BBC News Online profiles the six authors who have made it onto the 2004 Booker Prize shortlist.
Achmat Dangor was born in Johannesburg in 1948 - the same year the Nationalist Party took power in South Africa and instituted racial segregation.
Achmat Dangor has devoted much of his life to politics
He was active in black student politics and later became a member of Black Thoughts, a literary group that organised poetry readings in the townships.
Between 1973 to 1979 a banning order prevented him from publishing his work, while in the mid-1980s security police detained him for two-and-a-half days.
During the same period he published his first novel, Waiting for Leila.
Dangor, 55, currently lives in New York with his Scottish wife Audrey but will soon relocate to Geneva, Switzerland.
He says he writes "because I have to and because I love to. It is the closest I am to having an obsession."
Sarah Hall was born in Cumbria in 1974 and grew up in Penrith.
Hall's second novel was longlisted for the Orange fiction prize
She studied english and art history at the University of Aberystwyth before gaining an masters' degree in creative writing at St Andrew's.
She embarked on a writing career at the age of 20, initially as a poet, then as a fiction author. Her first novel, Haweswater, was published in 2002.
A rural tragedy about the disintegration of a community of Cumbrian hill-farmers, it won the 2003 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for best first book.
Currently based in North Carolina, Hall says she tries to create "strong, defiant, complex female characters... driven by belief and intelligence".
The Electric Michelangelo was previously longlisted for the 2004 Orange prize for fiction.
Alan Hollinghurst was born in May 1954 in Stroud, Gloucestershire and studied at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Hollinghurst has been previously shortlisted for the Booker prize
He was deputy editor of the Times Literary Supplement from 1982 to 1995 and was one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists in 1993.
His first novel, The Swimming-Pool Library, was published in 1988. A vivid account of London gay life in the early 1980s, it was one of three recipients of the 1989 Somerset Maugham Award.
His 1994 follow-up novel, The Folding Star, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.
Author Edmund White called his third novel, The Spell, "the best book on gay life yet written by an English author".
Hollinghurst currently lives in London.
David Mitchell was born in Southport in January 1969 and grew up in Malvern, Worcestershire.
David Mitchell is the bookmakers' favourite to win the award
He took a degree in English and American literature at the University of Kent and followed it with an MA in comparative literature.
He then spent a year in Sicily followed by eight years in Hiroshima, Japan, where he taught English to technical students.
His first novel, Ghostwritten, won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award.
His second novel, Number9dream, was shortlisted for the 2002 Booker Prize for fiction and in 2003 he was named by Granta magazine as one of 20 best young British novelists.
Mitchell now lives in the Irish fishing village of Clonakilty with his wife and daughter.
"Art is about people," he says. "Ideas are well and good, but without characters to hang them on, fiction falls limp."
Colm Toibin was born in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, Irish Republic, in May 1955.
This is the second time Toibin has made the Booker shortlist
The second youngest of five children, he went to the Christian Brothers School where his father worked for almost 30 years.
In 1972 he went to University College Dublin where he studied history and english. Three days after taking his finals he left for Barcelona, where he lived for three years.
Returning to Dublin in 1978, he became features editor of In Dublin magazine and later edited the current affairs journal Magill.
He finished his first novel, The South, in 1986, though it was not published until 1990. His second novel, The Heather Blazing, was published in 1992.
Toibin's 1999 novel The Blackwater Lightship was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, which the author describes as "a very serious business".
"If you win it, you'll spiral your way into the consciousness of vast numbers of people, which is what you're setting out to do in the first place."
Gerard Woodward was born in London in December 1961 but now lives in Manchester.
Woodward used to refill chocolate machines for a living
His first novel, August, was published in 2001 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread first novel award.
Drawing heavily on his own personal family history, the book focused on his mother's increasing dependency on glue.
Similarly his second novel, I'll Go to Bed at Noon, concentrates on his brother - a gifted musician - and his experiences at the Royal Academy of Music.
Woodward, 42, has an MA in anthropology and has written three award-winning poetry collections.
When not writing, Gerard used to supplement his income by refilling the chocolate machines at Manchester University.
Recently, however, he was offered the job of creative writing lecturer at Bath University.
"I'm still a bit shell-shocked," he says. "It's the perfect job because being part time, it allows me to write."