When James Kelman won the Booker prize in 1994, the Scottish novelist surely expected that Britain’s top literary award would propel him to a wider readership. But in a rare interview appearing in The Sunday Times, Kelman says the controversy surrounding his win has had a damning effect on his career:
I don’t think it [the Booker] has proved to be that good for me, he told The Sunday Times. The hostility, the attacks interfered with my work such in a way that I don’t think ever really recovered.
Perhaps some amount of controversy was inevitable: As one prurient reviewer noted at the time, Kelman’s profanity-laden How Late It Was, How Late, written in an urban Scottish argot, featured some 4,000 instances of the F-word, and one of the Booker jurors called the book “crap, quite frankly.” However, Kelman claims now that the critical controversy prevented serious consideration of his subsequent work.
Even if I do a reading just now people will say, ˜well Jim, what about your sweary words? It’s had a very sad effect; it’s not been a positive thing.
Kelman’s new novel, Keiron Smith, Boy, contains few obscenities because it is written in the voice of a child. It has earned him only £1,400 in sales, though it has won two major literary prizes and has been hailed by critics as his best novel to date.