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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 September 2005, 08:24 GMT 09:24 UK
Author feels the Booker effect
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

As the Booker Prize approaches, the BBC News website talks to 2003 Booker nominee, Zoe Heller, whose novel Notes on a Scandal is being made into a film starring Dame Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.

Zoe Heller (photo by Sigrid Estrada)
Heller is currently in the US working on her third novel
Although Heller believes there is something "irreducibly silly" about selecting a Booker winner from six titles, she feels the prize itself is valuable.

In 2003, the year her novel was nominated, it was won by DBC Pierre for his first novel, black comedy Vernon God Little.

This year sees writers including Julian Barnes and Zadie Smith competing for the 50,000 prize.

"I don't think it's to be taken too seriously," Heller told the BBC News website.

"But it's a useful way of increasing sales and drawing attention to literary fiction, which is no bad thing."

Dame Judi Dench
Dame Judi Dench plays history teacher Barbara Covett
Each person on the shortlist will receive 2,500 plus the likelihood for a huge boost in sales, coupled with a surge in media and public interest.

Heller now has the added bonus of having two Oscar-winning actresses starring in the adaptation of her book, along with Love Actually star Bill Nighy.

"It feels like a great privilege to write fiction for a living," said the British-born author, who now lives in New York.

"So to have somebody come along and make a movie of your words is the icing on the cake."

It is currently shooting in north London with theatre director Sir Richard Eyre behind the camera.

Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for her portrayal of Katharine Hepburn
"I feel particularly lucky because I've got as professional and sympathetic a team as I could have," said Heller.

"In Patrick Marber I've also got the most interesting and clever screenwriter I could have hoped for."

Described as a "dramatic black comedy about passionate friendships and public shame", Notes on a Scandal tells of a married pottery teacher, played by Blanchett, who embarks on an affair with one of her pupils.

The story is told from the perspective of another teacher, played by Dench, whose concern for her colleague may not be as altruistic as it first appears.

Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith could win this year's Booker Prize
"It's fantastically good casting," said Heller. "I think Judi will do justice to the darkness of the character.

"But I also expect her to bring an intelligence and humanity that will stop the character from being a cartoon villain.

"More than most actresses, Judi is capable of communicating that duality."

Heller will probably not visit the film set.

"I'm very keen to go, not least because I don't expect to have another book made into a film very soon.

'Spare part'

"But it's unlikely because I have a husband who's off in Los Angeles and two young children.

"I suppose also there's a fear I could feel a bit of a spare part. When you're not actually involved you can sometimes feel in the way."

The former Daily Telegraph columnist also has her hands full writing her third novel, tentatively titled The Believers.

Set in America, it tells of "a lawyer, his English wife and their children, who are in various ways dealing with the legacy of their parents' radical politics".

She feels it would be impractical to try and make this work more attractive to Hollywood, although she likes the idea.

Booker tip

"If I could write a novel that makes sense as a novel, that would be quite enough."

With the Booker prize looming, she is only too aware of what it is like for those on the shortlist.

But with so much going on in her own life, she has not had a chance to see what she thinks of the nominees.

"I haven't read any of the books so it would be foolish to express a preference.

"But if I was really pushed to bet on somebody, it would be Zadie Smith. I think it's her time."


SEE ALSO:
Booker diary: Reading challenge
09 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
Author Smith raps English culture
09 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
Barnes and Smith make Booker list
08 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
Dame Judi: Stage and screen star
10 Jun 05 |  Entertainment
Heller cooks up a scandal
16 Sep 03 |  Entertainment


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