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The Man Booker 2011

Rebecca Jones
By Rebecca Jones
Arts Correspondent

The winner of the country's leading literary prize, the Man Booker, is announced next week.

In the run up to the award, the Today programme is previewing the six shortlisted novels. Listen to interviews with the authors and extracts from the text below.

Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English tells the story of an 11-year-old who, recently arrived from Ghana and living on an inner-city housing estate, attempts to solve the killing of a young boy by a local gang.

It was inspired by the death of Damilola Taylor, says author Stephen Kelman.

"It struck me as particularly tragic that the world didn't get to see what a great man Damilola may possibly have become," he says.

Growing up himself on an estate in Luton, Kelman says he it would be a refreshing change if he was awarded the prize.

"Given where I'd come from, I didn't know anybody who wrote books, I never thought I would write a book, I never thought I'd write a good book."

Esi Edugyan

Half Blood Blues tells the story of a group of black jazz musicians, struggling to survive in Nazi Germany.

The book was the first author Esi Edugyan had written while listening to music, rather than in total silence -Louis Armstrong playing as she penned.

"Something about this book is begging to have a soundtrack," she says. "This is the first time I had written with music, and it really worked out well."

Raised by Ghanaian parents in the prairies in Canada, one of the inspirations of the book was the experience of "very much standing out" as one of the few black people who lived in the area.

Patrick deWitt

The Sisters Brothers is the story of two brothers who are hired to kill a man during the California gold rush of 1851.

The tale is a western, but not of the ordinary kind - it features a calorie counting cowboy who rides a decrepit one-eyed horse.

Author Patrick deWitt admits that when he started writing the novel, he was aiming to subvert the genre. But as the writing went on, the romance of the prairie got under his skin.

"It became something more meaningful to me than just a vandals vacation," he says.

Carol Birch

The author of eleven novels, Carol Birch's first novel, Life in the Palace, won the 1988 David Higham Award for the Best First Novel of the Year.

She made the long-list for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Turn Again Home.

Jamrach's Menagerie, Birch's 11th novel, features the adventures of Jaffy Brown, rescued from the jaws of a Bengal tiger by its owner, the Mr Jamrach of the title. The story follows him around the world, and features a dragon hunt and the macabre aftermath of a shipwreck.

Born in Manchester in 1951, Carol Birch studied at Keele University and lives in Lancaster with her family.

AD Miller (c. Paul Rider)

Snowdrops - the title is Russian slang for corpses which lie hidden in the snow - is A D Miller's first novel, and deals with themes like corruption and betrayal.

Educated at Cambridge and Princeton he initially wrote travel pieces about the United States before becoming a TV producer, after which he joined the Economist.

He is also the author of the non-fiction work The Earl of Petticoat Lane, published in 2006.

Miller knows Russia, the setting of his novel, very well, having lived there between 2004 and 2007, while working as The Economist's correspondent. "If there is a novel in you, Russia will find it," he says.

Juilan Barnes

The Sense of an Ending is the fourth Julian Barnes novel to be nominated for a Man Booker Prize.

His other works include the satirical England, England; The Porcupine, which details the trial of a fallen Communist dictator and A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters.

A keen Francophile, Barnes was the first Englishman to be awarded that country's Prix Medicis, for his first major work, Flaubert's Parrot.

He says that The Sense of an Ending is based on the theme of "someone having their life turned upside-down at a late stage".

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester in 1946, but moved to Northwood in Middlesex as a young child, an area which became the setting for this first novel, Metroland.

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