halfway"
Yann Martel
Talks to the BBC's Kirsty Wark
Coverage of the 2002 Booker Prize from BBC News Online and BBCi Arts


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